“What do the words cranes, dates, leaves, have in common?” asked Hugh.
Mary thought, “He has me puzzled. I can’t see any relationship at all.”
“Hugh,” pondered Tom privately, “Have you lost a French fry out of your Happy Meal? What kind of question is that? What do these random words have to do with our lesson related to Mark 1: 1-3?”
“Hmmm,” Sarah meditated on Hugh’s question. “Hugh, my train isn’t’ going down the same track as yours.”
Jim’s megaphone level voice reverberated throughout the room, “Hugh, we don’t know! Help us out, please! You are making my head hurt with this kind of thinking!”
The Sunday School class laughed, and everyone shook their head in agreement.
“Ok, I will tell you. These are Homonyms. Without proper context, these sayings can mean more than one thing. How can crane be understood? It can refer to a bird, or a construction machine, or even someone stretching her neck to see something better.”
Harriet interrupted, “And date can be a fruit, or when a boy takes a girl out, or when you were born.”
“I understand, Jim, bellowed out, “Leaves can be what kids love to play in during the fall, and I hate to rake up or referring when we exit our class in a few minutes.”
“Exactly,” Hugh said, shaking his head in the positive. “Today, we are going to focus on the background of Mark 1: 1-3. To grasp its meaning, we need to remember some of the historical contexts for these verses.
“Can someone remind us of what the common man on the streets of Jerusalem or Caesarea Maritima or Capernaum experienced most days?”
“Arnold, what do you think?”
“Hugh, it seems to me that the common Israelite in the first century were a lot like us. They went day by day, struggling to survive. John 7:49 refers to the leaders describing the common people ‘But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” (NKJV) Yet, I think most of them embraced the Jewish faith as much as they knew how. I am sure others sat on the fringe of the Jewish religion, had received a physical circumcision, but their hearts remained far from God.”
“Hugh, as I read the gospels and other letters of the New Testament, many of the people attended the synagogues and journeyed to the temple in Jerusalem on specific holidays and festival days. I think most paid the temple tax. Life must have been hard and their faith helped them survive,” said Maria.
Merle, can you help us out?” asked Hugh.
“I know that Romans were in political control. Roman soldiers patrolled Israel from the north in Galilee to the south in Judea. They could be found on the Mediterranean Coast in the west to the Jordan River Valley in the east. I am sure the people feared the Romans and their brutality. I heard that the Roman soldiers often waked into a garden, picked the fruit off trees, and eat it without paying for it. Roman soldiers were known to seize livestock without payment. The average Jewish citizen stood defenseless.”
“Hugh, can I add to that?” asked Tom. “I know that there was a high sense of Jewish nationalism, especially in Galilee because the Jewish revolt of A.D. 60-66 broke out in that region first. Some of the Jews longed for political and religious freedom. We know false messiahs, charismatic leaders, and men who wanted to take advantage of the situation constantly appeared, clamoring for a following. ”
Timothy added, “And the Pharisees controlled the day-to-day religion of the Jews with their petty law-keeping – even tithing the small leaves from the mint plants they used that day. As much as we put the Pharisees down for their ‘legalism,’ it seems the average Jew of the day respected most of the Pharisees. I think we put down those who attempt to live by a strict keeping of the Law rather than admiring their desire to please God as they understood how. How many might have held esteem for Pharisees like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea?”
“The Sadducees and the High Priest ran the temple. The High Priest collected a fortune from the coin changers and sale of “holy” sheep for sacrifices,” piped Harrison.”The Jews did not embrace these folks as a general rule. The Jews understood these leaders to be in business with the Romans.”
“Does anyone else have anything to add? You mentioned the average Jews embracing their religion, the Roman occupation, the Pharisees and Sadducees and how the Jews felt about those groups. Since no one spoke up, I want to add one thing to our conversation before we close our session for this morning,” stated Hugh.
“I read Zechariah’s speech this week in Luke 1: 73-75. I want to quote it here,
‘ The oath which He swore to our father Abraham: To grant us that we, Being delivered from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.’
“We mentioned both the religious affirmations of the Jewish people and the political suppression they were experiencing. Zechariah’s speech reflected the Jewish blending of religious and political freedom. Many willingly laid down their lives as one false messiah claimed to be their redeemer.”
“Their political expectations alongside their religious fervor kept the average Jew’s hope alive. Of course, like Americans, our hopes fluctuate depending on where we live, how we manage to survive, and who influences us.”
“One writer describes this period, ‘The average first-century Jews in the land of Israel had zeal without full knowledge, hope without understanding, religious practice without clear theology.”
“New revelation from God had not appeared since Malachi of the Old Testament. These Jewish people longed to hear from God. They prayed for political and religious freedom. They prayed and hoped for their Messiah to arrive. We are ready to move into Mark 1:1-3 next week. How does Mark’s gospel connect to the Jewish nationalistic hope for a Messiah?”
TWEET THESE QUOTES:
‘But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” (NKJV)
‘The average first-century Jews in the land of Israel had zeal without full knowledge, hope without understanding, religious practice without clear theology.”
Are there other things you believe added to their desire for a Messiah? If so, add your thoughts in the comments section.
 J. Julius Scott Jr., Jewish Background of the New Testament, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2001), 235/