This second week takes us through the next five chapters of Mark. Many of the themes of the first five chapters reappear and are developed further: Jesus’ authority and power, conflict due to the opposition of both Jewish leaders and those closer to home, the failings of the disciples (even as they begin to share more in Jesus’ mission) and the surprising nature of the kingdom. Probably the most significant development is the revelation of where Jesus is headed – to the cross – and how this in turn shapes the calling of his disciples. What follows gives a brief overview of the structure and content of this week’s readings followed by links to a few resources relevant to these chapters.
Mark 6 opens with Jesus back in his home town of Nazareth but again – like the prophets of old – facing opposition and a lack of faith (6.1-6). In this context he sends out the Twelve he chose back in chapter 3. Having been with him since then (cf 3.14) he now authorises them to share in his authority and mission and instructs them how they are to go about this (3.14-15, 6.7-13).
Mark then introduces King Herod and one of the major questions of the gospel which will keep being raised – Who is this man Jesus? Herod’s role in the death of John the Baptist – whose arrest was mentioned briefly at the start of the gospel – is then described (6.14-29 cf 1.14 and 8.15).
After a brief report-back from the disciples about their activity (6.30) Jesus attempts to withdraw but is unsuccessful and again teaches the crowds (6.31-34). There follow two of his most famous acts – the feeding of the 5,000 (6.35-44) and then, after he immediately withdraws to pray (6.45-46), his walking across the water to his disciples in the boat (6.47-52), ending with a stark statement about their hardness of heart. The chapter draws to a close with yet more crowds and healings (6.53-56).
The focus on food continues into chapter 7 which begins with a major confrontation with the Pharisees about the law in relation to eating with unclean hands. Jesus here rebukes them with words from Isaiah 29.13 and contrasts human traditions with God’s commands (7.1-13). He then turns to the crowds to teach on what defiles (7.14-15). On their own with him afterwards the disciples ask him about the parable which they have again not understood. Jesus, bemoaning their dullness, explains further the internal source of uncleanness (7.17-23).
Continuing to disregard Pharisaic purity concerns, Jesus then enters Gentile territory, north of Galilee, and, after initially seemingly dismissing a Gentile woman and her pleas, accedes to her request and frees her daughter from a demon (7.24-30). After more travelling, and again in a Gentile area, now east of Galilee, he heals a deaf and dumb man and his appeals for secrecy about his actions are ignored as people tell others what he has done (7.31-37).
Chapter 8 now follows a similar pattern to the previous chapters – a mass feeding, crossing water, conflict with Pharisees, conversation about bread, healing and confession. Once again Jesus feeds a hungry crowd (4,000 this time) with the disciples initially – despite their earlier experience – sceptical about how this could happen (8.1-10). After refusing the Pharisees’ demand for a sign following this feeding Jesus again withdraws with his disciples (8.11-13). There follows a conversation with the disciples – focussed on bread and yeast, Herod and the Pharisees – which once again reveals their lack of understanding. Linking to the previous and the following healing, Jesus describes the disciples in terms of being deaf and blind (8.14-21; see also 4.9, 12, 23) and Mark then describes a more unusual healing where a blind man initially only partially regains his sight – seeing people like walking tress – before having it fully restored.
The remaining verses of chapter 8 are central and a turning-point in Mark’s gospel. Jesus, in Caesarea Philippi and on the way to Jerusalem with his disciples, asks them who people are saying that he is. He then asks them for their own assessment. Peter in response confesses Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the Lord’s Anointed and Jesus’ response calls not for proclamation but for silence (8.27-30). He then makes the first of three predictions in the gospel about what will happen to him as the Son of Man: he “must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again” (8.31). Peter – whose conception of a Jewish Messiah clearly does not include this – rebukes him and is in turn rebuked by Jesus (8.32-33). The stark implications of this pattern of Messiahship for Jesus’ disciples is then spelled out by him (8.34-38). This pattern of teaching about his death, misunderstanding from the disciples, and teaching about discipleship will recur two more times in the gospel.
Following this crucial incident there is another major revelation of Jesus’ identity: the mountain-top experience of three disciples where Jesus encounters Moses and Elijah in what is known as the Transfiguration (9.1-13). Here, as in the baptism, a voice from heaven again identifies Jesus as God’s beloved Son (9.7). Afterwards Jesus speaks of his resurrection and again of his rejection and points to John the Baptist as the expected Elijah figure.
When Jesus and the three come down from the mountain they find things much as they left them – conflict with the teachers of the law and failure by the disciples. This time it is a failure to drive out a spirit which Jesus rectifies after bewailing the peoples’ lack of faith but eliciting a confession of faith from the father (9.14-27). At their request he then explains why the disciples were not able to do what he did (9.28-29).
Returning to Galilee, Mark provides the second cycle of Jesus giving teaching about his death and, in response, the disciples not understanding and needing to be taught what it means to follow him: becoming like a child (9.30-37). The chapter concludes with Jesus correcting John for seeking to stop someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name (9.38-41) and giving stark teaching about both the consequences of causing a fellow disciple to stumble and the need to excise causes of stumbling to avoid hell and enter the kingdom (9.42-50).
As Jesus continues to travel he is again confronted by Pharisees who (perhaps aware of the problems the subject caused John the Baptist but also of different attitudes among leading rabbis) ask him about divorce. He responds by appealing to Genesis (10.1-9) and later spells out the consequences of this privately to his disciples (10.10-12). The disciples are then again shown as getting it wrong as they rebuke those bringing children to Jesus. He instead blesses the children and tells the disciples that the kingdom of God belongs to such as these (10.13-16).
When a man then asks what he must do to inherit eternal life and claims he has kept the commandments Jesus calls on him to sell all he has, give it to the poor, and follow him (10.17-22). The man leaves sad, leading Jesus to shock his disciples by saying how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom (10.23-27). Then, faced with Peter’s claim to have left everything, he promises reward for such sacrifice but also warns of a great reversal (10.28-31).
This teaching of reversal leads to the third prediction of his death and resurrection, now tied to heading to Jerusalem (10.32-34). Once again this is followed by the disciples failing to understand, here illustrated by James and John seeking places of honour (10.35-40), the disciples’ response (10.41) and Jesus’ teaching about greatness and service, again based on his own path (10.41-45). The chapter – and this central section of the gospel – concludes with a further healing of a blind man in response to his faith and appeal to Jesus as “Son of David” (10.45-52).
To listen to or download a reading of each chapter from Tom Wright’s New Testament for Everyone (SPCK), click here.
To read Mk 6-9 online at STEP follow the links below (the right hand box gives some help and can be closed to give text on full screen, the site is worth exploring for more detailed study of any text):
ESV & Greek side by side (with various highlighting (when you hover the mouse over words and references) and search tools that don’t require knowledge of Greek to use).
To read Mk 10 online at STEP follow the links below
Other resources on these chapters:
Withdrawal Beyond Galilee (Mk 6.14-8.30)
The Journey to Jerusalem (Mk 8.31-10.52)
Transcript of this lecture here