Sunday, November 26, 2006

Mark 5, Layer 2

(To be completed)

Mark 5, Layer 1

In the first section, Jesus performs an outstanding miracle, rescuing a man from a multitude of demons that had taken hold of him and left him living naked among the tombs, perhaps eating the dead. The demons ask to be banished to pigs, which then rush over a cliff and die.

Jesus performs two other miracles. The second of these is the raising of the 12-year old daughter of Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue from what her relatives believe is her death. In this miracle, Jairus thinks that his daughter can be saved only if Jesus touches her. Jesus asks of Jairus only that he believe.

The first miracle is different in type. A woman who has suffered bleeding for twelve years believes that if she touches Jesus, she will be healed. For His part, Jesus feels power leave Him, but cannot identify who took it.

This leaves the following observations and questions
1. The miracles of this chapter have to do with pollution: a man who lives with the dead, a woman who is bleeding, and an apparently dead child.
2. The first miracle occurs in the territory of the Gerasenes (or, variously, Gadarenes or Gergesenes). Jesus saves a man who has been hopelessly polluted by contact with the dead (and possibly by cannibalism).The man begs not to let the spirits leave the area. The injurious spirits that have made him inhumanly strong and made him cry out and cut himself on stones ask to go into ritually unclean animals, pigs. Does the fact that the pigs die in this precinct confine the evil spirits to the area? Did the man ingest the evil spirits with human flesh? What, precisely, does the word "Legion" mean, and does it have some connection with the Romans.
3. The evil spirits infesting the Gerasene resist Jesus, refusing to leave at His command until He asks the man his name. The man replies "My name is Legion, for we are many." Is Jesus speaking to the demons or to the man? Have the demons become part of the identity of the man? Why do the demons beg to be released into pigs?
4. Just as the man in the Gerasene region asks that the spirits not be allowed to leave the area, the Gerasenes beg Jesus to leave the area. They "exorcise" the son of God from their midst. The man wants to stay with Jesus, but Jesus denies him that request, instructing him instead to preach in his home town, the area known as the Ten Cities. All but one of these cities are on the east bank of the Jordan. The largest nowadays are Damascus and Amman. The Decapolis represented a region of cultural interaction between the Greek and Semitic way of life. Why does the man wait until Jesus is about to get into the boat before asking to go with Him?
5. Note that Jairus's daughter is 12 years old and the woman has been bleeding for 12 years. This might be coincidence, or it might point to a connection between the woman and the girl.
6. Why did Jesus choose Peter, James, and John to witness the miracle of raining the child? Why did he speak in Aramaic in raising the child? What, precisely, was the "ruler" of a synagogue?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Mark 4, Layer 2

(To be completed)

Mark 4, Layer 1

This chapter purports to be instruction on how to understand Jesus's parables. But this creates an awkward situation. Is there "secret knowledge" that only the enlightened attain? That was the basis of the gnostic heresy. Alternatively, is Mark illustrating how dense the disciples are, that even though they have the knowledge of the Kingdom of Heaven that permits them to understand the parables, they don't? Neither explanation is completely satisfactory, but we are later told that Jesus had to explain His parables to the disciples.

Even stranger, Jesus tells His disciples that He speaks in parables to prevent those who don't already have insight into the Kingdom of Heaven from repenting and being saved. So, in Mark's telling, Jesus is no longer preaching John's gospel of repentance, but a gospel of winnowing.

At any rate, Jesus tells of the farmer (the preacher, inspired by God) who sows the seed (the Word of God) to people, some of whom are unlucky and so the bird (Satan) eats the Word, some of whom are unfaithful (shallow-soiled) and fall away, some of whom are beleagured with worries (amid thorns), and a few of whom are fruitful, and return so much that the planting is successful.

Next is the parable of the lamp, in which Jesus says everything is meant to be known.

In a wisdom saying, He also tells us that we are given more of whatever we give. And if we consider what have to be too little to give to others, that little will be taken away. In a related parable, He compares the Kingdom of Heaven to the spontaneous creation of crops from sowing. So the farmer "gives away" his seed grain, but gets back more than he gave. Or perhaps, He says, the Kingdom is like a mustard seed, very small, but capable of growing to be a large weed.

The chapter closes with a miracle. A small flotilla, including Jesus and the disciples, sets off for the other side of the lake. Jesus falls asleep. His disciples have to wake Him when a storm sets in, and He commands the storm to cease. He asks the disciples why they are afraid and if they lack faith. We are told the answer: they are terrified because they have no faith at all, not even recognizing God sitting before them.

One last matter. The chapter says that Jesus preached from a boat. There's no obvious practical reason for this. Even if the shoreline bends, one wouldn't get a larger audience than could be obtained on land, and the noise of the water would be likely to make it harder to hear. Perhaps Jesus was trying to prevent His audience from touching Him.

So, this chapter leaves us with more questions than answers:
1. Is Jesus trying to conceal saving knowledge by using parables?
2. Is there a secret knowledge in the rest of Mark, to which this chapter alerts us?
3. How does Jesus's use of parables square with the parable of the lamp?
4. Why, really, did Jesus preach from a boat?