One of the points that I try to make in Jesus among Friends and Enemies (eds. Hurtado and Keith) is that as the plot of Mark unfolds, the Jewish leadership is revealed as adversaries of Jesus. This much is old hat. But if one looks more closely, these supposed "enemies" are narrated as asking questions about Jesus' peculiarities. I.e. it is not necessary to read these early exchanges as charged with animosity. As these "controversies" escalate, it is Jesus who provokes the conflict.
Here is an excerpt from my chapter, titled "The Jewish Leaders":
Mark introduces the Jewish leaders to readers with a story about Jesus at home, eating with tax-collectors and sinners. We are told that ―scribes of the Pharisees‖ question Jesus‘s disciples about his dinner company. The implication here is that, compared with other rabbis, Jesus might be less attentive to dietary purity (Mark 2:15–17).
It is also noteworthy, at this early stage in the narrative, that there is no apparent hostility between these leaders and Jesus. We are simply told that they have asked Jesus a question. Jesus answers by comparing himself to a physician who comes not for the healthy but for the sick. The story-teller gives us no indication that these Jewish leaders were unsatisfied with the answer. … [To answer questions about fasting] Jesus answers again with an analogy. He compares his ministry with a wedding party and himself with the groom (i.e. the guest of honor who requires celebrating). The story-teller includes two other analogies to justify the actions of his disciples (2:21–22). Again, Mark gives no indication of hostility….
From the Pharisees‘ perspective (one might imagine), Jesus‘s claim to be master of the Sabbath would have seemed outlandish. The Pharisees begin an argument concerning sabbatical law (this was a common argument if rabbinic literature is any indication) and they end up with a statement tantamount to megalomania! Who was this backwater revivalist to associate himself with King David?
In Mark 3:1–2 Jesus enters a synagogue (a local place of study and worship) and ―a man was there who had a withered hand. And they [presumably the Pharisees] watched him, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him.‖ According to the story-teller, the key divide between the Jewish leaders and Jesus involves sabbatical interpretation. Jesus then instigates an even bigger argument:
And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ―Come here.‖ And he said to them, ―Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?‖ But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, ―Stretch out your hand.‖ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out, and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, [about] how to destroy him. -Mark 3:3–6
This is a crucial turn in Mark‘s plot and characterization. The Jewish leaders are shown to be quietly observing Jesus‘s behavior and wary of his sabbatical antics. In contrast, Jesus is shown to be intentionally provocative. He begins the argument and publicly heals (recall Jesus‘s medical analogy in 2:17) a man with a ―withered‖ hand to provoke the Jewish leaders.
Notice that Mark‘s portrait is not of a passive, live-and-let-live Jesus who was simply minding his own business. By publicly healing on the Sabbath, and starting the argument in the synagogue, Jesus is picking a fight. Indeed, we are explicitly told that he is angry.
I think it is also helpful to explain how such conflicts have bled into Jewish-Xn relations over the centuries. Questions like: if you traced your spiritual and physical ancestry to the Pharisees, how might you read these exchanges differently.
So a question to my readers: when reading Mark's narrative, do you imagine a hostile Jesus?