November 18, 2003
Mark 6

Jesus and co. return to Nazareth, where the locals are amazed and hostile about his strange behavior. This guy is that carpenter's son -- who does he think he is, God or something? Jesus is sanguine about all this, saying prophets are never honored in their own houses anyway. But, oddly, we are told he "could do no deeds of power there" except curing a few sick people. Yet still he was "amazed at their unbelief."

This seems to strike a blow against Jesus' omnipotence: what he couldn't do anything? But this seems to carry on the message of the story of the woman with hemorrhages in the last chapter -- it's people's own faith that heals them, really. Which sounds an awful lot like the placebo effect, but let's not be cynical.

Jesus then sends out his disciples in twos, and they preach and heal on his behalf.

This chapter then employs a rather unusual narrative device for the Bible: a flashback sequence. Upon hearing of Jesus' words and deeds, Herod thinks that it sounds like John the Baptist has risen from the dead.

What, he's dead, you say? Flash back to another narrative strand. Herod likes listening to John, but imprisons him for pissing off his wife. John criticized Herod for marrying her, since she was his brother's wife, which is forbidden in Jewish law. Then a famous story commences:

21But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, ‘Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.’ 23And he solemnly swore to her, ‘Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.’ 24She went out and said to her mother, ‘What should I ask for?’ She replied, ‘The head of John the baptizer.’ 25Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, ‘I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.’ 26The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

As is true with a lot of heavily elaborated Bible stories, it's striking how little is actually there. The girl's name is the same as her mother's here, oddly enough; my notes say the name Salome came from Josephus, and some Marcan manuscripts amend that. We also aren't told her age; for all we know, she could be an 8-year-old who won over Herod by being cute. There's no indication of a great female plot, just an "opportunity."

Actually, what strikes me most about this story is how it underscores Jesus' anti-legalism in chapter 3. Herod has no sense of proportion; breaking an oath and embarrassing himself in front of guests are worse than taking an innocent man's life. As is often the case with more recent aristocracy, at least if British novels are anything to go by, appearances and saving face take precedence over everything.

Anyway, the apostles come back to Jesus and we then have two more very famous stories. First, another crowd gathers around Jesus, and we get the miracle of the loaves and fishes. This one also seems to me to echo an earlier passage, the parable of the mustard seed in chapter 4. We again have something small growing and multiplying. In his post on chapter 4 Kynn noticed something I hadn't about that parable, which is that the shrub has a sort of nurturing function in the way it shelters birds. That element is even clearer in this story, especially since we're told right before the miracle that Jesus "had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd."

So Jesus goes to a hilltop to pray, and the disciples set sail for Bethaisda. Jesus comes back and sees them still out to see, so he decides to walk it. Across the water, that is. He intended to walk past them, we're told, but the disciples see him, and freak out, thinking he's a ghost. Jesus climbs into the boat, and the wind stops. (It's the second time in Mark he's stilled the sea wind.) The disciples are astounded, "for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened."

It's funny how Jesus has been so secretive all this time, yet the narrator impugns them for not having figured him out yet. I guess he figures if they were more attuned to what God on earth would look like, their hearts would not be "hardened." I don't know. But the more puzzling thing about the passage is why Jesus intended to walk by them. What did he go out there for, if not to meet them? Maybe to walk in front of the boat, clearing a path through the wind? It's very strange.

Posted by Camassia at November 18, 2003 05:39 PM | TrackBack

The issue of money comes up in a couple of ways in this chapter of Mark. When Jesus sends his followers out to preach the Good News, he allows them to carry no money, nor even a purse in which to carry it. They are to subsist strictly on the kindness of strangers. And if they do not receive that kindness, they are to curse the place as they leave by shaking the dust off their sandals at the city limit. When the disciples begin fretting about feeding the multitude that has gathered, it is interesting that they quote to Jesus a specific amount of money that they have calculated it would take to buy sufficient food. Jesus ignores this and tells them to share out what they have on hand. As in the Lord's Prayer, our "daily bread" is clearly other than, or at least more than just, the kind made of wheat.

Posted by: Rob on November 19, 2003 06:00 AM

I was hoping someone would address your question as to why Jesus had seemed to plan to walk by. It's something I wondered to. Maybe a metaphor for to suggest that we should ask him to come to us, rather than always expecting him come to us unbidden?

Posted by: tso on November 21, 2003 05:15 PM
Post a comment
Hi! I'd love to know your thoughts, but please read the rules of commenting:
- You must enter a valid email address
- No sock puppets
- No name-calling or obscene language


Email Address:



Remember info?