Mark 4-5

Good morning! Parables and miracles are the themes of today’s passage, Mark 4-5. The parables are instructive by nature, but the miracles of Jesus carry as much significance here as the parables, if we investigate them a bit further.

Jesus’ parables in Mark often include a similar closing refrain: “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” This simultaneously goes out as an invitation to every person (“anyone with ears”), while also acknowledging that some with ears won’t be able to truly hear his message. Jesus tells insiders (his disciples) the “secret” of the parables and the kingdom of God, but such knowledge is unavailable to anyone uninitiated in the way of Jesus. (This is in keeping with the “messianic secret” theme in Mark, and likely reflects the reality of early Christian faith, when the death of one’s religious hero needed interpretation.) Jesus explains different types of people in the parable seed falling on different grounds, but my imagination lingers on the sower. No real farmer would be so foolish as to waste seed by casting it on rocky and hard-packed ground. At the same time, such a characterization of God (as the sower) reveals a depth of liberality and faith that goes beyond common sense. One never knows—sometimes the word of God takes root in the most unlikely of people. Note also that though just a fraction of ground is fertile for growth, when it produces the yield is thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold. Other parables in this passage also convey the mysterious, unseen, and abundant growth of the kingdom of God.

When Mark returns to miracles like those we read yesterday, he starts not with healings but with a marvel of nature. The lake storm conveys metaphorically the bewilderment brought about by this wonder-working prophet, and then Jesus’ ability to calm that which frightens. This movement from fear to calm connects with the next story, an exorcism. Among foreigners on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus encounters a fearsome demon-possessed man. Jesus negotiates with the demons and lets them enter a swine herd when they leave the man. When they kill all the pigs, Jesus suddenly becomes deeply unpopular among the townspeople. What once was tumult within the Gerasene man becomes a great storm among the Gerasene people. They were afraid of the formerly-possessed man as well as Jesus, because the man’s healing meant they needed to incorporate him back into society rather than leave him among the gravestones. This can’t have been easy for the Gerasene man either, but Jesus declines his request to go off with the miracle-worker. Instead, he’s told, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” Note that this foreigner is told to spread the news, whereas Jesus tells others that he heals to keep quiet.

Back on the Hebrew side of the Sea of Galilee, we encounter another pair of miracles: the healings of Jairus’ daughter and the woman with an unstoppable menstrual flow. Some interpreters see a link here between two types of infertility—the girl was dying before she was old enough to bear children, and the woman had lived with some sort of reproductive malfunction for more than a decade. Furthermore, the girl was twelve years old, and the woman had been suffering for the same time. Jesus heals both, restoring them to wholeness and life again. The references to fertility seems a little stretched to me, but I see value in this interpretation. The more immediate link I see between the two is in the way they reveal Jesus’ priorities. Though he’s summoned to minister to the daughter of an important synagogue leader, Jesus allows himself to be interrupted by a still more immediate need. He pauses in his journey in order to be present in the moment. He also prioritizes the (presumably stigmatized) woman over the family of higher status. Finally, these two healings reveal the power of faith. Jesus tells the woman that her “faith has made you well”, and he tells Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.” Belief in healing power apparently has some impact on how effective it will be. Keep that in mind when we start the reading tomorrow, where Jesus “could do no deed of power” among his own people because of their unbelief. Happy reading!

Read Mark 4-5.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Mark 6-7. Thanks for reading!

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