Mark 6:1-6: Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth and goes to teach in the synagogue. People are astounded by his teaching, but then begin to ask irrelevant questions. Yes, his teaching is superb. Yes, we have heard about his wonderful work. But isn’t he that local kid – Mary’s son? Don’t we know his brothers and sisters? An initial positive response turns negative. Jesus cannot do any deeds of power, well, maybe a few, but they are limited. He is amazed at their unbelief – a very human reaction on the part of Jesus. When do parts of our own Christian tradition become so familiar to us that they lose their power to transform our lives?
Mark 6:6-13: Jesus sends out twelve disciples to extend his own work. They preach/teach and heal. Our work as the church is to be sent by Jesus to preach, teach, and heal.
Mark 6:14-29: Inserted here is as story about King Herod (Herod Antipas, Tetrach of Galilee and Perea from 4 BCE to 39 CE) and John the Baptist. Striking this ominous note right after the good news about the disciples positive work foreshadows Jesus own death and speaks to Mark’s Christian community about their own difficulties. Herod hears of Jesus and he becomes afraid that Jesus is John the Baptist come back from the dead. When one has power one is tempted to be constantly afraid of critics of that power. Herod had arrested John for criticizing him. Nevertheless, he seemed to have grudging respect for John. The same could not be said for Herod’s wife, who only had the grudge. She schemes to have John put to death. No wonder Herod is afraid. John’s preaching had spoken to him, though it left him perplexed. John’s death pointed out the capriciousness of power exercised by Herod. In some ways, the scene is being set for Jesus own confrontation with authorities.
Mark 6:30-44: Contrast Herod’s arbitrary use of power to destroy with the power Jesus has. Jesus is powerful, though in a very different way from Herod. Jesus uses his power to feed, not to kill. This is the only miracle story to appear in all four gospels. The image of Jesus who feeds the hungry was central to early Christian faith. Many levels of meaning reverberate through this symbolic story. The historical Jesus was one with compassion for the hungry, one who himself ate and drank with those who had been excluded by religious and social correctness. After Easter, stories of Jesus feeding the hungry were used to communicate God’s answer in Christ to the hungers of humanity. (The People’s New Testament Commentary). Where in your life do you need to be fed by God through Jesus?
Mark 6:45-52: Jesus goes up a mountain to pray alone. Mark makes frequent message of this aspect of Jesus’ life. The disciples are in a boat, heading across the sea. A storm arises. Jesus walks across the water. The disciples are terrified. Jesus tells them, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” He gets in the boat with them and the storm ceases, leaving them astounded. Then Mark writes, “They did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” What a contrast to Matthew where the disciples say, “Truly you are the Son of God.” In Mark, the same disciples who have taught and healed in Jesus name, who have just witnessed the miracle of the feeding of five thousand, don’t get Jesus, don’t understand fully what he is about. Are they rocky soil? Are they unable to see what is right there before them? In the history of the church, there have been many disciples who experience this same obtuseness, who miss the point. Sometimes that’s you and me. We know the disciples don’t remain fearful and lacking in faith. Can we move beyond our fears to a deeper faith?
Mark 6:53-56: The boat lands, Jesus is recognized and the crowds form. Healing happens, even when people simply touch the fringes of Jesus garment. The “fringe” (Hebrew: tzizit) describes four tassels that were prescribed for every Jewish male, and the fact that Jesus wore these means that he understands himself as a faithful and observant Jew. The fringes were a reminder to Jews of all God’s commandments.
Mark 7:1-23: Though he may be an observant Jew, Jesus also challenged the Jewish tradition of which he was a part. Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem criticize his eating practices, and he hold a critical mirror up to them. Mark’s need to explain Jewish custom is evidence that his gospel was written primarily for non-Jewish Christians. In verses 14-15, Jesus says that it is not what goes into a person from outside but what comes out of a person from inside that makes him or her “defiled.” He said this to the crowd, but when the crowd leaves, confused disciples ask him what he means. He elaborates. The heart is what matters. Note that Mark adds a note about Jesus declaring all foods clean. This was missing in Matthew’s recounting of the story.
Mark 7:24-30: This is one of my favorite stories in the Gospels and will be the subject of my sermon July 22. Jesus goes further from home, to the region of Tyre a predominantly Gentile area extending to the Mediterranean Sea. He would like to remain anonymous, but that doesn’t last long. He engages in an exchange with a “clever and determined foreign woman” (New Interpreter’s Study Bible). She is Syrophoenecian, a non-Jew. Matthew had called her a Caananite woman. Calling her a “dog” would have been quite derogatory, a slam against her religion, culture and ethnic background. She takes Jesus’ own words and turns them in a different direction, opening up the possibility of healing – which happens. Why is this one of my favorite stories in the Gospels? Sorry, but I have to save something for my sermons.
Mark 7:31-37: “Then” another quick transition for Mark. It is a good thing Jesus takes some of those time alone moments. Here we have the story of the healing of a man who is deaf and has difficulty speaking. The story has no parallels in other gospels. It takes place in the Decapolis, a Gentile region on the east side of the Sea of Galilee. It is not inconceivable, then, that this man is Gentile, though the story does not say as much. That he is given sight and speech have tremendous symbolic significance, given that up to now many who have seen Jesus have not really “seen” him. The healing frees more than the individuals speech, those who witness it have their tongues set free. Though Jesus asks them to be quiet, they are unable to do so. They have witnessed someone who does all things well, even healing the deaf and the mute. Sometimes we need new eyes for seeing. Sometimes we need our tongues loosed to share good news.