What is recorded in the Bible text?
Note: The actual author of Mark’s gospel is unknown. It was during the second century that the names of the evangelists were added.
The Gospel of Mark
When Mark sat down to write his gospel he probably spent some time gathering stories, memories, insights and experiences from the members of his community. Having gathered all this material he had to decide how best to use it. It would not have crossed his mind to write an eyewitness account even if that was possible. Nor would he have attempted to write a conventional biography as we understand it today. He certainly did not set out to write Jesus’ life history. Well then, what did he want to do?
He wanted to present us with something far richer. Remember, he was Jewish and would have followed the pattern of writing that other authors of his time would have used. He interprets Jesus in the light of the Hebrew Bible. He places Jesus within the context of the Hebrew Scriptures. Again and again we will find Mark using his knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures to give us a deeper understanding of Jesus. He then portrays Jesus as reinterpreting Scripture.
Mark offers us a Wisdom book.
Jesus offers this Wisdom in parables, riddles (4: 22; 4: 24b) and short pithy sayings (aphorisms 2: 27 Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath; 9: 49; 9: 50; 4: 24a; 7: 15; 8: 34 – 38; 9: 38 – 41; 9: 42 – 50. Often Mark will teach us profound truths by using figurative language and the language of scripture.
Mark shows Jesus, the central figure, to be a teacher of Wisdom but Jesus is also wisdom itself. Jesus calls us, his followers, to a new way of living our lives. This way of living, Jesus demonstrates by his own life style.1
The Wisdom of this Gospel constantly challenges us to re-examine our values, our relationship with God and how we relate to others.
Let’s see how much of this we can find in Mark 6: 45 – 53.
45Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side towards Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.
46And when he had taken leave of them, he went off to the mountain to pray.
47When it was evening, the boat was far out on the sea and he was alone on the shore.
48Then he saw that they were tossed about while rowing, for the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night, he came towards them walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them.
49But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out. 50They had all seen him and were terrified. But at once he spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!”
51He got into the boat with them and the wind died down. They were (completely) astounded. 52They had not understood the incident of the loaves and fishes. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened. 53After making the crossing, they came to land at Gennesaret and tied up there. “he went off to the mountain to pray.”
Here we have ‘biblical language’. This is telling us that he went into the presence of God. We too can go “to the mountain”. When we take time to pray, we enter in a special way, into the presence of God. “He meant to pass by them.”
Remember how we said that Mark places Jesus within the context to the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). 1Kings 19: 9 – 19 tells us about the Elijah’s experiences on the mountain of God (Horeb or Sinai). We are immediately aware that Elijah is in the presence of God. Elijah is told, “Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will be passing by.” The Lord passed by as a tiny whispering wind. Twice Elijah is asked, “Elijah, why are you here?” Clearly God expected him to be somewhere else. Remember, Jesus sent his disciples to the other side, so I wonder what they were doing in the middle of the lake. I can easily imagine Jesus thinking, “Why, are you here? I am sure I sent you to the other side. What has gone wrong?”
Well now, what had gone wrong? Oh yes, the wind was against them. Perhaps we need to ask: “Was the storm on the lake or in the boat?” Jesus had sent this group of good Jewish men to the ‘other side’ – the pagans. Can you imagine the argument between those who thought they should go and those who had no intention of going? Incidentally, Mark’s own community was battling with the question of admitting pagans into their number.
Here is the challenge to us. All of us South Africans come from a history where we look down upon others simply because they are a different colour or speak a different language. We all know about apartheid and xenophobia. How is Jesus challenging me when he says, “Mike, why are you here?”
Let me offer you one last challenge.
52They had not understood the incident of the loaves and fishes.
This refers to the feeding of the five thousand in verses 34 – 44. Mark must be hinting at something far deeper than the obvious feeding of five thousand people; actually there must have been many more because we can be sure there where many women and children there as well.
Well now. What other possible meanings could there be for the incident of the loaves and fishes?
1. Sabin, Marie Noonan: New Collegeville Bible Commentary; Volume 2, The Gospel according to Mark
Mike Chalmers cfc