"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Gospel of Mark: Comments and Observations, Part III

This is a continuation of my comments and observations on the Gospel of Mark in a discussion at the Goodreads book club, Catholic Thought. 

Part I can be found here.  
Part II can be found here. 

Part I focused on the primacy of Mark’s or Matthew’s Gsopels.  Part II focused on modern scholarship and the dating of the Gospels.  Part III takes up all the other comments and observations.

⁑ On the Importance of the Sea in Mark ⁑

I found chapter 4 particularly striking for a few reasons.

First, I love it that Jesus climbs into a boat and preaches. Matthew has the sermon on the mount off a hill or mountainside, and Luke has him preach on the plains, I think. But Mark has Him preach off a boat! Herman Melville in Moby Dick has a famous sermon in a church with the pulpit shaped in the shape of a ship's bow. I think Melville is alluding to this scene in chapter 4.

It seems that Mark has Jesus by the sea more than the other Gospels. But that's an impression on my part. I haven't compared.

The other ting that strikes me about chapter 4 is that so much of the chapter is dedicated to the related sower and mustard seed parables. If you look at most of Mark's chapters, at least the early ones, they have about four or five short scenes, one leading to the next, sometimes in an unconnected fashion. (That's why I get the feeling that Mark is summarizing Matthew or something else in those short scenes.) Except for the calming of the sea at the end of the chapter, this is a very unified and focused chapter. And even the calming of the sea brings the chapter back to the beginning where Jesus is on a boat by the sea.

⁑ On Chapter 5 in Mark ⁑

I love chapter five. I think that is Mark at his best constructing a chapter. First you have the demoniac scene, led to Jairus coming to Jesus to save his sick daughter, and while on the way to the sick daughter, the woman with the continuous hemorrhage gets healed, which during the delay, the death of the Jairus’ daughter is announced, upon which Jesus goes to her and raises her from the dead.

That Gerasene Demonic scene has loaded and, in some cases, strange language. In line 2 the demon is referred to as “an unclean spirit,” singular but later we find out it multiple demons, maybe two thousand if there is at least one spirit to a swine. Isn’t it strange that when the spirit sees Jesus, he runs over and worships him (line 6)? Why would an unclean spirit worship Jesus? And the spirit in the next line cries out “What have you to do with me…” “Me” again being singular, but then we find out it’s not a single spirit but many. A Roman legion by the way consisted of anywhere from three to five thousand men. Isn’t it interesting that the two thousand spirits that went into the swine drowned? Spirits are not immortal? They can die? Also it’s fitting that unclean spirits enter swine, which would be unclean animals in Judaism.

Again the sea plays a role here in Mark that I don’t think plays in the other Gospels. Line 17 is another line that baffles me. After Jesus has cured the demoniac and killed the spirits, why do the townspeople “beg Jesus to depart from their neighborhood”? So Jesus gets into His boat and sails off to another harbor on the sea coast. That’s where He meets Jairus. Interesting that Jairus is one of the rulers of the synagogue. Jesus seems to be at odds with most of the Jewish rulers, but here Jairus begs him to cure his daughter.

The continuous hemorrhage on the woman is usually considered a non-stop menstrual problem, which like the spirits in the demoniac would make her unclean per the Jewish laws. There is a bathing ritual which Jewish women are supposed to go through after a menstrual cycle to become clean, but this woman has a continuous hemorrhage, which means she can never become clean. Her healing is along the lines of the demoniac who has been cleared of the uncleanliness.

It’s interesting also that young girl he raises from the dead is twelve, which probably makes her pre-menstrual but close in age to her first menstruation. And her being raised from the dead is the opposite of the unclean spirits and swine that go to their deaths.

Despite the questions I can’t answer, I find that a remarkable chapter.

⁑ On Chapter 10 in Mark ⁑

I love this little scene that Mark has in that 10th chapter:

13And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them.
14When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
15Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child* will not enter it.”
16Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.

That last sentence is so absolutely wonderful: "Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them." It's such a short scene and it has such minimal theological value, and no narrative value, but it's a wonderful little portrait of Jesus the man. Someone who knows ancient literature correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't recall ever children being expressively loved that way, even in the Old Testament.

Also Jesus rebukes the disciples. How many times has He done that in this Gospel? Jesus seems to always be rebuking in Mark, just like He rebuked the storm in chapter five. I wonder if Mark uses the word "rebuke" more often. Does anyone have access to one of those Bible word frequency software?

⁑ On the Mention of Children in Mark ⁑

There’s one particular passage in Chapter 9 that has special meaning for me. First let me post it, Mark 9:36-37.

36Taking a child he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it he said to them,37“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.

As some who have been in this book club a while may remember, I’ve mentioned that my wife and I adopted a child, our only child. I can’t remember exactly if that passage was read during Mass just before we went off to Kazakhstan to meet the child or in between trips after we had met the child that would be ours (we had to travel out twice) but sometime before Matthew officially became our child that was a Gospel reading. Funny how the Holy Spirit connects you to things. It has always stuck with me that taking in a child was in effect taking in Christ, and coming with the responsibility that goes with it. In many ways I see Christ in my child.

Also, I didn’t quote the entire passage, but let me now add the preceding lines.

33They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.35Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.

Later in chapter ten as mentioned above, Jesus says that “whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” So to enter heaven you have to be like a child, and to be first in heaven you have to accept children or you will be a servant in heaven. Well, as a parent, one does serve one’s child, and can be looked at as a “suffering servant.” So through care of your children is a means of salvation.

It also struck me that perhaps Mark makes use of children more so than the other Gospels. He recounts Jesus raising Tabitha and curing of demons more than one child. I don’t know if a concordance can add up the various children references. But it would be interesting to compare the uses of children between the Gospels.

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