Good morning! Today in Mark 6-7, Jesus and his disciples encounter some of the challenges that come from being well-known and universally sought out. Discipleship calls for discipline beyond what the followers of Jesus thought they had, and they are fed by power beyond themselves in the midst of the ministry.
Mark 6 starts out with Jesus himself facing blowback from the people he grew up with. The Nazarenes don’t believe he’s anything special, and therefore his power is limited among them, “except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” (Pretty impressive if that’s the least you can do.) Nevertheless, Jesus’ ministry expands when he sends out the disciples two by two (because it’s so much harder to be by oneself). These apostles must be radically reliant on the hospitality of those they go to stay with—they bring nothing for the journey themselves. While this was certainly daunting, perhaps it gave them a singularity of focus and allegiance to the ministry. Whatever the reason for their success, the disciples exercise similar powers as Jesus in healing and exorcising demons. After the graphic retelling of John the Baptist’s execution, Jesus reunites with the disciples and leads them away to get rest, but a great crowd follows them. When he suggests that the disciples feed the crowd, they nearly mutiny. Yet in the blessing and breaking of the meager food they have, Jesus shows them that God is able to do far more than they could imagine on their own. Walking on water underscores Mark’s point, via Jesus: with God all things are possible, and the normal rules of scarcity and fear need not apply.
Notice how in the first verses of Mark 7, the author describes the importance of washing utensils to “the Pharisees, and all the Jews”. This suggests to biblical scholars that Mark (or at least this section) was originally intended for non-Jewish readers. Somewhat later in this chapter, Mark also gives Jesus the words and argument that could help Jews recognize the validity of non-Jews, those who don’t keep kosher, for instance. He declares that what goes into the body is clean, but what comes out of the mouth is unclean if it proceeds from an unclean heart. Compare this revision of dietary laws with Matthew’s Jesus, who says he has not come to remove one letter of the law. Perhaps the gospel’s intended audience beyond Israel is why non-Jews find such favor in Mark. The Gerasene demoniac from yesterday is one example, and today’s Syrophoenecian woman is another. She is such an outsider that even Jesus doesn’t want to help her. His reference to the “dogs” that should not be fed the children’s food is an ethnic slur against Gentiles. Yet her quick reply to him refuses to accept his refusal, and her child is healed as a result. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Mark 8-9. Thanks for reading!