THE GOSPEL OF MARK
Lesson 5: Chapters 6-7
Rejection at Nazareth, the Death of Saint John the Baptist, and the First Feeding Miracle
Jesus' rejection by the members of His hometown and the death of St. John the Baptist reminds us that following Jesus is more than witnessing miracles and experiencing the blessings of the Holy Spirit in our lives. There will be times when there is a personal cost that may result in our rejection by family and friends or even physical suffering. Lord, help us to follow Christ our Savior through the example of Saint John the Baptist who was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother's womb and who was great in the sight of the Lord. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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degraded the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali; but in the end he has
glorified the seaward road, the land west of the Jordan, the District of the
Gentiles ... The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon
those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. You have brought them
abundant joy and great rejoicing, as they rejoice before you as at the harvest,
as men make merry when dividing spoils, for the yoke that burdened them, the
pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed, as on
the day of Midian ... For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his
shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero,
Father-Forever, Prince of peace. His dominion is vast and forever peaceful,
from David's throne, and over his kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by
judgment and justice, both now and forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will
("the seaward road" refers to the Via Maris)
Jesus continues His mission to the Israelites of the Galilee, calling the people to repentance and slowly revealing to them the mystery that He is their promised Redeemer-Messiah. It has already been mentioned that there was a strategic reason for Jesus to begin His mission to announce the Kingdom of God in the Galilee because the great trade route called the Via Maris, (Way of the Sea) brought thousands of people through the Galilee at every season of the year, and especially at the time of the Jewish pilgrim feasts. But there was also a prophetic and historical reason for Jesus to begin His ministry in the lands that had been allotted to the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali after the Conquest of Canaan.
In a judgment for the people's apostasy in the 8th century BC, God allowed the Assyrian army to conquer the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The first stage of the Assyrian assault began in the year 732 BC with the conquest of the Galilee and the deportation of the tribes of Israel that inhabited that region into Assyrian lands to the east (2 Kng 15:29). Then in 722-721 BC the Assyrians began their final invasion of the Northern Kingdom that concluded in the fall of Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom. The victorious Assyrians exiled the entire population of the Northern Kingdom of Israel into the Assyrian held lands to the east and resettled the land with five groups of pagan peoples who later came to be known as the Samaritans (2 Kng chapter 17). The prophet Isaiah, who had prophesied Israel's fall and exile, also promised a restoration that was to begin in the same region where the tearing apart of the nation of Israel began, in the Galilee. That restoration was to be brought about by God's agent, a descendant of the line of the great king David. This man was to be the fulfillment of the Davadic covenant and his dominion was promised to last forever, according to Isaiah's prophecy in Isaiah 8:23-9:6 (see quotation above).
Some Israelites of the northern tribes drifted back to
the Galilee and some Jews of the Southern Kingdom returned to Judah after the
Persians conquered the Babylonians and allowed exiles to return to their
homeland, but the Galilee and the rest of the Holy Land remained under Gentile
Question: What is the historical and prophetic reason that Jesus began His ministry in the Galilee?
Answer: Jesus is the "Light" that has come to restore Israel in the very region where the nation was first torn apart and plunged into darkness in the 8th century BC. He is the child born to the line of David whose dominion is to last forever in fulfillment of the covenant God made with David, and He is the "Prince of peace" who has come according to the promise of God to His prophet Isaiah.
He grew up like
a sapling before him, like a shoot from the parched earth. There was in him no
stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to
Thus says the
Lord GOD: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves!
Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep? You have fed off their milk, worn
their wool, and slaughtered the fatlings, but the sheep you have not pastured
.... So they were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and became food for all the
wild beasts. My sheep were scattered and wandered over all the mountains and
high hills; my sheep were scattered over the whole earth, with no one to look
after them or to search for them.
Ezekiel 34:2b-3, 5-6
Mark 6:1-6 ~ Jesus is Rejected by His Neighbors at
1 He departed from there and came to his native place, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came he began to teach in the Synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished. They said, "Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! 3 Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him. 4 Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house." 5 So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.
Jesus came to His hometown of Nazareth and attended the Sabbath day (Saturday) service in the local Synagogue. Nazareth is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew Nasret which may be derived from the Hebrew word "consecrate" (nazir) or "branch" (netzer/nezer). Nazareth is located on the south western side of the Sea of Galilee about 15 miles from the tip of the southern shore. Nazareth is not mentioned in the Old Testament but an inscription naming Nazareth has been found at Caesarea that dates to the 1st century AD. The town of Nazareth was considered to be insignificant in Jesus' day (Jn 1:45-46).
As a Jew who was obedient to the commands of the Sinai Covenant, it was Jesus' custom to keep the Sabbath obligation by coming to the Synagogue (Ex 20:8-11; 31:12-17; 34:21; 35:1-3; Dt 6:12-15; Lk 4:16). Worship expressed in sacrifice took place in the Jerusalem Temple; however, for those communities that were located too far away from the Temple, worship through prayer and praise took place in the Synagogue where the Sacred Scriptures were read and reflected upon. The president of the Synagogue was authorized to ask any male of the covenant to read and expound on the Scripture to the congregation. Jesus was invited to stand and read the Scripture for that Saturday Sabbath service and to offer a teaching on the reading (verse 2a). St. Mark does not record the reading or the exchange between Jesus and the congregation that is found in St. Luke's Gospel where Jesus declares that the prophetic passage He read from the Isaiah 61:1-2 is fulfilled in Him (Lk 4:16-21), but Mark does record the congregation's reaction.
3 Is he not the
carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and
Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?"
Question: What is their response and why do they react in this way?
Answer: Instead of being favorably impressed by the wisdom of His teaching, they appear to be angry that one who they consider an ordinary man and their equal has dared to put Himself above them.
It is interesting that they call Jesus the "son of Mary" instead of the "son of Joseph." It is customary to name a man or woman through their father and not their mother. That they mention Mary may be because Joseph has been dead for a long time, or they know the story that Joseph was not Jesus' biological father. Jesus' kinsmen are also named in Matthew 13:55 (James, Joseph (Joses is the shortened form), Simon, and Judas (Jude in the shortened form). As mentioned previously, these "brothers" and "sisters" are kinsmen/kinswomen who could have been the children of Joseph by a previous marriage, cousins, or even uncles/aunts. See the documents " Did Jesus have Brothers and Sisters?" and the Four Marian Dogmas.
And they took offense at him. 4 Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without
honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house."
The Greek word translated "offense" is skandalizomai, meaning "to stumble over an obstacle"; it is the word from which we get our English word "scandal." Knowing Jesus in his ordinary life became a "stumbling stone" to them accepting Jesus as an agent of God (see Is 8:14; 1 Cor 1:23; 1 Pt 2:7-8). Jesus lived such an ordinary life among the people of His community that they found it incredible that He should be anything special. The prophet Isaiah foretold that the "Suffering Servant" of God, prior to His great work of atonement, would grow up unrecognized by his own people (Is 53:2). The point is that our Redeemer is one of us (Heb 2:16-18). Jesus uses what must have been a common proverb in verse 4 to explain His rejection (see Lk 4:24; Jn 4:44). Like God's prophets before Him, Jesus is ridiculed and rejected for preaching the word of God among His kinsmen/countrymen.
5 So he was not
able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by
laying his hands on them. 6 He was
amazed at their lack of faith.
Jesus is amazed at their lack of faith that actually hinders Him in working miracles on their behalf.
Question: Did Jesus really not have the power to heal because of their unbelief?
Answer: There is no limit to God's power, but God respects our free-will choices and therefore healing is a cooperative effort involving the faith of the person to be healed coupled with divine intervention.
The statement in verse 5 highlights the necessity of faith for God's work in our lives and is why Jesus warns people to "have faith" before He heals (i.e., Mk 5:36).
Mark 6:6b-13 ~ The First Mission of the Twelve
6b He went around to the villages in the vicinity teaching. 7 He summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. 8 He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick, no food, no sack, no money in their belts. 9 They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic. 10 He said to them, "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there. 11 Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them." 12 So they went off and preached repentance. 13 They drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil any who were sick and cured them.
This is the first time the Apostles are sent out with His
Question: What are they allowed to carry with them? What were they commanded not to take?
Answer: They were allowed to take three items:
They were forbidden to take food, a sack, money, or a change of clothes.
The list of items is slightly different in the account of similar missions in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and may reflect other missions where the journey was made slightly harder by forbidding them to take even sandals or a staff. A staff was used for protection against wild animals or robbers. While they are allowed to take a staff on the first mission, they must rely on God to provide for their food and lodging. As they are strengthened by their first experience, Jesus may have made their dependence on God even greater in forbidding the protective staff or sandals, or the absence of sandals may indicate God has hallowed the ground upon which they now walk (see Ex 3:3; Josh 5:15), since the Kingdom of God will now encompass the whole earth. In the Jerusalem Temple the priests were forbidden to wear sandals as they went about their ministerial duties (Mishnah: Tamid, 1:1Q-1:2J; 5:3).
Question: Why does Jesus send them out by twos?
Answer: Two is the smallest number of a community of believers. They are not alone but have each other to pray together, to support each other, and to discern together how to deal with problems.
In addition, according to the Law two witnesses are necessary to give testimony in a court of law, especially in a criminal case (Num 35:30; Dt 19:15). In this case, there are two witnesses to back up the testimony of witnessing Jesus' miracles and His message.
Question: What authority does Jesus give them on
the mission? What is it that they are to preach and why? See verses 7 and
Answer: He gave them the power to cast out demons, to heal the sick, and to call the people to repentance in preparation for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ that will be inaugurated on Resurrection Sunday and embraced by the New Covenant faithful at Pentecost.
In addition to healing the sick and casting out demons, He only gives them the authority to preach repentance like the ministry of St. John the Baptist, in preparation for receiving the Gospel of the Kingdom. But this will be the first of many such missions; notice Mark says He "began to send them out." Jesus is preparing His Apostles and disciples to carry on His mission to spread the Gospel of salvation after His Ascension, and in this first mission they begin in a small way.
10 He said to them,
"Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there. 11 Whatever place does not welcome you or listen
to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against
They are to stay in the same house in order to avoid causing jealousy within a community by having villagers compete in offering them hospitality. To welcome Jesus' Apostles is to welcome Him, and to refuse to listen to His emissaries is to refuse to listen to Him (see Mk 8:38 and 9:37). If a town does not welcome them, they are to leave and shake the dust of that place off their feet.
Question: What does shaking the dust of the
unreceptive town off their feet symbolize?
Answer: To shake the dust off one's feet is an act of repudiation as well as a solemn warning that those who reject the message of Jesus carried by the Apostles reject Jesus Christ (Acts 13:51).
12 So they went
off and preached repentance. 13 They
drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil any who were sick and cured
Question: When does the Church anoint the sick with oil and petition God to cure the sick in imitation of the Apostles and with the same authority from Jesus? See Jam 5:14-15 and CCC 1510-11, 1526.
Answer: The Church offers the same healing according to the will of God through the power of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Anointing.
Mark 6:14-16 ~ Herod Antipas' Opinion on Jesus
14 King Herod heard about it, for his fame had become wide spread, and people were saying, "John the Baptist has been raised from the dead; that is why mighty powers are at work in him." 15 Others were saying, "He is Elijah"; still others, "He is a prophet like any of the prophets." 16 But when Herod learned of it, he said, "It is John whom I beheaded. He has been raised up."
Herod Antipas was a client ruler of the Romans who was the tetrarch of the Galilee in the north and Perea in the south on the east side of the Jordan River. He was the son of Herod the Great and a Samaritan woman named Malthace. His wife was his niece, a granddaughter of Herod the Great and the Jewish princess Mariamne, and the divorced wife of his brother. St. John the Baptist condemned them as adulterers (lev 18:16) and, as a result of his wife's enmity toward St. John, Herod reluctantly executed him. In the opinion of most of the people of the Galilee, Jesus was a prophet, but Herod, whose conscience plagued him concerning St. John's death, was fearful that Jesus was St. John who had been resurrected to accuse him. In Mark 1:14, St. Mark has already hinted that John's ministry is in a way a precursor of Jesus' ministry and now, in a mysterious way, John's death foreshadows Jesus' death.
Mark 6:17-29 ~ The Death of John the Baptist
17 Herod was the one who had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married. 18 John had said to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." 19 Herodias harbored a grudge against him and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so. 20 Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him. 21 She had an opportunity one day when Herod, on his birthday, gave a banquet for his courtiers, his military officers, and the leading men of Galilee. 22 Herodias' own daughter came in and performed a dance that delighted Herod and his guests. The king said to the girl, "Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you." 23 He even swore many things to her, "I will grant you whatever you ask of me, even to half of my kingdom." 24 She went out and said to her mother, "What shall I ask for?" She replied, "The head of John the Baptist." 25 The girl hurried back to the king's presence and made her request, "I want you to give me at once on a platter the head of John the Baptist." 26 The king was deeply distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests he did not wish to break his word to her. 27 So he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders to bring back his head. He went off and beheaded him in the prison. 28 He brought in the head on a platter and gave it to the girl. The girl in turn gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
The first century AD Jewish priest and historian, Flavius Josephus (37-100 AD), gives an account of St. John's martyrdom in his book Antiquities of the Jews, but attributes John's execution to Herod's fear that he was fermenting a rebellion. It was probably an account that Herod Antipas promoted instead of the murder of an innocent man. In his account, Josephus writes that John was a righteous man who offered a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin and purification of the body (Antiquities of the Jews, 18.5.2 [116-117]). Josephus also provides the name of Herodias' daughter by her first husband who performed the dance that led to John's death; her name was Salome (Antiquities of the Jews, 18.5.3 ). Celebrating birthdays was a Gentile custom, and it was outrageous that a royal princess should perform a lewd dance for such an occasion. The plan was obviously her mother's. In verses 22, 25 and 28 Herodias' daughter is described as a "girl," by Greek the word korasion, the diminutive for the classical Greek word for "girl," kore and more accurately translated "young girl." It is the same word used for the 12 year old girl Jesus raised from death to life in 5:42. Scholars believe she was between 12-14 years old.
Question: Notice how Herod's actions show the deadly
growth of sin that is not repented. How would you characterize the growth of
sin in Herod Antipas' life?
Answer: His sins progressed from lust for his brother's wife, to adultery, to debauchery, to rash oaths and false pride, to murder.
Mark 6:30-33 ~ The Return of the Twelve
30 The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while." People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. 32 So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place. 33 People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them.
St. Mark now returns to the story of the Apostles and their return from their mission. Notice how Mark has "sandwichedquot; the story of the Apostles being sent out to proclaim repentance in preparation for the coming of the promised Kingdom of God between the story of John the Baptist's death and the corrupt kingdom of Herod Antipas. Perhaps it is Mark's intention to show the contrast between the injustice of the false kingdoms of corrupt earthly rulers and the divine justice that will be offered in the true Davidic Kingdom of the righteous Messiah that is the Kingdom of God.
Mark is the only Gospel writer who consistently mentions the personal sacrifice Jesus and the disciples experience during Jesus' ministry. Once again Mark notes that they had no opportunity to even take a meal without being interrupted by people seeking Jesus. Knowing that His Apostles are exhausted after their mission, He invites them to come away with Him and rest both physically and spiritually, but this is not possible because the crowds of people found them.
Mark 6:34-44 ~ The First Feeding Miracle of the Loaves
34 When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. 35 By now it was already late and his disciples approached him and said, "This is a deserted place and it is already very late. 36 Dismiss them so that they can go to the surrounding farms and villages and buy themselves something [artos/bread] to eat." 37 He said to them in reply, "Give them some food [artos] yourselves." But they said to him, "Are we to buy two hundred days' wages worth of food and give it to them to eat?" 38 He asked them, "How many loaves [how many do you have] do you have? Go and see." And when they had found out they said, "Five loaves [artos] and two fish." 39 So he gave orders to have them sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 The people took their places in rows by hundreds and by fifties. 41 Then, taking the five loaves [artos] and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves [artos], and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; he also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they picked up twelve wicker baskets full of fragments and what was left of the fish. 44 Those who ate of the loaves [those eating] were five thousand men. [..] literal translation IBGE, vol. IV, page 112; artos means "bread" and appears in the Greek text in every verse indicated.
The key word in this section of Mark's Gospel is the word "bread," artos in the Greek, which is translated as "bread," "loaves," or "meal" in the English translation. This key word appears 17 times between the events in Mark 6:34 to 8:26 (see Mk 6:36, 37, 38, 41 twice, 52; 7:2, 5, 27; 8:4, 5, 6, 14 twice, 16, 17, and 19). The use of this word is not a coincidence. St. Mark has carefully chosen to use this word repeatedly in this section to demonstrate the unveiling of the mystery of Jesus centering on the theme of "bread." It is a revelation that will reach its climax at the Last Supper.
There is a repeated pattern of events in this section of the narrative. Jesus will miraculously feed a multitude twice with a few loaves of bread and fish. Each time the miracle is followed by a crossing of the Sea of Galilee, a conflict with the religious leaders, a confession of faith, and a healing (in the last part the healing and confession are reversed). In both parts of the continuing bread narrative, Jesus heals a deaf man and a blind man, symbolizing the warning He gave when He quoted from Isaiah 6:9-10 (Mk 4:12) as He continues to spiritually open the deaf ears and the blind eyes of His disciples and others so they will one day be able to understand the mystery of the Kingdom He has come to proclaim.
Peter's confession of faith in the last segment of the second part of the bread narrative is another turning point and introduces Part III of Mark's Gospel "The Mystery Begins to be Revealed."
Question: What will Jesus' two feeding miracles in
6:34-44 and 8:1-10 recall to the people from the works of God's mercy and the
works of the prophets in the Old Testament? See Ex 16:4-5, 31, 35-36; 1 Kng 17:2-16; 2 Kng 4:1-7, 42-44.
Answer: This miracle feeding recalls:
34 When he
disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for
they were like sheep without a shepherd;
Jesus and His disciples come ashore only to discover that the crowd had discovered where they were going and were already gathered in great numbers when they disembarked.
Question: Instead of being angry that His plan to take His Apostles on a retreat was now impossible, what was Jesus' reaction? What is the connection to Ex 34:6 and Ez 34:1-6, 11-16?
Answer: Jesus feels pity/compassion for the crowd; compassion is one of the attributes of God. He characterizes the crowd as "sheep without a shepherd" like the prophecy in Ezekiel that promised God Himself will come to shepherd His people because of the failure of Israel's shepherds/religious leaders.
The feeding of the 5 thousand is one of the few miracles
of Jesus that is recorded in all four Gospels (Mt 14:13-21; Lk 9:10-17; Jn 6:1-13). Unlike the other Gospels, St. John includes the information on the
time of the year that the miracle took place, which Mark hints at when he
writes that the grass was green in verse 39.
Question: What time of year was it in the yearly cycle of the seven sacred feast days of the Old Covenant and why were there large crowds passing through the Galilee? See Jn 6:1-4; Lev 23:4-8; Num 28:16-17; Dt 16:16; 2 Chr 8:13.
Answer: It was close to the time of the Passover, a feast that took place in the early spring on the 14th of Nisan and was followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a pilgrim feast that lasted seven days from the 15th to the 21st of Nisan.
Unleavened Bread was a pilgrim feast in which every man of the covenant, no matter where he lived, must come to Jerusalem to eat the sacred meal of the Passover victim on the first night of Unleavened Bread and present himself before God's holy altar to make the necessary sacrifices on the seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Num 28:16-25). According to the Jewish Mishnah, a compendium of Jewish oral traditions and the rites of Temple worship, the Passover sacrifice of the goat kid or lamb (Ex 12:5) could be offered by a Jewish slave or a relative (Mishnah: Pesahim, 8:1-8:4). That is why the crowd was especially large; men and their families were passing through the Galilee on the way down to Jerusalem. Only men were required to keep the pilgrim feast, but it was a joyous event and when possible entire families made the journey, as did Jesus' family when he was 12 years old (Jn 2:41-41). The feasts of Passover on the 14th and Unleavened Bread on the 15th-21st are listed in the Old Testament as two separate feast, but in the 1st century AD the entire 8 days were referred to as either "Passover" or "Unleavened Bread" (Mk 14:12; Lk 22:7). In the Gospel of John, St. John only refers to the 8 days as "Passover" as does 1st century AD priest/historian Flavius Josephus in his books.
and he began to teach them many things. 35 By now it was already late and his disciples
approached him and said, "This is a deserted place and it is already very
late. 36 Dismiss them so that they
can go to the surrounding farms and villages and buy themselves something
[artos] to eat." 37 He said to
them in reply, "Give them some food [artos] yourselves." But they said to him,
"Are we to buy two hundred days' wages worth of food [worth and give] and give
it to them to eat?"
Notice that in verse34b that Jesus will feed their souls with His teaching before He feeds their bodies. When the disciples tell Jesus He must dismiss the people so they can go and find food, He challenges them to feed the people.
Question: What does their shocked response
demonstrate when Jesus tells them to feed the crowd?
Answer: After all the miracles He has performed, including the calming of the sea in the storm, they still do not understand His true identity.
38 He asked them,
"How many loaves [How many do] do you have? Go and see." And when they had
found out they said, "Five loaves [artos] and two fish."
Jesus is patient with His Apostles and disciples. He instructs them to bring Him what food they can find. They find 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. In St. John's Gospel he tells us the food was donated by a small boy and that the bread was made of barley; it is a significant detail (Jn 6:9).
39 So he gave
orders to have them sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 The people took their places in rows by
hundreds and by fifties.
The grouping of the people is reminiscent of the groupings of Israelites encamped in the desert after the exodus out of Egypt and eating the miracle gift of the manna, the bread from heaven (Ex 16:4-5,16-18). This event also recalls the tradition of the Old Testament prophets who depicted the transformation of the wasteland into pastures where the true Davidic messianic shepherd feeds his flock and makes His people the beneficiaries of His messianic grace (Ez 34:23-26).
41 Then, taking
the five loaves [artos] and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he said the
blessing, broke the loaves [artos], and gave them to his disciples to set
before the people; he also divided the two fish among them all.
Taking on the role of the father/host of the meal, Jesus observes the Jewish ritual of praying before meals. St. Mark's sequence of words describes the characteristic action and words at ordinary Jewish meals and indicates that Jesus faithfully followed Jewish customs. The object of the blessing is not the loaves and fish but the Lord God since prayers before meals began with the blessing of the name of God. A typical Jewish prayer before a meal is: "Praise unto thee, O Lord our God, King of the world;" and what followed depended on the category of food or feast day involved. In the case of bread, the blessing was invoked on God: "who makes bread to come forth from the earth" (Jewish Book of Why, vol. II, page 227, 230-31). What is different is that Jesus does not bow His head but instead He raises His eyes to Heaven. This is, however, not an ordinary meal, and we should notice that Jesus' prayer not only gives the customary praise and thanksgiving to God but in raising His head He invokes a reliance upon God the Father for the extraordinary power necessary for Jesus to meet the people's need.
Question: What is the order of His actions after taking the bread?
This is the same order in which the priest, in Persona Christi (acting in the Person of Christ), repeats the Eucharistic words of Jesus from the Last Supper and then disburses the "bread" to the disciples (Ministers of the Eucharist) who disburse the "bread" to the crowd (congregation of the faithful). The difference is that it was only bread and fish that was given to the crowd in this miracle feeding, but in our miracle feeding of the Eucharist, what was once bread and once wine has become the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus (Mt 26:26-28; Mk 14:22-24; Lk 22:19-20; 1 Cor 11:23-26). However, this feeding of the crowd is not a Eucharistic meal. The differences are that in John 6:9 we are told that the bread is made from barley flour while the bread of the Last Supper was unleavened wheat bread (a stipulation for the sacred meal of the Passover on the first night of the Feast of Unleavened Bread; see Ex 12:8, 15) that became Jesus' Body, and at the Last Supper they drank red wine that became Jesus' precious Blood. No fish was consumed. This miracle feeding foreshadowed the Last Supper but it was not the same; it was not a Eucharistic meal of Jesus' Body and Blood. The Eucharist can only be consumed by those who are in a state of grace (free of sin) and who believe in the Body and Blood of Christ in the sacred meal (1 Cor 11:27-29).
Question: How many people were fed?
Answer: Many people over 5 thousand because women and children were not counted.
The leftover bread signifies the abundance of the grace
of God in a miracle that is only a foreshadowing of an even greater granting of
divine grace that is to come.
Question: How many baskets were left over and what is the significance of this number in the Old Testament and in the New?
Answer: There were twelve baskets of food left over. Twelve is the symbolic number of the tribes of Israel and the twelve men who were the physical fathers of the covenant people. Jesus is gathering the twelve tribes of Israel into His New Covenant Church and His Twelve Apostles will become the spiritual fathers of the new, restored Israel. The twelve baskets are also one basket for each of the Twelve Apostles, Jesus' ministers who, in the New Covenant sacred meal, will continue to distribute the "bread" to the faithful.
Question: Did the people realize they had taken
part in a miracle? See Jn 6:14-15.
Answer: St. John's Gospel records that they absolutely understood that a miracle had taken place.
St. John records: When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, "This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world." Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone (Jn 6:14-15; "the prophet" refers to the prophecy of Dt 18:18-20). It was the next day, the Sabbath day at Capernaum, when the crowd found Him and asked for another miracle, imploring Jesus to rain bread down from heaven like the manna of Moses. It was then that Jesus promised them an even greater miracle, declaring "I AM the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world" (Jn 6:51).
Mark 6:45-52 ~ The Second Nature Miracle: Jesus Walks
on the Water
45 Then he made his disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side toward Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And when he had taken leave of them, he went off to the mountain to pray. 47 When it was evening, the boat was far out on the sea and he was alone on shore. 48 Then he saw that they were tossed about while rowing, for the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them. 49 But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out. 50 They had all seen him and were terrified. But at once he spoke with them, "Take courage, it is I [ego ami = I AM], do not be afraid!" 51 He got into the boat with them and the wind died down. They were completely astounded. 52 They had not understood the incident of the loaves [artos]. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened. [..] = literal translation IBGE, vol. IV, page 113.
Jesus left the disciples to go up a mountain to have private prayer time. Mark associates Jesus with a mountain five times in his Gospel (Mk 3:13; 4:46 ; 9:2, 9 and 11:23); revelations of God and works of God are associated with mountains in Scripture. Mark does not include that Peter walked on the water toward Jesus until his fear caused him to sink into the water only to be rescued by Jesus (Mt 14:22-23; Jn 6:16-21). Since Mark is recording Peter's story, it may be that Peter, in his humility, did not want the story of Jesus controlling the natural order to be diverted to a story about him.
It was about the fourth watch of the night that Jesus was walking on the water. In the first century AD the Jews kept the four Roman night watches. The fourth watch was from 3 AM to dawn or 6 AM (the hours were seasonal hours: 12 daylight hours and 12 night time hours divided into four watches).
Question: How does Jesus identify Himself and why
is His wording significant? See Ex 3:14.
Answer: Jesus used the Divine Name that God revealed to Moses at the encounter of the burning bush. This claim to His divinity is corroborated as Jesus does what only God can do: He walks upon the water.
Jesus walks upon the water to reveal His divinity and the mystery of His sinless nature. It is because He is entirely free from the burden of sin that He can walk across the sea without sinking.
They were completely astounded. 52 They had not understood the incident of the
loaves [artos]. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened.
The Apostles had only come so far in understanding Jesus' true identity. They could acknowledge that He was a prophet and perhaps even the Davidic Messiah, but they had not yet been able to accept His divine nature. The can accept that the miracle of the loaves was like the miracles of Elijah and Elisha, but not that it was like the manna sent from God. It was a leap of faith they were not ready to take.
Do you find that sometimes your heart is "hardened" like the Pharaoh of the Exodus or like the children of Israel when they continually rebelled against God and His divine plan for them? Sometimes we do not understand the ways of God, especially when we think we have the better plan. But it is then that our faith is being tested like Peter when he walked on the water to Jesus but then began to sink into the waves. Instead of struggling to swim back to the boat, Peter cried out for Jesus to save him and he was saved! When we submit to God by trusting in Him to guide us and protect us, our faith is strengthened and we become part of His divine plan not only for us but for others who are encouraged by the example of our trust and faith in the Divine. And like Peter, He will raise us up out of disaster to bring us to His embrace.
Mark 6:53-56 ~ The Healings at Gennesaret
53 After making the crossing, they came to the land at Gennesaret and tied up there. 54 As they were leaving the boat, people immediately recognized him. 55 They scurried about the surrounding country and began to bring in the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 Whatever villages or towns or countryside he entered, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak; and as many as touched it were healed.
Gennesaret was a village on the western shore of the Sea
of Galilee, south west of Capernaum. The people continue to respond positively
to Jesus and come to Him for healing. Their faith in Him to heal them is so
strong that they believe is the simply touch the tassel on His cloak that they
will be healed.
Question: What is the significance of the tassel on Jesus' cloak? What two purposes did the tasseled cloak serve? See Num 15:38-40 and Dt 22:12.
Answer: God told Moses to instruct the men of Israel to wear tassels on their outer garments as a visible reminder to keep God's commandments. It was to be also to be a visible reminder of the sacred character of the covenant community that separated them from the Gentile nations.
The modern day prayer shawls fulfill this requirement but the tassels are usually white because the secret of the blue dye was lost for many centuries. It has been rediscovered, but many rabbis insist on the white tassels because the blue dye can no longer be made within the ritual purity of the holy Temple that no longer exists.
The Lord said: Since this people draws
near with words only and honors me with their lips alone, though their hearts
are far from me, and their reverence for me has become routine observance of
the precepts of men, therefore I will deal with this people in surprising and
wondrous fashion: the wisdom of its wise men shall perish and the understanding
of its prudent men be hid.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you
hypocrites. You pay tithes of mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the
weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. But these you
should have done, without neglecting the others. Blind guides, who strain out
the gnat and swallow the camel!
Mark 7:1-13 ~ The Traditions of the Elders
1 Now when the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2 they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals [artos/bread] with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands. 3 For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. 4 And on coming from the marketplace they do not eat without purifying themselves. And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds. 5 So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, "Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal [artos] with unclean hands?" 6 He responded, "Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.' 8 You disregard God's commandments but cling to human tradition." 9 He went on to say, "How well you have set aside the commandment of God in order to uphold your tradition! 10 For Moses said, Honor your father and your mother,' and Whoever curses father or mother shall die." 11 Yet you say, If a person says to father or mother, "Any support you might have had from me is qorban"' (meaning, dedicated to God), 12 you allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother. 13 You nullify the word of God in favor of your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many such things."
The Temple hierarchy in Jerusalem sent their representatives to examine Jesus in the same way they sent men to question John the Baptist (Jn 1:19-20). The "traditions of the elders" they refer to in verse 5 are the religious practices that have been added by the Pharisees and elders of the past century to the written Mosaic Law of the Torah and the Oral Tradition given to Moses and Aaron.
2 they observed
that some of his disciples ate their meals [artos/bread] with unclean, that is,
unwashed, hands. 3 For the
Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their
hands, keeping the traditions of the elders. 4 And on coming from the marketplace they do not eat without
purifying themselves. And there are many other things that they have
traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds.
As they expanded their authority over all religious matters in the first century BC, the Pharisees began to preach the doctrine that the ritual purity practices that applied to the priests should be applied to all the covenant people. They added their own interpretation of religious customs to the Mosaic Law, making the Law more of a burden for the people and less of a tutor and a guide. Certain traditions which included the ritual of Temple worship were part of a sacred Tradition that was only passed on orally by the chief priests and Levites until the Temple was destroyed in AD 70 when these traditions were recorded in the Jewish Mishnah in circa AD 200. The Pharisees added to the oral Tradition their own rigid interpretation of the Law.
5 So the
Pharisees and scribes questioned him, "Why do your disciples not follow the
traditions of the elders but instead eat a meal [artos] with unclean hands?"
The Pharisees are not charging Jesus and His disciples with poor hygiene but with a flagrant disregard for religious observances of the Law.
6 He responded,
"Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people
honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; 7 in vain do they
worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.' 8 You disregard God's commandments but cling to
Jesus responds to their attack by calling them hypocrites (a Greek word that refers to one in Greek drama who plays a part) and quoting from Isaiah 29:13 LXX. In that passage the prophet Isaiah chastised the people of Jerusalem for ignoring God's word delivered by His holy prophets and paying more attention to the additions to the Law that are only human precepts and to the letter rather than the spirit of the Law.
9 He went on to
say, "How well you have set aside the commandment of God in order to uphold
your tradition! 10 For Moses said,
Honor your father and your mother,' and Whoever curses father or mother shall
die." 11 Yet you say, If a person
says to father or mother, "Any support you might have had from me is qorban"'
(meaning, dedicated to God), 12 you
allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother.
Jesus is asking them is it right to set aside the commandments of God in order to uphold their traditions? He will make the charge that they have used "tradition" to nullify the Law of God three times in verses 7:8, 9 and 13. First, Jesus gives an example of their flagrant abuse of the Law from the fourth of the Ten Commandments that requires one to honor one's father and mother (Ex 20:12; Dt 5:16) and the prohibition against cursing one's parents that imposes the death penalty (Ex 21:17; Lev 20:9). He accuses the Pharisees of manipulating these covenant commands that requires caring for aging parents by declaring portions of their wealth to become qorban, a Hebrew word meaning a gift of something like property or money that is dedicated to God, thus, allowing them to neglect their parents. Jesus denounces them for this practice. Giving gifts to the Temple does not exempt the covenant people from the obligation of honoring their parents through their finical support (CCC 2218).
During His last day of teaching in Jerusalem before His arrest, Jesus will accuse the Pharisees of manipulation of the Law. He will condemn them as hypocrites and will use strong language, calling them "serpents" and "a brood of vipers" in covenant lawsuit composed of seven curse judgments (Mt 23:1-36).
Mark 7:14-23 ~ The Parable of Clean and Unclean and Jesus'
Teaching on the Parable
14 He summoned the crowd again and said to them, "Hear me, all of you, and understand. 15 Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile." 17 When he got home away from the crowd his disciples questioned him about the parable. 18 He said to them, "Are even you likewise without understanding? Do you not realize that everything that goes into a person from outside cannot defile 19 since it enters not the heart but the stomach and passes out into the latrine?"(Thus he declared all foods clean). 20 But what comes out of a person, that is what defiles. 21 From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. 23 All these evils come from within and they defile.
The Parable of Clean and Unclean is Jesus' 7th parable. In the teaching of this parable, Jesus will do away with the ritual purity laws associated with clean and unclean foods (Lev chapter 11). The foods designated "clean" and "unclean" were meant to separate the Israelites from their pagan neighbors and to remind the Israelites that were a pure and holy people dedicated to God. This is the first of the ritual commandments of the Sinai Covenant that Jesus has changed. Ritual defilement was an external condition under the Sinai Covenant, but the New Covenant penetrates the heart to cleanse and govern the inward life of the believer. It is the beginning of the end of the separation between Jew and Gentile.
In the language of the Bible, the "heart" is the center
of the person and the source of every decision that manifests itself through
the person's actions.
Question: What is the point of Jesus' parable?
Answer: True defilement comes from the thoughts and actions of a person and not from what foods he consumes.
Question: What examples does Jesus give of actions/sins
that defile a person?
Mark 7:24-30 ~ The Faith of a Gentle Woman
24 From that place he went off to the district of Tyre. He entered a house and wanted no one to know about it, but he could not escape notice. 25 Soon a woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him. She came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth, and she begged him to drive the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, "Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food (artos/bread) of the children and throw it to the dogs." 28 She replied and said to him, "Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children's scraps." 29 Then he said to her, "For saying this, you may go. The demon has gone out of your daughter." 30 When the woman went home, she found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.
Jesus makes His second expedition into Gentile territory where Jews are living. His first visit into Gentile territory was the journey into the Decapolis on the east side of the Galilee (Mt 9:28-34). This time, He travels west toward the Mediterranean Sea into the district of two great Gentile trading centers, Tyre and Sidon. These cities were originally Phoenician cities but in Jesus' times they were cities of Hellenistic culture and prestige that were under Roman rule.
Once again Jesus tries to have a little private time but word of His arrival in the area has already spread. A Gentile woman approaches Jesus. She respectfully falls at Jesus' feet and appeals to Him to heal her daughter of demon possession. Jesus' reply seems unfeeling, although Mark softens Jesus' response unlike the harsher reply in Matthew 15:26 with let the children be fed first (Mk 7:25a)
27 He said to her, "Let the
children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food (artos/bread) of
the children and throw it to the dogs." 28
She replied and said to him, "Lord, even the dogs under the table eat
the children's scraps."
In the Greek text, Jesus' response is softened by the term "little dogs" or "puppies" (kynarion), suggesting domesticated "house dogs."
Question: Why does he refuse her request? Who are "the children" Jesus came to feed first and who are the dogs? Hint: dogs were unclean animals and Jews often referred to Gentiles as "dogs", unfit for worship or sacrifice. For insight into Israel's status among the peoples of the earth see Ex 4:22.
Answer: Using the example of a family, Jesus states that the children must be fed before the family dogs. Jesus is acknowledging the claim of Israel as God's "firstborn son" and the priority of their claim to the Messiah.
His point is that the proclamation of the Kingdom is intended for the children of Israel first and that it is not right to take the "bread" that is the Word of God meant first for the children of Israel and give it to the Gentile "dogs" who have no knowledge of God and live ritually unclean lives outside the covenant. After Jesus' Resurrection He will commission the new Israel of His Church to carry the Gospel of salvation to the Gentiles (Mt 28:19-20; CCC 839).
In His negative response, Jesus is testing the woman's faith.
Nevertheless, His answer is the same that He gave the Samaritan woman at the
well: salvation is from the Jews (Jn 4:22). The Gentile woman continues
to press her petition.
Question: What argument does she make in response to Jesus rebuke?
Answer: Her clever reply is that even the house dogs eat the scraps under their master's table, suggesting that the Gentiles as well as the Jews are fed by God.
The persistence of the woman's petition, her humility in not being offended by Jesus' negative response, and her profession of faith that even the Gentiles need God, leads Jesus to compliment her and to grant her petition to heal her daughter. There are two miracles: the healing of the woman's daughter and the conversion of the Gentile woman. Her conversion prefigures the conversion of the Gentile nations to faith in Jesus as their Lord God and their entrance into the New Covenant in Christ Jesus in fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 66:18 where God promised: "I am coming to gather every nation and every language. They will come to witness my glory."
Mark 7:31-37 ~ Healing a Deaf Man
31 Again he left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis. 32 And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hands on him. 33 He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man's ears and spitting, touched his tongue; 34 then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, "Ephphatha!" (that is "Be opened!"). 35 And immediately the man's ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. 36 He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. 37 They were exceedingly astonished and they said, "He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak."
This story is told only in Mark's Gospel. Jesus travels
into Gentile territory a third time. He journeys to the east, returning to the
region of the ten Greek culture cities called the Decapolis (see Mk 5:1-20). A
man who is deaf and incapable of intelligible speech is brought to Jesus for
healing. This time many details in the healing of the deaf man are included.
Question: What are the 7 stages that are associated with the man's healing?
Notice that Jesus takes the man aside for a private healing. Perhaps this is because of the man's deafness. When he suddenly hears for the first time the loud noise of the crowd might have been unsettling and Jesus is making the first experience of hearing enjoyable. The other unusual occurrence is that Jesus groans as He prays for the man. The Gospel of John records that Jesus groaned twice before raising Lazarus from the dead using the word embarimaomai, meaning "to sign or groan" (Jn 11:33, 38). But Mark uses the Greek word stenazo, which also means "to sign or groan." It is the same word St. Paul uses when he writes that we long to be free of our earthly bodies and to be in glory in our resurrected bodies (Rom 8:22-23; 1 Cor 5:2-4), and perhaps this is the reason Jesus groaned:
Notice that for the first time in Mark's Gospel that Jesus uses matter (spit) in the healing of the man (also see Jn 9:6-7). This action prefigures the gift of the Sacraments in which matter will play a role. See The Seven Sacraments Instituted by Jesus Christ.
Question: How is matter a part of each of the
Mark uses the Aramaic word "Ephphatha!" and explains its meaning: "Be opened!" for his Roman audience. Unlike the man Jesus healed of demon possession in the Decapolis in Mark 5:1-20, Jesus tells this man and his friends not to tell about this healing experience, but again, in the enthusiasm for the healing, the word of the miracle spreads.
37 They were
exceedingly astonished and they said, "He has done all things well. He makes
the deaf hear and the mute speak."
The response of the people recalls the messianic blessings prophesied in Isaiah 35:4 ~ Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God; he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the dumb will sing. Also see Wis 10:21 and CCC 549.
Question for reflection or group discussion:
Sometimes the Catholic Church is accused of adding the "doctrine of men" to the teachings of the Scripture of the Old and New Testaments. What is different about Catholic Tradition as opposed to the accusations Jesus made against the Pharisees and the traditions of the elders? See CCC 75-81, 84, 97, 126, 174; Mt 16:16-19; 18:18; Jn 20:22-23; 1 Cor 15:1-3; 2 Thes 2:15; 3:6.
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2014 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
Catechism references for this lesson: