[Read about Fr. Ben's Lenten Bible Study]
Catch up by reading Session I and Session II
Last Week's Questions
What are the differences between the NIV Bible translation, KJV, and the NRSV? Although the NIV can be an easier read that is because it will sometimes sacrifice a literal translation of a word or passage for a more interpretive translation. The King James version was originally written ‘to be read aloud in church’, and like the NIV can sacrifice translation for interpretation, albeit a sometimes archaic version of English. If you are interested in comparison, here is the Bible Gateway site: https://classic.biblegateway.com/
Why does Jesus say that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unforgiveable (3:29ff)? The Pharisees charge Jesus with being a servant of Beelzebub, thus his ability to cast out demons.
Jesus replies basically that a ‘household divided cannot stand’. He teaches that the power to cast out the demons is through the Spirit and thus in direct agreement with God’s plan.
Interestingly , Matthew (Mt. 12:31-32) would allow that there is some excuse for not recognizing Jesus’ divine nature, since it is hidden under the appearance of an ordinary ‘son of man’ (non-Aramaic translation), not to be confused with Mark’s ‘bar nasha’ (Aramaic translation), but there is no excuse for blinding oneself to the manifest works of the Spirit. The man who denies these is resisting God’s most direct appeal and putting himself outside the range of God’s saving grace.
One could also say that Mark implies that a blasphemy against Jesus is unforgiveable as well, because he is operating completely on God’s behalf as the Messiah.
Jesus compared himself to prophets in Mark 6:4. Did Mark see Jesus as a prophet?Mark clearly understands Jesus as the Messiah, Son of God. I’ve always read this passage as the home-town boy will always be seen as the home-town boy. Instead of seeing a miracle the townspeople would be talking among themselves,
“Remember when Jesus kicked that cat when he was 6 years old?” (I’m not saying Jesus ever kicked a cat, but I’m sure you get the point.)
In the Diocese of Massachusetts I was a part-time diocesan consultant. I was sent to parishes to help them with issues of stewardship. Because I travelled over 50 miles and carried a brief-case, I was considered an expert. Not so much at my home parish.
What’s the difference between the Sabbath for Jews and Christians? The Sabbath is from sunset Friday to Sunset Saturday. It is the seventh day of the week (Saturday if you start counting on Sunday—the Jews have been counting longer than Christians), the day set aside by God for people to rest. The term comes from the Hebrew word ‘shavat’ which means ‘to rest’. Jesus would have observed Saturday as the Sabbath. Christianity appropriated the word, perhaps inappropriately, because Jesus was raised from the dead on Sunday.
Was there ever a person as Jesus traveled the area who asked to be healed but wasn’t? If so, why, and is that why some people today are healed and others aren’t? This one has got me scratching my head, trying to jar loose an example of Jesus refusing to heal someone in any of the Gospel accounts. Truthfully, I can’t think of one. This is probably because the healings are always pointing to a message that Jesus or the author is trying to make. Not to be crude, but the healings are a means to an end.
The second part of the question is a little more difficult. Although one is tempted to jump to the conclusion that it is all a matter of faith, or lack thereof—Jesus frequently says something to the effect of go, your faith has made you well—but I don’t think it is quite that simple. Faith is most assuredly is an element, but still it is in God’s hands ultimately. If the Book of Job tells us anything, it is that we can’t—or shouldn’t dare to—question God’s motives. When Job questions, God tells him that he can’t possibly understand. He basically tells Job that his job is to be faithful; God’s job is to be God.
Last but not least, we can’t forget the pigs! Several people were interested in the pigs. Why did Jesus grant permission to the demons to enter the pigs? And a corollary question, Why would He let the demons dictate to Him what He should do? Several things are going on simultaneously in this story. As I’ve mentioned, for Mark, Jesus is the Messiah who is already beginning the eschatological battle against evil. In this story, the demon(s) know Jesus’ name (5:7), which would usually give the demon(s) power over a person. They have no power over Jesus (because he is the Messiah of the End Times), so they attempt negotiating with him.
Despite the fact that Jesus gives into their concession, it still fits into the eschatological purview of the story. Traditionally it is believed that in the End Times, the devil and his minions will be cast into the fiery lake of damnation. Although Galilee is not on fire, the symbolism carries.
I’d also add that 2,000 pigs is a lot of pigs! I suspect there’s a bit of mid-eastern hyperbole going on in this story. I think it also proves that pigs don’t float!
The Rev. Benjamin Lee Lentz
Last week we began with a geography review. This week I’d like to overlay that with a brief history lesson concerning the Palestinian “tetrarchy” (sort of a Who’s Who of Herod’s family).
Upon the death of Herod the Great (6 BCE) Caesar Augustus divided the region of Palestine among Herod’s three sons and their aunt (Archelaus, Herod Antipas, Philip, Salome I).
Salome I, controlled a few specific cities (areas near Jericho and Gaza—by no means a fourth of the region. Philip received the regions of Gaulantis & Decapolis (North & East of the Sea of Galilee). Herod Antipas got the Region of Galilee and a corridor south along the Jordan, primarily on the eastern side—a.k.a. Peraea or Transjordan).
Archelaus received the biggest portion (Samaria, Judea, and Idumea). On the map, the Syro-Phoenicia region (North and West of the Sea of Galilee) was simply provincial Roman territory, ruled directly by Rome.
Archelaus’ rule was so ruthless, he was deposed by Rome in 6 AD (long before Jesus’ ministry begins) and his territory became an extended Roman Provincial territory. Salome I dies in 10 AD (likewise long before Jesus’ ministry) and the territory is primarily absorbed by the provincial territory formerly belonging to Archelaus.
Herod Antipas and Philip maintain their control of their territories through the time of Jesus’ ministry. They were, of course, under Roman oversight.
The passages this week demonstrate Mark’s unfamiliarity with specific Palestinian geography, but shows that he has some general knowledge of the region, if only perhaps through Roman sources.
Frequently a region might be referred to by the name of its principal city or cities (e.g. the geographical area known to us as Bradford County might be called the Region of Towanda, or simply Towanda). Tyre (about 39 miles from the Sea of Galilee) and Sidon (about 10 miles further up the coast) are cities—just off the map—on the Mediterranean. However, they influenced a region much large than what we might consider their city-limits.
This session’s readings also illustrate an issue with “other sources” especially when the “other sources” attempt to identify unknown specific places (e.g. no one knows where Dalmanutha is located, so “other sources” say Mageda or Magdala) based on Jesus’ travels in other gospel accounts. With only Mark’s account, we’d be at a loss as to where it is located.
Although this week’s passages are about Jesus’ travels outside Galilee, we must be careful not to read it as a ministry to the Gentiles. Certainly he does travel into gentile territory (Tyre & Sidon, Gaulantis, Decapolis) or at least areas with less of a Jewish population than Galilee or Judea. It is all part of an area that once belonged to the Kingdom of Israel. These areas still had Jews living in them.
Painting with a broad stroke, his teaching episodes are aimed specifically at the Twelve or more generally his disciples (followers). This does not preclude his healing of gentiles or gentiles being present when he teaches, but that’s not a specific ministry to the gentiles.
Jesus’ route, according to Mark, is rather circuitous. He travels in the territories of Tyre & Sidon, Decapolis Region (no specific place excepting perhaps the unknown Dalmanutha), back to Caesarea Philippi (Region of Gaulantis), back down to Capernaum, across the Jordan from Judea (Peraea or Transjordan Region), Jericho and then on the road to Jerusalem.
It is interesting to note that although he travels through gentile territories, perhaps to visit dispersed Jews, he does not travel through Samaria, where no Jews would be found.
What I will be highlighting this session is: Healing of Syrophoenician Woman’s Daughter & Healing of Deaf Mute (7:24-37), Peter’s Profession of Faith (8:27-30), Three Passion Prophesies (8:31-33; 9:30-32; 10:32-34), Transfiguration & Elijah (9:2-13), Question of Divorce (10:1-12), and Sons of Zebedee (10:35-45).
[Please note that the Alt codes for the Greek are not available for all letters and most words have been left out. If you're interested, contact us for a pdf, which does include the original Greek. --ed.]
Read Mark 7:24-10:52
Healing of Syrophoenician Woman’s Daughter & Healing of Deaf Mute (7:24-37)
I want to mention these two stories because Mark puts them back to back. In the first, in the Region of Tyre, a Syrophoenician (Greek born) woman approaches Jesus for a healing for her daughter who is possessed by a devil. Jesus initially indicates that she’s not part of his agenda because she’s not a Jew. Despite this, he ultimately heals the daughter because of the woman’s faith. Although Mark does not relate any stories of Jesus actually evangelizing gentiles, the inclusion of this story seems to open the door to the fact that even gentiles can have faith in the Messiah and be saved.
The second story: we don’t know if the deaf-mute is Jew or gentile. Mark’s description of Jesus’ route makes it difficult to locate on the map with any precision. Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, through the region of the Decapolis. (7:31).
Once while traveling South on Rte. 1 in Maine toward my programmed destination, my G.P.S. told me I was actually traveling North toward my programmed destination. Fortunately, I knew exactly where I was and where I was going and that the G.P.S. was confused.
Jesus wasn’t using satellite positioning so we can’t know exactly where he was, at least not through Mark’s description. Mark has him traveling North from Tyre (away from the Sea of Galilee) and then somehow bypassing the Sea of Galilee to travel to the Sea of Galilee through a territory South-east of the Sea of Galilee. Perhaps Mark knew of an inter-connecting air flight that we are unaware of.
Nevertheless, Jew or gentile, it is the effect upon the crowd of the healing of the deaf-mute that is of importance: “And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well; he even makes the deaf hear and the dumbspeak.” (7:37).
Mark is referencing an extremely rare word in the Greek Bible in verse 32 for “mutes” which only appears in Isaiah “...Behold, you God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you...and the ears of the deaf unstopped...and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy.” (Isaiah 35:4-6).
For Mark, this healing reaffirms that this Isaiahan prophesy is being fulfilled and that Jesus is the eschatological Messiah that Isaiah envisioned.
Peter’s Profession of Faith (8:27-30)
Although this passage is quite clear, I mention it because it is used by Mark to set the stage for the Passion Prophesies. It seems that Mark is pointing to the fact that despite Peter’s confession, he as well as the Twelve haven’t quite got the redefinition of Messiah—at least, not yet.
Three Passion Prophesies (8:31-33; 9:30-32; 10:32-34)
I’ve grouped these three predictions together despite the fact they usually are pertinent to the stories that are either just before or after a predication. I’ve done this because they appear to have a cumulative effect on the Twelve.
The first prediction falls closely on the heels of Peter’s great confession and leads to Peter’s rebuke for lack of understanding. The second prediction precedes Jesus’ teaching on discipleship. The third prediction precedes a statement that his disciples can expect treatment similar to what he receives.
All three of these events, at their base core, is the teaching that the Messiah will ultimately be triumphant during the eschatological battle, even conquering death. This is all part of God’s plan and of Jesus’ redefinition of messiah to Messiah. Although the Twelve fail to grasp the necessity for the Passion, these predictions set the stage for their eventual “aha” moment after the crucifixion.
Transfiguration & Elijah (9:2-13)
Mark’s use of a specific time-frame—6 days later (9:2)—emphasizes the significance of the Transfiguration. It is to be seen by his readers as confirmation of Peter’s confession on the
road to Caesarea-Philippi. Likewise, the words he has chosen—This is my Son, the Beloved (9:8) — is what was spoken by God at Jesus’ baptism. This, time, however, Peter, James, and John are eye-witnesses.
Several interesting things to note in this event:
Firstly, the word translated as “transfigured” is actually the Greek word for “transformed” or “metamorphed”. Evidently, both Mark and Matthew in using this word are not concerned with their primarily Jewish readers misunderstanding the word. On the other hand, Luke, in relating this story, does not use the word, because he is afraid his readers (Roman gentiles) will liken the event to the Roman pantheon of gods who frequently transformed themselves in order to fool humans (e.g. Zeus & Leda). Luke doesn’t want his readers thinking Jesus was doing anything deceptive.
Secondly, Mark doesn’t attempt to locate the mount on which this event took place, perhaps either because he didn’t know its location, or more likely, he understands that his Jewish readers will recognize that it was usually on mountain tops (high places) that God interacted with his people. Although Mount Tabor, West of the Sea of Galilee, is the traditional site, Mark has Jesus and his group nearer Caesarea-Philippi in the Region of Gaulantis.
More importantly, the appearance of Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration is definitely an indication that it is to be seen as an eschatological event. It was established tradition that Elijah and other prophets would return in the End Times. It is in the subsequent discussion of Elijah’s presence that Jesus justifies the Messianic death (the Passion). Basically he is saying that since they treated John, the Baptizer, (the messenger) so badly, why not expect them to do the same with the Messiah?
Question of Divorce (10:1-12)
One might ask why did Mark include this discussion and specifically at this point? Well, don’t hold your breath for a great reason as to why because it is clearly an unrelated topic to Jesus’ teaching on discipleship immediately before and after it.
I had a store manager who would say when something very unexpected happened, “It is what it is.” Evidently, Mark thought the topic important enough to include, but why here, is unknown. Perhaps he thought this place was as good as any other place; it is what it is.
No matter where it is placed in this gospel account, Mark must have thought it important enough to include. It is indeed a difficult passage to hear and accept, but if we see it in the context of Mark’s main theme of Messiah redefined, it appears to be a return to the issue of Jesus’ authority and the Law.
The Pharisees ask the question to test or entrap Jesus by having him countermand a Mosaic law. The Pharisees know clearly what Moses had said: “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a bill of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, (Deuteronomy 24:1ff)”.
Although it appears that Jesus is contradicting a law, he is actually fulfilling it. Remember, Jesus continually references the higher demands of the eschatological future.
Although I’ve said that we ought not to ‘proof-text’ Markan passages with his synoptic friends, it is interesting to note that Matthew appears to expand the teaching by adding the phrase “except in the case of fornication” (Mt. 5:32).
Mark, interested in the redefinition of Messiah doesn’t mention any exceptions, whereas Matthew opens the door to a deeper discussion of the topic in his gospel account.
Sons of Zebedee (10:35-45)
Jesus and the Twelve are nearing Jericho, the jump off point for the next section, the Jerusalem ministry. Here Mark points to a teaching that subtly predicts what the conclusion of that ministry will be.
In response to the request of James and John concerning their position in the messianic organizational pyramid when they get to Jerusalem, Jesus challenges their commitment. The story does not indicate that Jesus is surprised that they believe that they can drink from the cup and be baptized as Jesus will be baptized. However, it is clear that they have not grasped the full import of the previous Passion Prophesies.
He’s speaking of an immersion (baptism) in suffering. He understands what they will face, even if they don’t. He then dismisses their request in order to establish a teaching on leadership.
Jesus once again turns the table on any world view of leadership and power. Servant-hood, the willingness to ‘take one for the team’, as it were, is true leadership. There can be no armchair generals in the eschatological battle that will intensify in Jerusalem.
Jesus understands that Jerusalem is not going to be any sort of a stroll in the park. But, are the Twelve really listening?
End Week III
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