Boring, M. Eugene. Mark: A Commentary. Part of the New Testament Library commentary series edited by C.Clifton Black and John T. Carroll. (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 2006).
Byrne, Brendan. A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel. (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 2008).
Donahue, S.J., John R. and Daniel J. Harrington, S.J.. The Gospel of Mark. Part of the Sacra Pagina biblical commentary series edited by Daniel J. Harrington S.J. (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 2002).
Duran, Nicole Wilkinson Duran, Teresa Okure, Daniel M. Patte editors. Mark. Part of the Texts @ Contexts series edited by Athalya Brenner and Nicole Wilkinson Duran. (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2011)..
France, R.T. The Gospel of Mark. Part of the New International Greek Testament Commentary series edited by I. Howard Marshall and Donald A. Hagner. (Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids MI, 2002).
Harrington, O.P., Wilfrid. What was Mark At? The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary. (Columbia Press, Dublin, 2008).
Hengel, Martin. Studies in the Gospel of Mark. Translated by John Bowden from the original German. (Wipf and Stock Publishers, Eugene OR, 1985).
Myers, Ched. Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus. Twentieth Anniversary Edition. (Orbis Books, Maryknoll, 1988/2008).
Myers, Ched & Marie Dennis, Joseph Nangle, OFM, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, and Stuart Taylor. “Say to the This Mountain”: Mark’s Story of Discipleship. (Orbis, Maryknoll NY, 1996).
Perkins, Pheme. The Gospel of Mark. New Interpreter’s Bible Vol. VIII. Part of the New Interpreter’s Bible commentary series convened by Leander Keck. (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1995).
Placher, William C. Mark. Part of the bible commentary serried Belief, A Theological Commentary on the Bible edited by Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 2010).
Ryken, Leland, James C.Wilhoit, Tremper Longman III, General Editors. Dictionary of Biblical Imagery: An encyclopedic exploration of the images, symbols, motifs, metaphors, figures of speech and literary patterns of the Bible. (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove IL, 1998).
Sweetland, Dennis. Mark: From Death to Life. Part of the Spiritual Commentaries on the bible series edited by Mary Ann Getty-Sullivan. (New City Press, Hyde Park NY, 2000).
Williamson, Jr., Lamar. Mark. Part of the Interpretation biblical commentary series edited by James L. Mays, Patrick d. Miller, and Paul J. Achtemeier. (John Knox Press, Louisville, 1983)
This lesson is by Gregory Wolfe.
Parables and miracles dominate chapters 4 and 5 of the gospel of Mark. WORDS and DEEDS to help us enter more fully into the Kingdom of God.
- Story – Good Samaritan, Prodigal Son
- Allegorical – Parable of sower/seed
- Enigmatic sentences: Mark 4:25
25 To the one who has, more will be given; from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
- Actions – “Parabolic actions go against the expected and cause us to rethink our standard categories.” Jesus touches the leper, instead of Jesus being made unclean instead the leper is healed.
- Upset our expectations
- Shatter old images
- Call for new ways of seeing, hearing, thinking, acting
- Invite us to participate
4:1 On another occasion he began to teach by the sea. A very large crowd gathered around him so that he got into a boat on the sea and sat down. And the whole crowd was beside the sea on land. 2 And he taught them at length in parables, and in the course of his instruction he said to them, 3 “Hear this! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched and it withered for lack of roots. 7 Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it and it produced no grain. 8 And some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit. It came up and grew and yielded thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” 9 He added, “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.”
10 And when he was alone, those present along with the Twelve questioned him about the parables. 11 He answered them, “The mystery of the kingdom of God has been granted to you. But to those outside everything comes in parables, 12 so that ‘they may look and see but not perceive, and hear and listen but not understand, in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven.'” 13 Jesus said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand any of the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 These are the ones on the path where the word is sown. As soon as they hear, Satan comes at once and takes away the word sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground who, when they hear the word, receive it at once with joy. 17 But they have no root; they last only for a time. Then when tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18 Those sown among thorns are another sort. They are the people who hear the word, 19 but worldly anxiety, the lure of riches, and the craving for other things intrude and choke the word, and it bears no fruit. 20 But those sown on rich soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”
Shows how important the response to the word of God is. Shocking to realize that those who have accepted the gospel can still drift away.
Faith given as a gift, given as a seed, must be cared for by each believer, so that it can mature.
Even those on ‘the inside’ can fail to understand the parables. Ultimate parable is the cross.
We naturally read and understand the gospels in light of our knowledge of the passion and resurrection. Hard for those IN the gospel to grasp what was going on, what Jesus was saying.
As our response: are we working to eliminate sins? Are we spending more time in prayer? What about our fruits? Are we giving more of ourselves? Has the gift of faith continued to make more and more of a real difference in the way we live?
30 He said, “To what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. 32 But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”
Even our smallest actions in life can be used by God to help our faith mature and grow. We can “scatter some small seeds” in our lives and let God work in us.
The miracles of chapter 5 complement the words / parables of chapter 4. Miracle stories take up fully ¼ of Mark’s gospel. In the first half alone there are 20 stories that show Jesus’ miraculous powers. The miracles are parabolic actions. The responses to the miracles are somewhat like people’s response to a modern art painting. People twist and turn. The artist is trying to get people to look at things differently. Miracles, like parables, turn the world upside down, so that we can get a glimpse of the Kingdom.
The Gerasene demoniac had enormous physical strength but was completely insane. Ancient understanding of this – demons. He lived in an ‘unclean’ place. Not bound by a chain but bound by the demon within him. This speaks to all of us – who does not have something within that causes us pain, doesn’t let us be the people we want to be? Only 1 power can remove this powerful force within us. Jesus, the light of the world. He has power over the external forces of nature as well as the inner forces represented by the demons.
41 They were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”
This story encourages us to be aware of the darkness inside and outside of us, to allow Jesus to free us from them.
The miracles point to the Kingdom and power of God more than they are proof of them.
15 As they approached Jesus, they caught sight of the man who had been possessed by Legion, sitting there clothed and in his right mind. And they were seized with fear. 16
Accept this Jesus and his message and offer of freedom, or reject him out fear and habit. Their answer: “Then they began to beg him to leave their district.” Mark 5:17
And the cured man? Wanted to go with Jesus but “he would not permit him but told him, instead, ‘Go home to your family and announce to them all that the LORD in his pity has done for you.’ Mark 5:19
Let us learn to look for the miracles that are happening in our own lives every day.
Outline of this chapter:
- Teaching by the sea
- Parable of the Sower
- Why are you teaching in parables?
- Explanation of the Parable of the Sower
- Parable of the Lamp and the metaphor – measuring cup
- Kingdom of God as a field of grain
- Kingdom of God as a mustard seed
- Crossing of the sea / calming of the storm
Teacher / Teaching
often the teacher sits, students don’t. Rabbinic custom was to gather an exclusive group of students around themselves whom they taught and were supported by. One became a rabbinic teacher in the very act of getting students to listen, learn, and pay. Moses recognized as the great human teacher / leader in OT, God as the primary teacher. Ryken p. 843: “In Proverbs divine instruction is embodied in the personified figure of Wisdom.”.
Ryken – teachers before the rabbis in Israel were likely the Levites (who also served in the Temple in a subordinate role to the priests / descendants of Aaron from within the tribe of Levi.
2 Chronicles 35:1-3
Josiah celebrated in Jerusalem a Passover to honor the LORD; the Passover sacrifice was slaughtered on the fourteenth day of the first month. He reappointed the priests to their duties and encouraged them in the service of the LORD’S house.
He said to the Levites who were to instruct all Israel, and who were consecrated to the LORD: “Put the holy ark in the house built by Solomon, son of David, king of Israel. It shall no longer be a burden on your shoulders. Serve now the LORD, your God, and his people Israel. …”.
Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people, their hands raised high, answered, “Amen, amen!” Then they bowed down and prostrated themselves before the LORD, their faces to the ground.
(The Levites Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, and Pelaiah explained the law to the people, who remained in their places.) Ezra read plainly from the book of the law of God, interpreting it so that all could understand what was read.
Then (Nehemiah, that is, His Excellency, and) Ezra the priest-scribe (and the Levites who were instructing the people) said to all the people: “Today is holy to the LORD your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep”-for all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law.
The home / workplace, in the company of others was the primary location in OT times for learning – not “schools”. Parents as the primary teachers of the faith and everything else their children needed to know – an “apprenticeship” model of learning.
Pharisees, who were learned in the law, began to supplant the Levites as teachers of the law somewhere in the misty years between 300 BCE and the time of Jesus. There was a real tension between the Pharisees and the temple cult in Jerusalem whom the Pharisees considered corrupted by their contacts and accommodations to the Romans. After the destruction of the Temple and the priesthood in 70AD the Pharisees led the re-invention / re-creation of Judaism – centered on the Bible, in the Synagogue, and on keeping the Law as opposed to primarily being a centralized Temple sacrificial religion.
Verbal parables of Jesus (mustard seed etc.) but also parabolic acts – cleansing the Temple, washing the feet of the disciples.
The verbal parables are drawn from the daily life of those who listened – farming, shepherding, workplace, market, home. We recognize in the characters universal types – we all know someone like the boasting Pharisee who is glad he is not like that woman over there, someone like the prodigal son who takes off at the first opportunity.
In the parables of Jesus there is often a surprising catch or hook – the workers in the vineyard who all get paid the same amount despite working different hours, the Good Samaritan helps the injured man but not the “good” Jews.
Some parables are fairly obvious allegories, but not all of them. In an allegory something rather straightforwardly represents some other thing, person, or reality. Many scholars would assert that the interpretations offered in the gospels were added by the early church, that Jesus might have taught with something simpler and cleaner – and expected his listeners to do the hard work of thinking through what he meant.
The story of Jonah (a book in the OT) is an extended parable. Some of the OT prophets enacted, even lived out, parables – Hosea married “a loose woman” named Gomer but loved her and kept taking her back to illustrate relationship of Israel to God. Isaiah smashed a clay pot that represented the nation of Israel before the Babylonian invasion.
Universality of the Kingdom of God
Ezekiel 17: 22-24 An allegorical / parable of the universality of the coming Kingdom of God with God as the sower / planter.
Therefore say: Thus says the Lord GOD: I, too, will take from the crest of the cedar, from its topmost branches tear off a tender shoot, And plant it on a high and lofty mountain; on the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it. It shall put forth branches and bear fruit, and become a majestic cedar. Birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it, every winged thing in the shade of its boughs. And all the trees of the field shall know that I, the LORD, Bring low the high tree, lift high the lowly tree, Wither up the green tree, and make the withered tree bloom. As I, the LORD, have spoken, so will I do.
Isaiah and other prophets often indicated that in the day of the LORD / coming Kingdom that all the nations of the earth would come to Mt. Zion to worship. (Those who had acted against the people of Israel however would be punished.)
Seeds / sowing
Seeds had enormous value in an agricultural system. Genesis 1:11-13
Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth vegetation: every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it.” And so it happened: the earth brought forth every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it. God saw how good it was. Evening came, and morning followed–the third day.
Some read much of the stories of Genesis / Exodus as the clash between two ancient cultures – those who wandered in nomadic fashion with their herds of sheep / goats / cattle etc. and those who stayed in one place and tilled the soil and planted seeds. Their interests often clashed – as they still do in our own country out west.
Ecclesiastes 11: 4-6
One who pays heed to the wind will not sow, and one who watches the clouds will never reap.
Just as you know not how the breath of life fashions the human frame in the mother’s womb, So you know not the work of God which he is accomplishing in the universe.
In the morning sow your seed, and at evening let not your hand be idle: For you know not which of the two will be successful, or whether both alike will turn out well.
Teaching by the sea
Boring p. 114 thinks it significant that the crowd was “on land”, not “on the beach” as might be expected. So that the parable’s point that Jesus is now sowing seeds – will it land on good soil or not?
Parable of the Sower
Planting and harvesting would have been a life and death activity then. Few had reserves to fall back on in case of bad harvests or disasters – which would make the parable of the rich man with such a good harvest that he had to tear down his barns to build new ones so attention-grabbing. Ordinary people went hungry and even starved to death in bad years.
Boring p. 117: bad soil (three examples) is contrasted with good soil (three examples). Strong dualism is a characteristic of Jewish end-days thinking.
Boring p. 118: “Already in the first three sowings, prudence and caution seem low on the priority list, and there is a certain lavishness, an indiscriminate sowing bordering on carelessness.”
Yield of a hundred-fold would have been astounding to the listeners. But Genesis 26 has this story of Isaac temporarily dwelling in the land of Abimelech:
“Isaac sowed a crop in that region and reaped a hundredfold the same year. Since the
LORD blessed him, he became richer and richer all the time, until he was very wealthy
indeed. He acquired such flocks and herds, and so many work animals, that the
Philistines became envious of him. (The Philistines had stopped up and filled with dirt all
the wells that his father’s servants had dug back in the days of his father Abraham.)
So Abimelech said to Isaac, “Go away from us; you have become far too numerous for us.”
Why are you teaching in parables?
In Mark’s gospel it is only after the passion, death, and resurrection that the disciples, much less the majority of the people, begin to grasp what Jesus was actually saying and doing. Therefore – even with the explanation of the parables, the disciples don’t really grasp it.
Parables don’t have a specific “point” that we can just lay out in a couple of sentences – they draw us into the mind of Jesus (just a bit) and open up something new but hard to put into words. Very often they disturbed those who heard them – leaving people feeling uneasy, unsure, sometimes angry as they began to visualize some of the ideas in their own lives.
The best way to preach / teach a parable is with more stories!
Isaiah 6: 1-11
In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple.
Seraphim were stationed above; each of them had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two they veiled their feet, and with two they hovered aloft.
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts!” they cried one to the other. “All the earth is filled with his glory!”
At the sound of that cry, the frame of the door shook and the house was filled with smoke.
Then I said, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember which he had taken with tongs from the altar.
He touched my mouth with it. “See,” he said, “now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.”
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” “Here I am,” I said; “send me!”
And he replied: Go and say to this people:
Listen carefully, but you shall not understand! Look intently, but you shall know nothing!
You are to make the heart of this people sluggish, to dull their ears and close their eyes; Else their eyes will see, their ears hear, their heart understand, and they will turn and be healed.
“How long, O Lord?” I asked. And he replied: Until the cities are desolate, without inhabitants, Houses, without a man, and the earth is a desolate waste.
Mark seems harsh, doesn’t he? Jesus is teaching in parables SO THAT people would not understand? The later gospels seem to modify this explanation to say that it’s because they heard but didn’t listen, saw but didn’t perceive etc. – i.e. it was their rejection of the Jesus that kept them from getting. it. Boring p. 127 rejects this approach. “…Mark 4 does not present a picture of what happened in a boat on a particular day in the life of Jesus, but a retrospective theological reflection on what had happened in the Christ-event.” It simply had to be – only after Easter would anyone get it.
Explanation of the Parable of the Sower
focus on the parable dimension (rather than the allegory) – is more on the surprising harvest. There certainly is a homiletical point – “what kind of soil are you?’
Parable of the Lamp
4 originally independent sayings have been clustered here by Mark. They are not part of the explanation of the previous parables but are themselves 4 new parables.
Kingdom of God as a field of grain
Boring p. 138: “…those who sow the gospel need not suppose that their own exertions bring or hasten the kingdom. Nor does their having received the mystery of the kingdom mean that they understand how or when the kingdom will come. The seed has been sown in the Christ-event, and they may continue to sow in confidence, for the present hiddenness of the kingdom will be made manifest in God’s own time.”
Kingdom of God as a mustard seed
mustard seed plant at the time of Jesus was a weed, not wanted in the sown fields. Might be better known as the Parable of the Persistent Weed!
Boring p. 139 – in Galilee at that time mustard plant might grow to 9 or 10 feet high. The birds represent the nations, the “point” includes something about universality. Not a great cedar tree but a big weed, Messiah not a ruling king with an army but an executed criminal …
Crossing of the sea / calming of the storm
Jesus heads out of land of Israel into Gentile territory. Again there is exploration of the universality of the message of the Kingdom.
There are some strong parallels to the story of Jonah in the OT. Jonah flees toward a Gentile place to escape from doing the LORD’s will.
But Jonah made ready to flee to Tarshish away from the LORD. He went down to Joppa, found a ship going to Tarshish, paid the fare, and went aboard to journey with them to Tarshish, away from the LORD.
The LORD, however, hurled a violent wind upon the sea, and in the furious tempest that arose the ship was on the point of breaking up.
Then the mariners became frightened and each one cried to his god. To lighten the ship for themselves, they threw its cargo into the sea. Meanwhile, Jonah had gone down into the hold of the ship, and lay there fast asleep.
The captain came to him and said, “What are you doing asleep? Rise up, call upon your God! Perhaps God will be mindful of us so that we may not perish.”
Outline of this chapter:
- crossing to the Gentile side,
- cure of the Gerasene demoniac
- return to the Jewish side
- request to heal Jairus’ daughter, beginning of journey
- cure of the woman with flow of blood
- arrival of messengers – Jairus’ daughter is dead
- raising Jairus’ daughter
Ched Myers p. 188,189 argues that there is a great deal of parallelism in the first 8 chapters of Mark. Using Kelber’s breakdown we have the following:
Jewish side Gentile side
first exorcism and fame 1:21-28 5:1-20
popular ministry 1:29-39 6:54-56
symbolic healings 5:22-43 7:24-37
wilderness feedings 6:32-44 8:1-10
lack of comprehension 6:51ff 8:14-21
Now, it is possible that Mark was simply often giving a geographically confused itinerary for Jesus and it might also be possible to think that the parallelism is either accidental or preserves some other hidden message. But, as we continue to read these texts – perhaps we should pay attention to WHERE WE ARE geographically and consider that as an important part of the story. Myers p. 189: “… for however they are “mapped”, the sea crossings function as a fiction dramatizing the struggle to “bridge” the deeply alienated worlds of Jew and gentile.”
Most scholars see Mark writing for a predominantly Gentile Christian community that also had Jewish members and lived in a predominantly Jewish society, at a time when the church was still struggling to figure out how to pull this off.
We tend to hear movement simply as geography. In our own novels or movies etc. however, we might notice that the action shifts between farm to city, mountains to the beach, the North and the South, etc. and then begin to see a writer’s deeper point. Holy and clean place to unclean place might have been the Jewish thought on hearing these travels. First exorcism is in a synagogue (cleanest possible place other than the Temple?) vs. the exorcism in Gerasene territory (pigs, tombs, unclean Gentiles).
There are six exorcisms (or references to them) in Mark – clearly this a major part of Jesus’ (and the church’s) ministry in Mark’s inherited tradition. Chapter 1:32; Chapter 3:11; Chapter 5:1; Chapter 6:7; Chapter 7:24 and Chapter 9:14.
in our now “post-modern” Western culture we look at the idea of demons / exorcisms with a great deal of skepticism and have a very firm tendency to attribute illnesses to physical / mental / emotional / social roots. This is not necessarily the way other cultures, even today, and certainly through history, have looked at the phenomenon. Even today in Africa and Asia these biblical passages are heard differently. The Bible was written for all people in all times so …
The Duran book listed above has a chapter by a Korean minister detailing an exorcism / healing by a Korean shaman of a 15 year old boy and the minister’s reflection on the Gerasene demoniac story. The minister believes that instead of being “demons” they are unhappy and restless spirits of the dead, perhaps those killed by the Romans. Their cries of distress and even the self-hurting are consistent with the self-loathing that can develop under occupation by a foreign power. They wish to remain in the area because it is their home. They go to their death in the sea – but to peace and true rest! In this reading – the man is healed – but so are the spirits.
Sea / Water as a divider in OT
from slavery in Egypt to freedom in Exodus 14:
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD swept the sea with a strong east wind throughout the night and so turned it into dry land. When the water was thus divided, the Israelites marched into the midst of the sea on dry land, with the water like a wall to their right and to their left.
The Egyptians followed in pursuit; all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and charioteers went after them right into the midst of the sea. In the night watch just before dawn the LORD cast through the column of the fiery cloud upon the Egyptian force a glance that threw it into a panic; and he so clogged their chariot wheels that they could hardly drive. With that the Egyptians sounded the retreat before Israel, because the LORD was fighting for them against the Egyptians. Then the LORD told Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may flow back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and their charioteers.”
Crossing from the desert into the Promised Land Joshua 3:14 ff
The people struck their tents to cross the Jordan, with the priests carrying the ark of the covenant ahead of them. No sooner had these priestly bearers of the ark waded into the waters at the edge of the Jordan, which overflows all its banks during the entire season of the harvest, than the waters flowing from upstream halted, backing up in a solid mass for a very great distance indeed, from Adam, a city in the direction of Zarethan; while those flowing downstream toward the Salt Sea of the Arabah disappeared entirely. Thus the people crossed over opposite Jericho.
While all Israel crossed over on dry ground, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant of the LORD remained motionless on dry ground in the bed of the Jordan until the whole nation had completed the passage.
Myers p. 189 – the sea and boat figure prominently in Chapters 4 through 8:13 and then are never mentioned again.
Myers p. 197: “These harrowing sea stories intend to dramatize the difficulties facing the kingdom community as it tries to overcome the institutionalized social divisions between Jew and gentile. Through this metaphorical action the community struggles to make the “passage” to integration (hence the difficulty is always en route to the gentile shore).”
Healing of Gerasene demoniac
France p. 228: “Two spiritual powers are here in confrontation and the nature of the man’s approach makes it clear which is the superior.”
The demons acknowledge Jesus as “Son of the Most High God” – Most High God is the normal Gentile name for the God of the Jewish people.
Myers p. 190: “Immediately upon his arrival on “the other side” Jesus is confronted by a demon. This confrontation contains more detail and embellishment than any other single episode in the Gospel prior to the trial narrative. In it Jesus inaugurates another round of powerful symbolic action in his ministry of liberation.”
Note the presence of herds of pigs – not something ever found in Jewish areas. He lives among the tombs of the dead – an incredibly “unclean” place for Jews and many other cultures.
Placher p. 80: the Gerasene man is incredibly strong – not on his own but because of the demons. Jesus conquers them and heals the man. Jesus liberates him from the strong one / strong man, i.e. from forces of control and oppression.
Myers p. 191 gives a very political interpretation to the story. Legion = a division of Roman soldiers. Pigs do not go about in “herds” , was a word often used for fresh military recruits. Dismisses them. They charge into the sea. They drown. (Egypt echoes?) The emperor Vespasian had ordered a brutal assault on the area during a revolt in the late 60’s – something that certainly was echoing at the time the gospel of Mark was written. Boring p. 151: “The Tenth Legion, stationed in Palestine, had the insignia of a wild boar on its banners.” Boring also notes that a standard legion was 6,000 men (though rarely did they have the full complement).
Why do the area residents want Jesus to leave? Fear of the Romans / authorities. Why doesn’t Jesus let the cured man come with him? It’s not yet time for a mixed community of Jews and Gentiles.
Myers sees Jesus restraining the strong men of his time (Jewish authorities, Roman authorities) in defense and liberation of those who are weak, of those who are marginalized or outcast by the current system, of those who are being exploited by those who have seized the power and use it to maintain themselves in power. In contrast He calls people to the Kingdom of God where God rules in justice and mercy, caring for all people. p. 194 “The mustard seed of the Kingdom community would overcome the towering tree of Rome”. (and of the Jewish Temple authorities)
A more traditional reading of this cure from Harrington p. 49: “The episode of the pigs is patently folk narrative with typical earthy humour. The demons had, seemingly, won a concession, but it proved to be their undoing. We are to take it that they perished with the pigs. No Jew would have shed a tear over the destruction of a herd of pigs – fitting habitat for demons indeed! For Mark the drowning was important as he show his reader that the episode went far beyond the deliverance of the unhappy possessed one. It was expulsion of a horde of demons from the land, a veritable victory of Jesus in the domain of Satan.” In this sort of reading the sea represents what it did in Genesis 1 – the abyss filled with chaos.
Placher p. 81: “A good many readers today tend to pass over the joy of the cured lunatic and worry about the farmers who lost their swine, one more case of how much our priorities can differ from those of Jesus. The Gerasenes clearly want Jesus to get out of town, not only because he is killing off their pigs but also just because of the sheer power he manifests. We modern readers are fooling ourselves if we think that we, by contrast, would have liked having Jesus around. We do not understand Mark’s picture of him unless we recognize that he is terrifying.”
Healing of Jairus’s Daughter / Woman with flow of blood
Boring p. 157: “The combination of sickness / healing pointing to death / resurrection was more apparent to ancient readers than to modern ones. In the biblical world, sickness was the leading edge of death. To be sick was already to be in the grasp of death, and to be healed was to be restored to life. Both stories spoke to the human condition as such, the condition of mortality, not only to those who happened to be sick or have a death in the family.”
with the demoniac the Jew / Gentile barrier is breached. Here it is the female/male barrier.
Boring p. 159 points out – Jesus reaches out to touch the inert girl, the woman actively reaches out to touch Jesus.
Jesus interrupts the cure of the wealthy person’s daughter to deal with an outcast woman. Her flow is of 12 years duration – the girl is 12 years old. (twelve tribes of Israel, twelve apostles) Jairus presents himself as equal but begs for a favor, the woman is not named and reaches out to Jesus furtively.
Williamson – p. 112 reports from Henri Nouwen: “A teacher once remarked, “You know .. my whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly being interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.”
France p. 236: “This woman’s long and fruitless search for a cure was therefore motivated not only by physical distress but by her social and religious isolation. Mark’s unflattering account of the medical profession provides a share (and perhaps humorous?) contrast with the completeness and immediacy of the cure she receives through touching Jesus.”
In bringing these stories together Mark is clever to heighten the readers’ tension – we know Jesus could heal the older woman any time (she had been sick for 12 years) while the little girl is in immediate danger.
Boring p. 162 notes that the scorn of the mourners for the little girl (already the funeral has begun) is really the scorn of the Jewish world toward the Christians who asserted that Jesus had risen from the dead.
Placher p. 83: “Moreover, while the little girl is Jairus’s daughter, Jesus identifies the woman as his daughter.”
Jesus ignores the message that the girl has died – just as the disciples must ignore the message that Jesus had died. Myers p. 203: “Indeed, the term here describing the observers’ astonishment at the little girl’s recovery appears again only once in Mark – when the women are told that Jesus too has risen from the dead (16:8).”
The parallel to these stories on the Gentile side occur with the woman who begs Jesus for a cure for HER daughter, is called a “dog” etc. in chapter 7
Sweetland p. 80 (and others) note that the word translated as “cured” (If I but touch his garment…) is the technical word for “saved”
Clean / unclean
Placher p. 88: “He literally reaches out to touch those whose touch is supposed to render unclean, and power flows in the opposite direction: they do not pollute him – he cleanses them, and thereby raises the question of whether they were ‘polluted’ in the first place. He challenges his culture’s basic values and assumptions, not on behalf of a new set of rules about who is clean and unclean, but about the very appropriateness of such categories. Once such questions have been raised, the whole world looks different.”
Blood – associated with life, belongs to God and is sacred. Blood and other bodily
fluids also belongs on the inside of us.
Lev. 15: 1-5
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron,
“Speak to the Israelites and tell them: Every man who is afflicted with a chronic flow from his private parts is thereby unclean. Such is his uncleanness from this flow that it makes no difference whether the flow drains off or is blocked up; his uncleanness remains. Any bed on which the man afflicted with the flow lies, is unclean, and any piece of furniture on which he sits, is unclean. Anyone who touches his bed shall wash his garments, bathe in water, and be unclean until evening.
Lev. 15: 19-22
“When a woman has her menstrual flow, she shall be in a state of impurity for seven days. Anyone who touches her shall be unclean until evening. Anything on which she lies or sits during her impurity shall be unclean. Anyone who touches her bed shall wash his garments, bathe in water, and be unclean until evening.
Whoever touches any article of furniture on which she was sitting, shall wash his garments, bathe in water, and be unclean until evening.
Lev. 11:9-12 (there is lots more!)
“Of the various creatures that live in the water, you may eat the following: whatever in the seas or in river waters has both fins and scales you may eat.
But of the various creatures that crawl or swim in the water, whether in the sea or in the rivers, all those that lack either fins or scales are loathsome for you, and you shall treat them as loathsome. Their flesh you shall not eat, and their dead bodies you shall loathe. Every water creature that lacks fins or scales is loathsome for you.