MORE PARABLES – REVELATION AT MEALTIME
Mark 4: 35-41
Mark 6: 1-52
As we continue Jesus’s ministry of parables and miracles, Mark’s interest now turns to Jesus’s identity. The question of who Jesus is, occurs with greater frequency and Mark gives the reader additional clues in Mark 4:35 – Mark 6:6a. In this section, we also find an increasing emphasis on faith. In the parallel frames of yet another intercalation Mark describes those close to Jesus asking, “who this is?” Inside the framework is another story of a demon-possessed man who seems to know Jesus’s identity, and an intertwined dual-healing story.
The framing begins with Jesus and the disciples crossing the lake in the evening (Mark 4:35-41). As is common at night on the Sea of Galilee, gale force winds arose, swamped the boat and terrified its passengers. That is, terrified all but Jesus who was sleeping on a cushion in the rear of the boat. The disciples woke him and questioned his lack of concern. Jesus got up, silenced the wind, calmed the storm, and chastised the disciples for their lack of faith. (There is a striking correspondence between this story and that in Psalm 107:23-30.) The disciples, in awe, said to each other “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him!”
When they finished the crossing, Jesus and his disciples were “in the country of the Gerasenes” (Mark 5:1-20). Gerasa is modern-day Jerash, Jordan. Early commentators suggested that this was much too far to have traveled. Jesus left from near Capernaum, on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. The city of Jerash is about fifteen miles southeast of the lake. A more likely setting would be Gergesa, on the eastern shore, but much further north. The topography of Gergesa also includes a promontory overlooking the lake that fits the narrative. Mark’s apparent lack of knowledge of geography around Galilee is often cited in concluding that he did not live in that region, nor perhaps even in Judea / Jerusalem, about 70 miles to the south. Some scholars suspect Mark’s hometown may have been Rome.
Arriving on shore, Jesus is confronted by a man possessed by an evil spirit (or spirits). Coming out of the tombs, the man ran toward Jesus, knelt, and shouted, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” The man identified himself as “Legion … because we are many.” Knowing they had no chance against Jesus, the spirits asked to be sent into a herd of nearby swine. Jesus assented to the request, the demons went into the swine, and the swine rushed off a nearby cliff and into the lake.
Naturally, a crowd gathered and was filled with awe. They saw the previously demon-possessed man now completely sane. They also were concerned for the pig farmer who had just lost his livelihood. The crowd pleaded with Jesus to leave. They had shown astonishment at the power of Jesus, but that is not the same as faith. The man who had been demon-possessed asked to come with Jesus as a disciple. In a surprise move, Jesus told the man to go home and tell everyone what the Lord had done. At the end of chapter one, Jesus told the healed leper not to say anything. Now he sends a healed man out to proclaim the Lord to the ten cities of the Decapolis. Why does he tell one man to keep silent and another to tell everyone?
In Mark 5:21-24a, Jesus is again surrounded by a crowd when Jairus, the synagogue leader approached him with a plea to come and “lay your hands on” his dying daughter. Mark makes it clear that not all Jewish authorities were hostile to Jesus. Some, like Jairus, have faith. Jesus complies with the request and heads for Jairus’s home.
With the crowd pressing in (Mark 5:24b-34), the suspense builds as Jesus hurries on his way to the dying child. But then another delay – Jesus realizes that someone has touched his clothing and felt power leave him. It was a nameless woman who has suffered continuous bleeding – perpetual menstruation – for twelve years. She is not only unable to bear children, but also defiled, unclean without the possibility of purification. “Daughter, your faith has healed you.” Jesus tells her, “Go in peace.” The clock is ticking.
While Jesus was engaged with this poor woman, time ran out on Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5:35-43). A messenger arrived to tell Jairus, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further.” There is tension here pitting the daughter of the synagogue leader, Jairus, against a no-name woman – one of the little people; a life-threatening emergency against a long-term illness that could just as easily be dealt with tomorrow. Yet Jesus gives Jairus hope, “Don’t be afraid; just keep trusting.” With the grieving parents, Peter, James and John in tow, Jesus enters the twelve-year old girl’s room, takes the hand of the corpse, and commands her to get up. She gets up and eats. A twelve-year-old daughter, and a daughter with a twelve-year-old disease; the faith of prominent father and that of a defiled woman; all combine with a pair of “touches” to create this narrative inside a framework questioning the identity of this wonder-worker.
In the end-frame of this section (Mark 6:1-6a), Jesus is back in his hometown teaching and healing in the synagogue on the Sabbath. People again are astounded. What is the source of Jesus’s authority? But as in Gergesa, astonishment does not mean faith. “Isn’t this the carpenter … Mary’s son?” They were repulsed by him. It was Jesus’s turn to end up flabbergasted by the lack of faith here in this, his hometown. Even the storm obeys him, but in his hometown he is nothing. Not everyone is able to see Jesus as God’s agent. For Mark’s narrative, wondrous works do not generate faith. Faith often comes first.
Clifton Black labels Mark’s next major section (Mark 6:6b-8:21), “Revelation at Mealtime”. Jesus sends the Twelve out on a mission, and ventures further into Gentile territory. There are several stories about food: a state dinner, a wilderness feeding, kosher practice and bread. In Mark 6:6b-13, the disciples are sent out in pairs to the surrounding villages to teach and heal. Before their return Mark takes us to a new venue.
Here, Mark offered a royal feast story, a “flashback” narrative of Herod Antipas and John the Baptist (Mark 6:14-29). Antipas had earlier arrested John (chapter one), even though he had great respect for him. Following his daughter’s dance at a royal feast, Herod promises her whatever she wishes (reminiscent of King Xerses’ promise to Esther in Esther 5:2-3). Guided by her mother, Herodias, who despised John the Baptist, the daughter asks for John’s head on a platter. (We see parallels with Elijah, Ahab, and Jezebel as recorded in I Kings 18:17-19.) Antipas is stunned, but being a man of his word, he has John executed and the head delivered. John’s disciples collect his body and place it in a tomb. (Does Mark include this last bit of information to contrast Jesus’s disciples reaction to his execution?)
With this background, Mark returns to another feast featuring Jesus and his disciples, who have just returned from their mission (Mark 6:30-44). Unable to escape the growing crowds even in the wilderness, the disciples suggest sending the crowd away to eat in the villages. Jesus replied, “You give them something to eat.” The disciples have five loaves of bread and two fish. The disciples seat all the people in groups. Jesus blessed the loaves, broke them into pieces, and gave them to the disciples to distribute. After everyone ate, they collected twelve baskets of leftovers. “About five thousand people had eaten.” A major contrast to the feast of Herod Antipas, but remarkably similar to the story of Elijah feeding the hungry in 2 Kings 4:42-44. Some of the language of Jesus’s feeding of the five thousand in the wilderness may also be reflected in the Last Supper (Mark 14:17-18 and 22, and I Cor 11:23 -24, 26). “He took the loaf (loaves), blessed, broke, and gave it to them.”
Following the feast narratives is another ‘boat in the storm’ story (Mark 6:45-52). This is a doublet with Mark 4:35-41, with which we opened this session. Instead of sleeping in the back of the boat, however, this time Jesus is walking on water during the storm, ready to pass by the boat of the terrified disciples. His reunion with the Twelve seems to calm the storm by itself – no rebuke required. Mark tells us that the disciples are baffled “because they hadn’t understood about the loaves”. His readers are left nearly as baffled trying to untangle Mark’s riddle that ties the loaves of bread miracle, walking on water, and the calming of the storm all together.
Primary Text: Mark (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries), by C. Clifton Black
Coming in Session 5: Mark 6:53-56; Mark 7; Mark 8; Mark 9
<No Class Memorial Day – 5/29/17>