Saturday, April 4, 2009

II. The Galilean Ministry

II. The Galilean Ministry
From the wealth of material which belongs to the Galilean ministry, selection is inevitable. Only a few themes indicating its character can be treated.
A. Opening of the Galilean Mission.--On hearing that John had been arrested Jesus came into Galilee and immediately began to proclaim "the gospel of God," that is, good news about God. God's time, he declared, was completed and his rule was near. Men were therefore bidden to repent and believe the good news (Mark 1:15). All this is very summarily stated by the evangelist, and much more must have been preached at this time. Indeed it is certain that many of the parables of the kingdom, scattered in various contexts in the Gospels, must have been told first during this period. Meantime Mark relates the calling of the first disciples in a story told from the standpoint of the fishermen by the lake. As he passed by, Jesus summoned them to follow him. "Come ye after me." he said, "and I will make you to become fishers of men." And without hesitation, we are told, they left their nets, and in the case of James and John, their father Zebedee with the hired servants, and went after him (Mark 1:16-20). Even if we allow for the possibility of an earlier meeting with Jesus, the dramatic character of their response is striking; and it reveals the magnetic influence which the personality of Jesus exerted upon them.
B. Message of the Kingdom.--What was this message of the kingdom which Jesus proclaimed?3 Without some knowledge of this teaching his work remains an enigma.
The word "kingdom" in the phrase "kingdom of God" is misleading because it suggests, as the primary idea, a realm or order of society which God would establish. Undoubtedly something like this is the ultimate meaning of the kingdom, a domain in which God's will is truly done; but the primary idea in Jesus' teaching is that of the rule or reign of God. The sovereignty of God in the individual heart and in the lives of men is what Jesus meant by the kingdom. When that rule was a reality, then the kingdom would have come. Jesus began his ministry in the belief that this time was near. The kingdom of God, he said, was at hand. Several modern scholars have maintained that his distinctive message was that the kingdom had already come in himself and in his mission. In a sense this is true. When he said to the scribes, "If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Luke 11:20), he was undoubtedly speaking of things visible to their eyes and was claiming that his mighty works were a sign of the presence of the kingdom. But it is difficult to bring all his sayings and parables under this conception. His opening announcement, for example, was: "The kingdom of God is near," rather than "has come." In this respect he shared the conviction of John the Baptist; but a whole world of difference separated his view of the kingdom from that of John; for whereas the Baptist announced it as a prophet of doom, Jesus spoke of it as God's good gift, as the most precious of things which a man might possess. John spoke of a threshing floor and a fan and of an ax ready to strike, but Jesus pictured the joy of finding hidden treasure (Matthew 18:44) or of lighting upon a pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46). The kingdom had the explosive force of leaven (Matthew 13:33) and all the potency of growth found in a tiny mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32), and it was essentially the work of God himself, for while a man might sow his seed, the blade, ear, and full corn followed beyond his knowledge, his task being to put in his sickle because the harvest was come.
These parables and many others lie strewn throughout the pages of our Gospels, for they were undated and the evangelists did not know when and in what circumstances they were first spoken; but we need not doubt that many of them were told in the first days of the Galilean ministry, for otherwise from the summary character of the announcement in Mark 1:15 and the first accounts of the synagogue preaching of Jesus, we are at a loss to know why his hearers said, "What is this? A new teaching!" (Mark 1:27), and why the report of him went out far and wide (Mark 1:28). Jesus believed that great things were happening and were about to happen. Either now or later he said to his disciples: "Blessed are the eyes which see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it" (Luke 10:23-24).
C. Coming of the Son of Man.--In announcing the advent of the kingdom of God did Jesus also speak of the elect community of the Son of man? 4 Usually the teaching about the Son of man is said to belong to the later ministry, and so far as the personal use of this name and its connection with suffering are concerned, this claim is valid. Only after the confession of Peter near Caesarea Philippi does Jesus begin to teach that "the Son of man must suffer" (Mark 8:31). But this usage does not exclude the possibility that he used the term earlier and in a communal sense. Jesus derived the idea from Dan. 7:13, and here it is undoubtedly communal: the one like unto "a son of man" represents "the saints of the Most High" to whom a kingdom is given by God, "the Ancient of days" (Dan 7:27). Jesus, therefore, can have used the term to describe a community, "the little flock" to whom it was the Father's good pleasure to give the kingdom (Luke 12:32). The distribution of the relevant sayings does not preclude this possibility. Many of the sayings which speak of the coming of the Son of man are isolated sayings, or are loosely attached to parables, or again are found in eschatological discourses artificially compiled in expectation of the second coming of Christ. In principle, therefore, there can be no valid objection to placing some of them early in the story of Jesus.5 Certainly the two ideas, the kingdom of God and the elect community, are complementary: there is no rule of God apart from those over whom it is exercised, and there is no elect community save where God reigns. Jesus could scarcely announce the one without mentioning or implying the other. It is probable, therefore, that there was a period in his preach ing when Jesus spoke of the Son of man in a communal sense.
This conclusion does not exclude the possibility that later Jesus used the name in a personal sense, with respect both to his suffering and his return in glory. Unfortunately the character of the sayings tradition is such that it is difficult and perhaps impossible to decide which of the sayings are personal and which are communal, or to determine their date. In this matter much depends on whether there was a development in the thought of Jesus and whether periods can be distinguished which mark stages in this development. Much depends also on our interpretation of the mission of the twelve when Jesus sent forth his disciples, two by two, to announce that the kingdom of God was near. On general grounds such a development seems probable. At the beginning Jesus proclaims that the kingdom is near, and in a sense is present in his person and work. But he still teaches his disciples to pray that the kingdom may come. The saying "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power" (Mark 9:1) implies that the kingdom will be seen shortly, but leaves the impression that the expectation is less immediate than in the first preaching. Later, either with reference to the kingdom or the coming of the Son of man, Jesus says, "Of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Mark 13:32). Here the day is not relegated to the distant future; it may be near; but the sense of immediacy is much less pronounced, and everything is left to the Father's good pleasure.6 The development is organic. The movement is wrongly conceived if it is pictured as the substitution of one idea for another entirely different in kind. Like the theme in a fugue, a uniting idea runs through the teaching of Jesus and all his conceptions of his mission. Phrased, harmonized, and introduced continually, it persists to the end. This idea is the rule of God. That the rule is near is the constant theme. What changes is the emphasis on the conditions on which it depends, the grasp of the means by which it comes into being.
D. Political, Social, Religious, and Economic Background.--Before considering further the Galilean ministry of Jesus, it is necessary to glance at the external conditions which provide the background against which it must be set and interpreted.7 From 4 B.C. Galilee and Perea had been ruled over by the tetrarch Herod Antipas, "that fox," as Jesus called him (Luke 13:32), and the Transjordanian regions of Trachonitis, Gaulonitis, Batanea, and Panias by Herod Philip, who has been called "the best of the Herotis." Both were the sons of Herod the Great: they ruled, not as independent monarchs, but as suzerains of the Roman Empire, and displayed marked Greco-Roman sympathies which found expression in the love of architecture, in the founding and naming of Tiberias by Antipas, and of Bethsaida Julias and Caesarea Philippi by Philip. The eldest son of Herod, Archelaus, ruled Judea until A.D. 6, but was deposed in that year after bitter complaints from his subjects to the emperor, and was replaced by successive Roman procurators who governed under the imperial legatus of Syria. From A.D. 26 to 36 the procurator was Pontius Pilate, a man of cruel and rapacious tendencies, swayed by political expediency and vacillating in character.
Among the Jews the principal sects were those of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Pharisees or "separatists" were the spiritual descendants of the Hasidim, or "pious ones," who had successfully resisted the Hellenizing policy of Antiochus Epiphanes. Many of them were also scribes, or teachers of the law, renowned for their zeal for the law and the oral traditions of their fathers and reverenced as the religious elite of the nation. Entirely different in spirit were the Sadducees, belonging mainly to the high priestly families of Jerusalem, who adhered to the teaching of the Pentateuch, rejected later teaching concerning angels, spirits, and the resurrection, and were anxious to maintain the political status quo and so to avoid conflict with the imperial power. Allied to the Pharisees, but much more extreme in their nationalistic sympathies, were those who subsequently were known as Zealots, to whose excesses the horrors of the siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 68-70 were largely due. The mass of the people, "the people of the land," as the Pharisees contemptuously called them (cf. John 7:49), sat loosely to the demands of the law, but nonetheless revered the Pharisees and despised the tax collectors who gathered the imperial dues for superiors to whom the taxes were farmed. No allusion is made in the Gospels to the Essenes, a sect of religious purists who dressed in white, lived in lonely places, submitted to frequent lustrations, rejected animal sacrifices, and turned their faces in worship to the rising sun. To these it has been suggested John the Baptist belonged, but there is no evidence for this, nor again of any contact of Jesus with them. His spiritual antecedents are to be found rather among the "quiet ones" described by Luke in the birth stories, who gave themselves to worship and prayer and looked for the coming of God's salvation (cf. Luke 1:6; 2:25, 37).
In the Gospels we see Jesus in constant contact with the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and above all, the people of the land. His not infrequent allusions to the destruction of Jerusalem show that he was alive to the perils of the political situation and warned his hearers against them (cf. Mark 13:1-2; Luke 13:34-35; 21:20-21). A Zealot, Simon the Cananaean (Mark 3:18), found a place among the twelve. The relationships of Jesus with the scribes and Pharisees were not always hostile (cf. Mark 12:34; Luke 7:36; 11:37), but for the most part he lived and worked among "the great throng" who "heard him gladly" (Mark 12:37) and repeatedly crowded to hear him (Mark 1:33, 45; 2:2, 13; 3:7-12; 4:1; etc.). In most cases poor, and engaged mainly in agriculture and fishing, they accorded him a ready hearing in the towns and villages of Galilee and by the Lake of Gennesaret. They were arrested by his prophetic declaration that the kingdom of God was at hand, by the freshness and originality of his teaching, but still more by the magnetism of his personality. They were attracted by his "gracious words" (Luke 4:22), and were spellbound by the note of authority in his teaching (Mark 1:22).
E. Character of the Ministry.--It was a sound instinct which led Mark to describe a period of twenty-four hours in Jesus' ministry (Mark 1:21-39). Here more than in any part of his Gospel, except perhaps in the passion narrative, we have reason to rely on the tradition of "the elder" mentioned by Papias (A.D. 140) in the well-known words from his Expositions of the Lord's Oracles: "Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately all that he remembered of the things done and said by Christ, but not however in order." 8
In Mark 1:21 the scene is laid at Capernaum in the synagogue on the sabbath day when Jesus taught the people. Their astonishment is mentioned at the contrast between his teaching and that of the scribes, but the subject of his teaching is not recorded. Instead the evangelist's interest is concentrated upon the interruption of "a man with an unclean spirit," who has an uncanny knowledge of something superhuman in the personality of Jesus, and asks: "What have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth?" and defiantly adds: "Art thou come to destroy us?" (1:24.) Here at the beginning of the gospel story we are brought face to face with the contemporary view, shared by educated and uneducated alike in the ancient world, and held apparently by Jesus himself, which ascribed many ailments, and epilepsy in particular, to demon possession. Jesus treated the man on this assumption. "Be silent," he cried, "and come out of him." The word of authority prevailed. With a paroxysm and loud cries the unclean spirit came out of the man, so that all were amazed and questioned among themselves: "What is this? A new teaching! With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him." It is not surprising that at this point Mark outstrips his narrative and records that the report of Jesus went out at once everywhere throughout Galilee.
From the synagogue Jesus went into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John, and when tentatively they told him of Simon's wife's mother, who was sick of a fever, he took her by the hand and raised her up. With the almost breathless note which characterizes these primitive narratives, Mark adds that the fever left her and she served them. Evening came, "when the sun did set," and the sick and demon-possessed were brought to Jesus, so that, with hyperbole Mark declares that "all the city was gathered together at the door." Many of the sick were healed and many demons cast out, and a charge to secrecy was laid upon the latter, "because," says Mark, "they knew him."
In these artless stories we are confronted with two problems which still provoke debate: the healing power of Jesus and the injunctions to secrecy which, according to Mark, he frequently imposed upon the sick and their friends. In a day when the triumphs of psychotherapy are matters of common knowledge, few New Testament scholars dispute the historical character of the healing works of Jesus, but it is recognized that his methods were spiritual rather than scientific, dependent upon the secret of his personality and his unbroken fellowship with God in faith and prayer. It was "by the finger of God" (Luke 11:20), or "by the Spirit of God," as Matthew puts it (12:28), that Jesus expelled demons, and there is no better explanation of his works of healing. The commands to keep silence are for the most part historical, but in some cases may be literary in origin. In its extreme form the theory of Wrede, that these commands are a literary device on the part of Mark to account for the fact that the messiahship of Jesus was not recognized until after the Resurrection, must be rejected in the light of such stories as the confession of Peter, the Transfiguration, and the Triumphal Entry, not to speak of the reply of Jesus to Caiaphas (Mark 14:62) and the title set upon the Cross. It is true that Mark overworks the idea that Jesus concealed his messiahship, but there can be little doubt that the Master found the effects of his cures an embarrassment. Nowhere is this fact so clear as in the story which closes the group in Mark 1:21-39. Very early in the morning, a great while before it was day, Jesus slipped away from Capernaum into the wilderness for prayer. Later Simon and his friends tracked him down with the half-reproachful tidings, "Every one is searching for you"; but to them he gave the discouraging reply, "Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out" (Mark 1:38). Not so easily, however, could the appeal of suffering be denied, as the story of the leper shows (Mark 1:40-45). Afflicted with a skin disease, not to be confused with modern leprosy, the man was confident that Jesus could make him clean. For reasons which can only be conjectured Jesus was angry. Nevertheless he stretched out his hand and touched him, with the authoritative word, "I will; be thou clean." Then moved with deep emotion. he bade the man keep silence and show himself to the priest with the required offering. The result was that Jesus was compelled to avoid towns. Nevertheless people came to him from every quarter.
F. Conflicts and Misunderstandings.--After an interval of some days Jesus returned to Capernaum and resumed his ministry there. From this point it is not possible to tell his story in detail, for, as compared with Mark 1:21-39, Mark 2:1-3:6 is a pre-gospel compilation arranged topically, the object being to show how inevitably Jesus came into mortal conflict with the rabbis, so that in the end the Pharisees and the Herodians conspired together to destroy him (Mark 3:6). Among the things which caused offense were his claim to pronounce the remission of sins (2:6-10), his association with taxgatherers and sinners (2:16-17), the neglect of fasting by his disciples (2:18-20), their breach of the laws of the sabbath (2:23-26), and his own action in healing on the sabbath day (3:1-5). Incidents such as these, which happened at various times and can no longer be precisely dated, are strung together in Mark 2:1-3:6 in order to answer a question which puzzled the first Christians: "How was it that Jesus, who went about doing good and proclaiming the advent of the kingdom of God, carne to a shameful death at the hands of his enemies?" A similar topical collection in Mark 11:27-12:37 shows how his adversaries sought to entrap him on such issues as the exercise of his authority (11:27-33), the payment of tribute money to Caesar (12:13-17), and the question of the resurrection (12:18-27). Through the medium of such stories we can see how the opposition to Jesus steadily mounted, although Mark 2:1-3:6 mentions too early the death plot of the Pharisees and the Herodians.
We can see also the reactions which the ministry of Jesus provoked. His relatives thought him mad (Mark 3:21), and the scribes attributed his mighty works to Beelzebul and even to collusion with Satan. The reply of Jesus to this charge illustrates his power in controversy as well as the ideas he held concerning himself and his ministry. Thus he asked, "How can Satan cast out Satan?" "If a kingdom," he said, "is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end" (Mark 3:23-26). If it was by Beelzebul, he countered, that he cast out devils, by whom did their sons cast them out; but if by the finger of God, then indeed had the kingdom of God come upon them. The spoiling of Satan's goods meant that he had been bound. "When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace; but when one stronger than he assails him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoil" (Luke 11:21-22). It is not clear from this saying whether Jesus thought of himself or of God as the binder of the "strong man," but it is manifest that he attributed human ills to the ravages of a beaten foe and that he looked with confidence for the speedy coming of the rule of God.
In Mark 7:1-23 a further group of stories and sayings reveals the breach with the scribes. The section is arranged topically, and must have been compiled before the Gospel was written for the instruction of Christians in Rome. It is impossible now to fit its parts into the story of Jesus, for we do not know when and where the incidents happened. It is mentioned here because its contents imply a pronounced state of conflict on more fundamental issues. The scribes noticed the carelessness of the disciples about ceremonial washings, and they made it a ground of attack. "Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with hands defiled?" (Mark 7:5.) Jesus took up the challenge. He recalled the words of Isa. 29:13: "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me." "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites," he said with biting irony. "You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men" (Mark 7:8).
Either then or on another occasion he reminded them of a current scribal opinion, that if a son declared on oath that the provision he might otherwise have made for his parents was Corban, that is, devoted to God, his oath was binding. Thus, he claimed, by their tradition they made void the word of God. Subsequently Mark mentions one of the most revolutionary of the sayings of Jesus: "Hear me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him" (Mark 7:14-15). Mark comments on the saying. "Thus," he writes, "he declared all foods clean" (Mark 7:19). The comment goes beyond the immediate intention of Jesus, for otherwise the vision of Peter on the housetop at Joppa (Acts 10:9-16) and the sharp dispute at Antioch (Gal. 2:11-14) would never have happened. But Mark correctly caught the drift of Jesus' teaching and shows how inevitable the ultimate break with Judaism was.
G. Choice and Appointment of the Twelve.--The Galilean ministry had not long been in progress when Jesus took a decisive step in the choice and appointment of the twelve.
Mark 3:13 records that Jesus went up "into a mountain" and called to himself those whom he desired. The number twelve corresponds, and apparently was meant to correspond, to the twelve tribes of Israel, and indicates that Jesus meant the chosen disciples to play a part in his mission to Israel. Among the purposes of the appointment Mark mentions two: the twelve were to be in daily association with Jesus, and to receive a commission to preach and to cast out demons. It is natural to suppose that the preaching was the proclamation of the coming of the kingdom, as indeed is indicated in the narrative of the mission of the twelve (Mark 6:7-13). Authority to cast out demons meant that they were leagued with Jesus in his fight against the powers of evil (Mark 3:22-27). If, further, we are justified in relating to the twelve a saying apparently isolated in the tradition, and variously placed by Matthew and Luke, it was also his intention that the twelve should exercise functions of government in the future messianic community. In its Matthaean form (Matthew 19:28) this saying is eschatological. It is perhaps better preserved in Luke 22:29-30: "As my Father appointed a kingdom for me, so do I appoint for you that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel."9
As Mark records them, the names of the twelve are Simon (Peter), James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James, the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot (Mark 3:16-19). Several of these are merely names to us--there is no record of any part which they played in the life of the primitive church. Moreover the later lists given by Matthew (Matthew 10:2-4) and Luke (Luke 6:14-16; Acts 1:13), while in substantial agreement with Mark's list, do not agree with it exactly, and we cannot solve the identity of Thaddaeus, Lebbaeus (mentioned by some manuscripts in Matthew 10:3), and Judas, son of James (mentioned in the Lukan lists). More important still, outside the Gospels the twelve are expressly mentioned only in Acts 6:2; I Cor. 15:5, and (in the phrase "the twelve apostles of the Lamb") in Rev. 21:14. Instead of "the twelve," we read of "the apostles," a larger body which includes not only Peter, James, and John, but others who were not of the twelve, James the Lord's brother, Paul, Barnabas, Timothy and Silas (I Thess. 2:6), Andronicus and Junias (Rom. 16:7), and others again whose names we do not know. Missionaries and witnesses of the Resurrection, these men go forth to Syria, Cyprus, Antioch, Macedonia, Achaia, and Rome, establishing new communities and laying the foundations of the church. Such are the facts. What is the explanation?
To deny the historical character of the institution of the twelve is unwarranted, so deeply is the tradition concerning them rooted in the Gospels. Apparently they were chosen for a special purpose connected with the Galilean mission, afterwards fulfilled in the mission of the twelve when, as with a fiery cross, they went out, "with no purse or bag or sandals" (Luke 22:35), to proclaim the advent of the kingdom of God. Before and after this event they seem to have been merged in the larger group of "the disciples," from whom they are distinguished in such a phrase as "those who were about him with the twelve" (Mark 4:10), and pointedly in the case of Judas Iscariot, "one of the twelve" (Mark 14:10, 20, 43).
The conclusion to be drawn is clear. The appointment of "the twelve" was of the things that pass, because its purpose was fulfilled; in the expansion of Christianity the future lay with "the apostles."
H. The Great Sermon.--After the choice of the twelve, either upon the mountain itself or more probably on a level place below (Luke 6:17), Jesus gave to his disciples a manifesto or address which has come to be known as the Sermon on the Mount.10 Matthew has combined two different accounts (from Q and M) of the sermon while Luke gives the Q version, but both evangelists have not unnaturally included in it isolated sayings kindred in character which could not be located exactly in the story of Jesus. It is impossible, therefore, to reconstruct the sermon in its entirety, but it is clear that it contained a number of beatitudes, in which Jesus described the mind and spirit of those who submit themselves to the rule of God and the principles which should guide their mutual relationships; probably also a group of antitheses (Matthew 5:21-48), in which notable injunctions of the law are set in contrast with new and more spiritual interpretations which with his majestic "I say unto you" he announced to his hearers; and various sayings regarding judging, almsgiving, fasting, and prayer, the Golden Rule, the practical tests of good fruits in life, and the necessity of doing the will of God. Apparently the sermon concluded with the parable of the house built upon a rock. It may well be also that the teaching about anxious care, with the counsel: "Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself" (Matthew 6:25-34), belongs to the sermon, although Luke places it in another context (Luke 12:22-31), for it accords well with that spirit of perfect trust in God which was to be the mark of the new community.
J. Lakeside Ministry.--Although the story of daily teaching by the Sea of Galilee cannot be told in detail, we are given a living picture of its character in the summary statement of Mark 3:7-12: "Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed; also from Judea and Jerusalem and Idumaea and from beyond the Jordan and from about Tyre and Sidon a great multitude, hearing all that he did, came to him. And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they should crush him; for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him. And whenever the unclean spirits beheld him, they fell down before him and cried out, 'You are the Son of God.' And he strictly ordered them not to make him known."
In this spirited description there is a touch of hyperbole in the list of places mentioned and in the phrasing of the confession of the demoniacs, but the uncanny insight of these demented men is rightly stressed, as well as the amazing popularity of Jesus at this stage in his ministry, illustrated by the reference to the thronging crowds and the necessity of teaching them from a boat moored near the shore.
One such day in particular is described in Mark 4:1-9, when Jesus told the parable of the sower. It may be that in his allusions to the wayside, the shallow ground, and the soil choked with thorns, Jesus was thinking of his own experiences as a teacher; but the main emphasis of the parable lies upon the amazing harvest, thirtyfold, sixtyfold, a hundredfold, which follows the sowing of the seed upon the good ground. The parable expresses his belief that despite unresponsive hearers, the field was white unto harvest (John 4:35).11 Notable indeed is the emphasis he laid upon the need for attentive hearing: "He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (Mark 4:9). Jesus meant men not to miss the signs of the times, and above all, the proofs of God's redemptive work.
Similitudes, parables, and illustrative stories played a great part in the teaching. Apparently Mark has misconceived their purpose. Influenced by the difficulties of interpretation encountered by the church, and his own view that the true nature of Jesus was hidden during his ministry, Mark speaks of parables as if they were meant to conceal the truth. Thus he represents Jesus as saying to his disciples: "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables; so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand; lest they should turn again, and be forgiven" (Mark 4:11-12; cf. Isa. 6:9-10). At a later stage in his ministry Jesus may well have applied to his situation these words,12 in which Isaiah describes his call from the standpoint of his actual experiences as a prophet; but they have no bearing upon the use of parables. Parables were used to reveal he truth to attentive hearers, and Mark gives a truer estimate of their importance in the words: "With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything" (Mark 4:33-34). The real intention of Jesus is indicated in the sayings which Mark has inserted in the chapter. The place of a lamp, he taught, is on the stand, in order to give light; and if anything is hidden, it is only that in the end it should be made known (Mark 4:21-22). Everything goes to show that in various ways, by parable and pointed sayings alike, Jesus sought to convince the Galilean multitudes that the rule of God was at hand.
K. Mighty Works.--In the late afternoon of the day when Jesus told the parable of the sower, the disciples took him, just as he was, in the boat to the other side of the lake (Mark 4:35-36). One of those sudden storms of wind for which the lake is famous sprang up, and in Mark's graphic words, "the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling." In the meantime Jesus was asleep, using the wooden seat as a headrest, and in their extremity the disciples awoke him, addressing him curtly: "Master, do you not care if we perish?" Jesus awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And a great calm followed. "Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?" he asked his disciples. Their reply was a muttered comment among them, "Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?"
Such is the story, and it is told fully because it raises in an acute form the question whether Jesus wrought miracles on nature. There is probably not the slightest need to question anything recorded in the narrative. The suggestion that actually Jesus rebuked, not the wind, but the disciples, is an unsupported guess. A more naïve attitude to nature (cf. Mark 11:23), as natural to him as it is strange to the modern man, may have led him to address the elements directly in implicit dependence upon his Father's will. It is much less certain that he stilled the storm, although the comment in the boat is most natural and can have been made on the spot. The question is not settled by the argument that nature is not a closed system and that miracles are not impossible, but by the historical and doctrinal issue whether, within the limitations of his true humanity, it is likely that Jesus wrought such miracles, and whether it is not more likely that the original events have been given a miraculous interpretation. In the stilling of the storm it is reasonable to conclude that what happened was "a miracle of divine providence"; and if so, it is just to allow for possible secondary miraculous coloring in other narratives of the kind.
The application of this principle is valid in the two incidents which follow, the Gerasene demoniac and the raising of Jairus' daughter. Each narrative is full of vivid detail, but it is not skepticism to ask what in each case really happened.
Landing probably at Kersa, or Kursa, on the eastern shore of the lake, Jesus was met by a man afflicted with the tortures of a "disassociated personality," whom Mark (5:5) vividly describes as dwelling in the tombs, "crying, and cutting himself with stones." The details are taken from life and there is no valid reason, with Martin Dibelius,13 to suppose that a story originally told of a Jewish exorcist has been erroneously ascribed to Jesus. The one element which as modern men we are at liberty to interpret differently is the destruction of the swine; and for this no better explanation has been offered than that the panic was occasioned by the paroxysm of the cure.
The raising of the daughter of Jairus belongs to the subsequent return of Jesus and his disciples to Galilee. Exactly where it happened we do not know, but Capernaum and Bethsaida have been conjectured. Again the narrative is full of artless details which leave upon the mind a strong impression of originality, in this case strengthened by the manner in which the story is intercalated with that of the woman with the issue of blood. In the latter narrative Mark offers the explanation that Jesus was conscious that "power had gone forth from him" at the woman's touch, but so far from ascribing a supernatural knowledge to him, he represents him as asking, "Who touched my garments?" (Mark 5:30.) What happened at the house of Jairus is one of those questions which the reader of today must settle for himself. The recalling of a living spirit from death stands in a different category from the cursing of a fig tree or the multiplying of loaves, and there is not a little in the Marcan story to encourage the opinion of those who agree with Luke when he says that "her spirit returned" (Luke 8:55). The astonishing thing about the Marcan account is that another opinion is also possible. It is probable that Mark himself interpreted the event as one of resurrection. The messengers reported that the girl was dead, the family lamented her death, and the chosen witnesses in the bed chamber were "lost in utter amazement" (Mark 5:42 Moffatt). On the other hand Jesus ignored the tidings of death and bade Jairus fear nothing; to the weeping family he said, "The child is not dead but sleeping"; and in the chamber he commanded "Talitha cumi.... Little girl, ... arise." The narrative is ambiguous; one who concludes that the incident of the young man in Nain (Luke 7:11-17) was a case of premature burial, and that the facts behind the didactic drama of the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-46) cannot be recovered, will take the view that the girl was roused from a state of coma.14 We know too little about the moments preceding and following "death" to dogmatize on the subject.
It is not to be supposed that the four incidents treated in succession by Mark are the only events which happened during this period. After Mark 5:13, 20, 21, there are gaps during which incidents unrecorded in that Gospel can have happened. The evangelist writes on the basis of a tradition which preserved fragmentary knowledge of the movements of Jesus from one side of the lake to the other, and he has recorded in historical succession "mighty works" which stood out in the recollections of an eyewitness. Other events also, including visits to the lakeside and inland towns of Galilee, must have followed the Jairus incident, when, in the open air and in synagogues, Jesus announced the coming of the kingdom, spoke of the Son of man, and uttered his incomparable sayings and parables.
L. End of Synagogue Preaching.--From whence Jesus came to Nazareth we cannot say, for Mark's "from there" (6:1) is indeterminate. In saying that he came into "his own country" Mark anticipates the significance of the event. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue. His fame had preceded him, for in their astonishment many asked, "Whence hath this man these things?" and "What is the wisdom given to him?" The meaning of his "mighty works," of which report told, was also a matter of speculation to them. No small part of their perplexity arose because they had known him in childhood and youth and knew the members of his family. "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?" (Mark 6:3; cf. Luke 4:22). If Luke has recorded the same incident, the attention of the hearers is still more vividly depicted; the eyes of all were fixed upon him and all wondered at the words of grace which came from his mouth (Luke 4:20, 22). The Marcan statement that all took offense at him appears very abruptly, and implies either that accounts of different visits have been telescoped or that a provocative sermon was preached, like that which Luke describes. Jesus replied in words which then as now were proverbial: "A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house." Luke records that the scene ended in attempted violence (Luke 4:29-30), but Mark makes the more significant statement that beyond laying his hands upon a few sick people, he was unable to do any "mighty work" and that he marveled because of their unbelief (Mark 6:5-6). This objective statement is one of the most remarkable observations which the Gospels contain, revealing as it does the reality of the humanity of Jesus, the intense emphasis which he placed upon faith, and the rising tide of criticism to which, despite the enthusiastic interest of many, he was exposed. Nowhere again is he said to have taught in a synagogue. That phase of his public activity was over. Mark 6:6 records that "he went round about the villages, teaching." We may surmise that there he received a more ready response to his message than in the larger towns and in more pronounced religious circles. It is at this point in his story that he launched the mission of the twelve, an event closely bound up with his conception of his ministry and destined to exercise a decisive influence upon it.
M. Mission of the Twelve.--At some point subsequent to the rejection at Nazareth Jesus sent forth the twelve, two by two, to announce the imminent coming of the kingdom of God.15 Like Jesus himself (Mark 1:15), they were to go to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 10:6) with the message: "The kingdom of God is come near unto you" (Luke 9:2; 10:9; Matthew 10:7), to summon men to repent, to cast out devils (Mark 6:13), and to heal the sick. The instructions given to the disciples reveal the epoch-making character of this mission.16 Their equipment was to be reduced to the barest essentials. They were to take no bread, no wallet, no money. According to Mark, they were permitted to take a staff and sandals, but in Q even the staff and shoes are prohibited and only a single shirt is allowed (Matthew 10:10). Like Gehazi of old (II Kings 4:29), and contrary to the immemorial custom of the East, they were to salute no man by the way. They were to accept the first hospitality that offered; to pay no attention to the kind of food provided; to bespeak peace on the house that received them; to shake off the dust under their feet against the place that would not hear them. The time was one of harvest, but the laborers were few, and they were to pray the Lord of the harvest that he would send forth laborers into his harvest (Matthew 9:37-38). They were the representatives of Jesus, so that to receive them was to receive him, and to receive Jesus was to receive him that sent him (Matthew 10:40).
Everything goes to show that the twelve were sent out under an overwhelming sense of urgency. A crisis was imminent; it was the eve of expected events. Nothing could be more mistaken than to think of their mission as a simple evangelistic tour in which, so to speak, they were "tried out" as healers and preachers. The instructions show that they were to be "like an invading army, and live on the country."17 They were heralds of the advent of the kingdom of God. The general rejection of the "thoroughgoing eschatology" of Albert Schweitzer has tended to obscure the emphasis he rightly laid upon the crucial importance of the mission and its significance for Jesus himself. Schweitzer is fully justified in insisting that "the whole history of 'Christianity' down to the present day ... is based on the delay of the Parousia."18 He is mistaken in supposing that Jesus looked for the end of history in the coming of a supernatural Son of man from heaven, but not in holding that for Jesus the inbreaking of the kingdom was near. What Jesus expected, and what he sent the twelve to announce, was the speedy coming of the rule of God and the setting up of the messianic community of the Son of man. It was in this expectation that he assured his disciples that they would not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of man would come (Matthew 10:23).19
Some indication of the mind of Jesus at this time is afforded by a saying which Luke records in his account of the return of the seventy. When the disciples returned exulting that even the demons were subject unto them in his name, he replied: "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven" (Luke 10:18). "Rejoice not," he continued, "that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven." These words show that during the disciples' absence Jesus had seen in vision the downfall of Satan, an idea traditionally associated with the victory of God, and that he thought of the disciples as already members of the elect community.
Was, then, the mission a failure? In a sense it was. "The disciples returned to Him; and the appearing of the Son of Man had not taken place."20 Nevertheless Jesus did not renounce, and never renounced, his conviction that the rule of God was near, as the story of the sacramental meal in the wilderness clearly shows. Through the failure of the mission, the fate of the Baptist, and his own profound meditation upon the servant teaching in Isa. 53:1, Jesus was led to seek a fuller and deeper interpretation of the doctrine of the Son of man; and it is to the birth and elucidation of the conviction that the Son of man "must suffer" that we must trace his withdrawal from public teaching, and even from association with the twelve, during the period when he retired to the borders of Tyre (Mark 7:24), thence to emerge in renewed consort with his disciples in the villages of Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:27), and finally to take the road to suffering and death at Jerusalem.
N. After the Mission of the Twelve.--What befell immediately after the mission of the twelve is one of many insoluble problems in the story of Jesus. Renewed visits to towns on or near the lake are implied by sayings like Luke 10:13-15, which speak of "mighty works" wrought in Bethsaida, Chorazin, and Capernaum. Many writers of "lives" of Christ have spoken of a waning of the favor of Jesus with the masses at this time, in consequence of which he devoted himself exclusively to the training and instruction of his disciples; but of this declining popularity the documents give no sign. On the contrary Herod is concerned at the "success" of Jesus (Mark 6:14-17); and when Jesus seeks to retire with his disciples across the lake, crowds follow from the adjacent towns and precede the boat at the point of landing (Mark 6:30-34). Even at the descent from the mount of transfiguration a great multitude surrounds the disciples (Mark 9:14-15); and, later still, when he comes into "the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan ... crowds gathered to him again" (Mark 10:1). It is not a waning popularity which compels Jesus to regard his Galilean mission as a failure and drives him into seclusion; it is the popularity itself, and above all, its character. The people do not repent, and along with this they do not believe that the kingdom of God is at hand.
It is in this sense that we must interpret the "woes on the Galilean towns" mentioned above: "Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it shall be more tolerable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades." (Luke 10:13-15.) These words, incorporated by Luke in the mission charge to the seventy, clearly belong to a time subsequent to the mission, where indeed they are placed by Matthew (11:21-24), and they bespeak a feeling of the most intense disappointment. To this same period, or to a somewhat earlier time, belongs also the saying, undated in Q: "To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the market place and calling to one another,
'We piped to you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not weep.'
For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine; and you say 'He has a demon.' The Son of man has come eating and drinking; and you say, 'Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is justified by all her children" (Luke 7:31-35). The unreceptiveness of his generation appears to have astonished Jesus, just as at Nazareth he marveled at their unbelief. Here undoubtedly is a factor of great importance in the further course of his story.
O. Herod Antipas and the Fate of John the Baptist.--What effect did the hostility of Herod Antipas and the murder of John the Baptist exert upon the mind of Jesus at this time? Some modern interpreters, notably Maurice Goguel, think that Herod's threats had not a little to do with the withdrawal of Jesus from public activity and his subsequent wanderings outside Galilean territory--his action was one of prudent flight.
When Herod first began to take a political interest in the work of Jesus we do not know, but Mark has appropriately placed the story of Herod's fears (6:14-16) immediately after the mission of the twelve. It was not, however, on the mission that Herod speculated, but on the activity of Jesus himself. People were saying that he was John the Baptist risen from the dead, others that he was Elijah returned to earth, others that he was a prophet like one of the ancient prophets. According to Mark, Herod took the first of these views, but when he said, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised," he really meant, "It is John the Baptist all over again." Luke brings this out when he represents Herod as saying, "John I beheaded; but who is this about whom I hear such things?" (Luke 9:9.) Luke adds significantly, "And he sought to see him," and it is not at all necessary to amend this grim word to "sought to kill him," as some critics have conjectured, in order to perceive his mordant interest. Jesus was a marked man, a danger to the state.
Mark underlines this interest by relating the story of the murder of John which had happened some time before. He tells a story which, as A. E. J. Rawlinson21 has suggested, was whispered darkly in the bazaars of Palestine: how that, stimulated by wine and wrought upon by the malice of Herodias, his brother's wife, who was angry because of John's prophetic denunciation of their adultery, Herod murdered John at the request of a dancing girl. Josephus, the historian, gives a different explanation:
Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion (for they seemed to do anything he should advise), thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it should be too late.22
There is no need to regard the two accounts as alternatives. Herod is not the only tyrant who has combined political expediency with profligate folly. This much, however, is clear. Had it been the intention of Mark to describe the withdrawal of Jesus as "a flight from Herod," he would have stressed the political hostility of Antipas rather than his profligacy; and as a matter of fact, it is Matthew who says that "when Jesus heard [of the death of John], he withdrew from there in a boat to a lonely place apart" (Matthew 14:13). Nowhere does Mark say anything of the kind; and this is significant since he associates the Herodians with the scribes in their hostility to Jesus (Mark 3:6; 12:13).
The true attitude of Jesus to the threats of Herod comes out in Luke's story about certain Pharisees who bade him depart because Herod desired to kill him. "Go and tell that fox," he replied, "'Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem'" (Luke 13:32-33). These are not the words of one who was likely to take to the hills as a fugitive for his own security. In one respect only is it probable that Herod's hostility affected the plans of Jesus: it may account for Jesus' perception that messianic excitement might provoke his followers to armed revolt against Rome. Cadoux23 has made a valuable contribution to our knowledge of the life of Jesus in warning against undervaluing his teaching upon the folly of revolution. So far as we can place this teaching, it belongs to the closing stages of his ministry; but the danger of rebellion may well have occupied his thoughts even at this earlier period, and may have been a factor in leading to his withdrawal from Galilee. The fate of John was a warning that could not be ignored. We are right to take account of every consideration which may bear upon an undeniable change in the methods and plans of Jesus; but we shall go astray unless we place first in importance the failure of the Galilean people to respond to the message of the kingdom as Jesus preached it. Why did the kingdom tarry? That question is the key to the obscure period in the ministry of Jesus to which we have now come.
P. Fellowship Meal in the Wilderness.--Where Jesus was and what he did during the mission of the twelve we are not told. All that Mark says is that the missionaries gathered themselves together and reported what they had done and taught, and that Jesus invited them to come apart to a wilderness place for rest (Mark 6:30-31). The attempt was frustrated by the people who saw them departing and met them at the place of landing. Unable to resist the silent appeal of the multitude, whom he saw as sheep not having a shepherd, Jesus began to teach the people and continued until late in the afternoon. The disciples were alarmed about the hunger of the multitude, and when Jesus bade them feed the crowd, they said somewhat sarcastically, "Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and gave it them to eat?" Jesus inquired what food was available, and when the people at his command had seated themselves in companies of fifty upon the green grass, he rook the loaves and fishes and gave thanks and broke them, bidding the disciples distribute them to all.
Such is the story. At an early period the incident was interpreted as a miracle, although it is curious that the only indication of this in the narrative is the statement "And they all ate, and were satisfied." It is clear also from the statement regarding the breaking and distribution of the bread that the story was thought of as in some sense an anticipation of the Last Supper (cf. Mark 6:41; 14:22). This opinion is probably connected with the original significance of the event. Schweitzer calls it "an eschatological sacrament." Jesus probably intended the fellowship meal in the wilderness to be an anticipation and a pledge of the messianic feast, which in Jewish thought was closely connected with the kingdom of God. This feast is mentioned in Isa. 25:6: "And in this mountain shall the LORD of hosts make unto all peoples a feast of fat things." There is an allusion to it in the comment of a guest who on one occasion sat at meat with Jesus, "Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God" (Luke 14:15); and to it Jesus himself referred at the Last Supper when he said, "Truly I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God" (Mark 14:25). The supper was literally a "Last Supper," with a new significance because it was celebrated on the eve of the Crucifixion, and apparently it had been preceded by other, and perhaps by many, meals of the same kind, when Jesus with his disciples looked forward to the perfecting of God's rule. If we may consider the feeding of the five thousand as a meal ending in an act of this sacramental character, it is clear that despite delay, Jesus had not renounced his belief in the imminence of the kingdom. It would come, and of it the meal was the pledge and seal.
Confirmation of this view is afforded by the immediate sequel to the meal. John, who also tells the story, says that Jesus perceived that the people were about to come and "take him by force, to make him a king" (John 6:15). Although Mark does not make this statement, his narrative shows that Jesus was at pains to separate his disciples from the crowd, to dismiss the people, and to retire to the mountain to pray: "Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went into the hills to pray" (Mark 6:45-46).
From this passage it is safe to infer that Jesus was conscious of a dangerous undercurrent of messianic excitement among his disciples, stimulated against his will by his teaching and the fellowship meal in the wilderness. Hopes had been kindled that might well issue in armed revolt, against which first Antipas and then the Romans would be compelled to take action. Instead of the rule of God would come the confusion of men; instead of the elect community, red ruin. It was necessary to take his disciples aside and teach them the way of messianic suffering.
The account of what happened at Gennesaret is in complete harmony with this tragic situation. When the disciples were driven back from Bethsaida, Jesus rejoined them. Wading through the surf, he came upon them suddenly, so that at first they thought his form was that of a ghost and they cried out in fear. The wind fell and they reached the western shore from which they had started earlier in a vain quest for rest. Intense excitement greeted their return. The people "ran about the whole neighborhood and began to bring sick people on their pallets to any place where they heard he was" (Mark 6:55). The sick were laid in the market places, and sufferers sought to touch even the fringe of his garment. Nothing is said of a preaching tour and it is not certain that Jesus, as he passed through villages and towns, was accompanied by his disciples. Johannes Weiss24 suggested that perhaps Matthew more truly follows the original source in implying that Jesus remained at the landing place to which the people came with their sick; but it is more probable that Mark records what really happened. Jesus went from place to place to see for himself. With approval M.-J. Lagrange25 quotes Loisy's opinion that Jesus had supposed he would not be recognized, and meant at the first opportunity to continue his journey to a place where he and his disciples would be in peace and security. He feared to attract the attention of Herod in exciting the enthusiasm of the people in a region so near to Tiberias. All this is possible; but it is more probable that it was the enthusiasm itself which drove him from Gennesaret. He turned his back on a facile popularity, which to him was failure, and on a demand for signs, which he roughly rejected (Mark 8:11-13), and withdrew beyond the borders of Galilee. There, in communion with God, he sought a new orientation of his mission.

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