November 11, 2003
Mark 5

This chapter begins with a very wild tale. Jesus and his crew finish crossing the Gallilee and come to the land of the Gerasenes, where a man possessed by demons is living among the tombs, howling and hurting himself and anyone who comes near him. Jesus talks to the spirit -- who turns out to be plural, a whole legion -- and they beg him not to send them out of the country. Instead, they ask if they can move into a nearby herd of swine. Jesus lets them do so, and the pig run into the sea and drown.

The man is made whole, but the village is terrified, and asks Jesus to leave. The man asks if he can follow Jesus, but Jesus tells him instead to go and tell everyone what God has done for him.

The story is strange, even aside from the strangeness of demon possession. Before Jesus was driving out spirits; now he's negotiating with them. Yet when the spirits get their wish, they go kill themselves. The whole thing brings serious destruction of property to the villagers, not to mention the pigs. And in stark contrast to all the secrecy before now, Jesus tells the man to go talk all about it.

Pigs were unclean animals to the Hebrews. In fact, the whole scene is very unclean, with the man wandering among the dead bodies. So it occurred to me that the drowned pigs weren't a casual destruction of property, but a disapproval of the livelihood. (Though later Jesus will overturn the kosher laws, so go figure.)

I talked to Telford a little while ago and asked about this, and he told me one of those bits of Bible background he's good at: the Gerasenes were gentiles. Hence the herds of swine. So we have here Jesus' first serious contact with non-Jews, and he doubly cleanses them, you might say: driving out the unclean spirits and the pigs in one go. This also might explain why he tells the man to go home and publicize instead of following him. The gentiles have no messianic expectations, so he would not have to bear the expectation of being a military leader that the Jews would put on him. And it may foreshadow the fact that he'll be more popular among gentiles than Jews.

Still, it's weird.

So the crew sails back to Jewish turf, and a synagogue leader asks Jesus to heal his daughter. On the way there, an ailing woman sneaks up on Jesus. She's convinced touching his clothing will heal her, and manages to touch his cloak as he walks by. Jesus feels a little power drain, and turns to ask who touched him. The woman confesses, and Jesus says, "Daughter, faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease."

The idea that Jesus feels the "power go out" of him sounds so ... pagan. But it might suggest what's going on here. Like I said before, there were a lot of healers floating around then, and most of the charged money for their services. I wouldn't be surprised, given the general history of this sort of thing, if they believed they had a limited amount of "the force" and so could only help a limited number of people (those who paid). Jesus, however, doesn't mind that this woman basically picks his pocket. The power is ultimately inexhaustible. The power, in fact, is ultimately within her: "Your faith has made you well."

Jesus then goes to help the daughter, whom others presume to be dead. No, she's not dead, he says, just sleeping. He goes with her parents into her room, takes her hand, and tells her to get up. (For some reason, Mark puts his command in Aramaic.) She does, and resuming the former secrecy, Jesus tells them to tell no one.

It's not clear whether the child is actually dead. This isn't Lazarus, who's been gone four days and is already decomposing. But it does seem like a more impressive healing than previous ones. In fact, combined with the highly dramatic exorcism at the start of the chapter, it seems to intensify the powers Jesus has already shown. The plot thickens.

The fact that this is the daughter of a synagogue leader also seems significant. Up to now, the healings have been of the hoi polloi. Perhaps this increases the pressure on the pharisees, since even their cohorts are going to Jesus for help.

Posted by Camassia at November 11, 2003 07:05 PM | TrackBack

Hernan Gonzalez at fotos del apocalipsis brought up the question of the rare use of Aramaic by Mark a couple of months ago. Stealing from his idea, I wrote, "By providing the exact word ... Mark tells his readers Jesus used no magical incantations to perform His miracles, and so His power did not come from magic.

"Also (and I'm probably well into accomodation rather than exegesis here), notice the theme of the ordinary becoming extraordinary. Words that might be said every day change the world of those to whom they are spoken. Just so, those who are accounted as nothing in the world can become the adopted children of God, and bread can become God Himself."

Hernan's original post is here:

Posted by: Tom on November 13, 2003 01:43 PM
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