Mark Chapter 6 Summary

So what do we have?

There is a lot in this chapter, but I’m not sure it can be summarized thematically, or that there is a unifying theme. However, such “literary” (using the term loosely) considerations are not necessarily my strong suit. Here’s what we have by topic:

Jesus in his home town; his family & siblings (named); cannot perform miracles because ‘a prophet is without honor in his own land’

The sending of the 12; the paradigm “apostolic poverty” is set

The inset story of the death of John the Baptist

The return of the 12 (very, very brief)

Feeding the 5,000

Walking on the water

Healing in Gennesaret

Is there any kind of unifying theme in there? Has there been theme in any of the chapters we’ve read?  I believe the answers are “no” and “no”. Does that mean this is all random? Again, “no”.

We start off with Jesus’ rejection in his home town; we see several examples of Jesus revealing who he really is; we end with the adulation of him in Genessaret, which had to be rather off the beaten path of the heart of Jewish culture and observance. IOW, Gennesaret is the refutation of the rejection in the home town.

Moreover, not only was Jesus rejected in his home town, but even those closest to him, his disciples, don’t quite get it, and Mark states this explicitly. They were terrified of Jesus walking on the water because they had not understood the meaning of the loaves and fishes. IOW, they did not see the full implications of  what Jesus had done. In one commentary on Mark that I read, the author states that, “they thought that they had just seen another wonder” performed. As if, wonder-working were a common thing.

But, according to Pagans & Christians (R L Fox), it was a fairly common thing in those days, among Jews and pagans alike. So the disciples could not see beyond ‘mere wonder-working’ to the fact that Jesus was feeding the Israelites in the desert with manna from heaven. The demon cast out in Chapter 1 knew who Jesus was–the holy one of God–but, still, the disciples and those in his home town, sadly, did not. Mark’s audience can perhaps enjoy a bit of a guilty pleasure, of schadenfreude at the disciples’ expense: those dullards didn’t get it, but you (the audience) do.

To put this into a bit of context: circulating through the Mediterranean World at the time were “mystery religions”. The worship of the Egyptian goddess Isis was one of the more popular, but the Athenians had a home-grown version in the Eleusinian Mysteries. There was no great ‘mystery’ to these ‘mysteries’; the term meant only that there was a part of the ritual that was only witnessed by those initiated to the rites. And the secret of the mystery was not revealed to outsiders. The Eleusinian Mysteries were so successful at maintaining the secrecy that we have no idea what the mystery was.

Christianity is often described as “another mystery religion”, and this description is not inaccurate. The sharing of the Eucharistic meal was the mystery in which only those initiated took part.

Given this general context, and because we in the audience are in on the secret of the loaves and fishes, because there is a secret, we have stepped into that penumbra of beliefs that led to Gnosticism. Recall that many would date the Gospel of Thomas to something around the same time as Mark; that it had clear Gnostic overtones demonstrates how a lot of different currents of Jesus belief were flowing through the world at the time. They coexisted, they sometimes reinforced and sometimes repelled each other. Eventually they separated irrevocably, if not permanently.

I’m not going to revisit John the Baptist, but a final word (for the moment) about the 12. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul recounts those to whom Jesus appeared after the Resurrection. First to Peter, the 12, to James (brother of Jesus), then to all the Apostles. I won’t get into this fully, since 1 Corinthians will be our next text, but this clearly states that there were more than 12 Apostles. In fact, the 12 are not even called apostles at all. In the discussion, I wondered why Mark even bothered to mention this. My guess is that this was a fairly well-known part of the Jesus story; as a result, Mark may have felt somewhat compelled to include it.


About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on March 17, 2013, in gospel commentary, gospels, Summary and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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