The Gospel according to Mark

Chapter 6

6:1 In his interview with Peter, Mark might have asked."You have described Jesus' preaching in the synagogues of Galilee. Did he ever teach in Nazareth where he was raised?

6:2 Jesus had moved away to make his home in Capernaum (1:21, 2:1, as in Matthew 4:13), and that city became the center from which he went out to preach in the synagogues of Galilee. This seems to be the first time he went back to teach in his own family synagogue, and his hearers were astonished at his wisdom (as in Luke 4:14-22). Normally the rabbinic students learned wisdom from long study of the conclusions of other rabbis (1:22. For "deeds of power" see note on 5:30)

6:3 Jesus' mother and his brothers had tried to see him (Mark 3:31-35). In Nazareth the people in the synagogue knew the family very well. Jesus' four brothers and his sisters (Matthew 13:55 refers to "all his sisters). were born after Joseph and Mary returned from Egypt (Matthew 2:19-23). This is confirmed by the fact that there is no mention of the four brothers going to be registered with Joseph and Mary in the Bethlehem census. The other interpretation is that Jesus' brothers and sisters were step brothers and sisters from Joseph's previous marriage. But this would mean that James, the brother of Jesus, would have been the rightful heir to the throne of David.

6:4 It is a well known fact that prophets are ignored in their own family and neighborhood. The saying is used as a comment (in John 4:43-44). In that case the Greek connective gar seems to be used to express continuity, so we might translate "He went from that place (Samaria) to Galilee, and although Jesus said a prophet has no honor in his home country, the Galileans welcomed him" (except in Nazareth).

6:5-6 The unbelief of the people in his home town astonished Jesus, and only a few sick people were cured. But Peter did not describe in his interview with Mark the attempted lynching, that Luke must have uncovered when he went to Nazareth to interview eye-witnesses of this disastrous home-town visit (Luke 1:1-3, 4:28-30).

6:7 Mark may have asked "You mentioned the twelve who were appointed to be with Jesus and to be sent out to proclaim the message (3:14). How were they sent out to do this?" Peter explained they were sent out in pairs, and Jesus had given them authority to cast out demons in his name. Perhaps Jesus had the ancient text in mind. "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). Certainly it is better not to engage in exorcism alone. Paul followed this instruction when he took Silas with him (Acts 15:39-40), and he was always accompanied by others in his journeys.

6:8 They were to travel light. The NRSV has "except a staff" (Greek ei my rabdon monon) but Matthew has "neither a staff" (myde rabdon, Matthew 10:10) and Luke has "neither a staff (myte rabdon, Luke 9:3). It is possible that the original reading in Mark's Gospel, which Matthew and Luke both used, had "no staff" (my rabdon) but a later copyist felt it was unthinkable to go into the countryside without a heavy cudgel for protection from robbers and wild animals. What Matthew remembered was that they went out unprotected "like sheep into the midst of wolves" (Matthew 10:16).

6:9 They were to wear sandals (made of leather held on the foot by means of thongs, as in Acts 12:8, as opposed to the heavy boots of a Roman soldier, Ephesians 6:15). And they were not to carry a spare shirt (Greek chiton, see Matthew 5:40, Luke 3:11, 6:29). This was in contrast to the Cynic preachers of Greece who wore two shirts, carried a stick, and had a knapsack on their back (Diogenes Laertius 6,13).

6:10 Seeing them unarmed and without money, people might invite them into their home, where they should stay while they preached in that place.

6:11 But if no one in the village welcomed them they were to take off their sandals and shake the dust off them as a sign that the good news of the Kingdom had been rejected. Paul used this sign in Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:14, 51).

6:12 No doubt there were some rejections but the apostles went on proclaiming the need to repent (1:15). This verb (metanoeo means to change one's mind or direction) does not mean the deep contrition and conviction of one's inability to change (as in Romans 7:14-24) which usually follows later in Christian experience. The change of direction is a turning to begin learning , and it was usually expressed by enrolment as a disciple of Jesus in baptism (John 4:1, as set out in Go Make Learners 3-4).

6:13 The authority to cast out demons and heal was in Jesus's name (6:7, as ambassadors of his Kingdom). After the Day of Pentecost they would do greater things (John 14:12) by the direct empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Massaging with oil was a common treatment for many sicknesses in the ancient world, but here oil is used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 61:1-3, as in James 5:14).

6:14-16 This was Herod Antipas (c.21 BC - 39 AD), son of Herod the Great, who reigned over Galilee from his capital in Tiberias. Inevitably he heard the news of what was happening through the message of the Kingdom preached by Jesus and his apostles. He assumed that this must be the work of John the Baptist, whom he had beheaded (and still felt guilty for what had happened, see 6:26).

6:17-18 "What did you hear about the circumstances of John the Baptist's beheading?" After John's arrest (1:14) he was kept in prison near the palace in Tiberias. The reason for the arrest was that Herod had taken his niece Herodias, who had been married to his brother Philip, and John the Baptist had called this incest (forbidden in Leviticus 18:16, 20:21).

6:19-20 Peter and the other apostles kept hearing the palace gossip that Herodias wanted the prophet killed, but Herod viewed him as a righteous man, and liked to call him out of his prison cell to hear him explain the good news.

6:21 On Herod's birthday a great crowd of dignitaries watched Salome the daughter of Herodias (not Herod's daughter as wrongly given in NRSV) dancing. She is named Salome in Josephus (Antiquities 18.5).

6:22-23 She danced so seductively that Herod carelessly swore that he would give her anything she wanted (up to half the value of his kingdom).

6:24-25 So she asked her mother what she should ask for, and she rushed back and told the King she wanted the head of John the Baptist.

6:26-28 Herod realized his awful mistake, but having sworn before all his guests, he had to comply. And we can imagine the report all over Galilee of the prophet's head being brought to Salome, and her offering it to her mother.

6:29 Then Peter remembered that the disciples of John the Baptist bravely went to the jail, obtained the decapitated body, and laid it in a tomb. He never heard what Herodias did with the head. Matthew used some parts of the account Mark had written and added "Then they (the disciples of John the Baptist) went and told Jesus" (Matthew 14:3-12).

6:30-31 When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, and the experiences of his own disciples out preaching, Jesus could see they needed to get away from the crowd that gathered. They set out in a boat to a quiet beach around the north-east shore of the Lake of Galilee (see 6:45), but the crowds could see them on the lake and preceded them on foot.

6:32-37 Peter remembered Jesus' great compassion for the crowd "like sheep without a shepherd" and he taught them till evening. The apostles wanted the crowd sent away to buy food in the neighboring villages. But Jesus told them to feed the crowd , and they explained it would have needed the day's wages of two hundred men (say $4,000) to feed what turned out to be 5,000 families.

6:38 So he told them to check how many loaves they had with them. John remembered that a little boy offered his "five barley loaves and two fish" (John 6:8-9).

6:39-40 "How many people do you think were there?" Peter remembered sitting the people down "on the green grass," and he counted fifty rows of a hundred families. This is obviously an eye-witness account of an astonishing event.

6:41-44 Jesus then took the five loaves and two fish, and he looked up to heaven as he thanked the Father for providing what was needed. He broke the bread and fish into a basket for each of the twelve apostles (6:42, these were baskets carried in the hand, kophinos, not the spuris hamper in which Paul was lowered from the wall in Damascus, Acts 9:25). In the feeding of the 4,000 seven big spuris baskets were collected (8:20). As Peter reflected on his basket remaining full as he kept feeding the people Peter may have remembered Elijah's words "The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail" (1 Kings 17:14). If this interpretation is correct we might read "When the people were satisfied, he told the disciples to gather together the remaining fragments, and they still had twelve baskets full which were left over from those who had eaten" (John 6:13-13). In the Communion Service the same sequence of taking, blessing, breaking, distributing is reenacted. And the feeding of the five thousand should remind us that Jesus does not check out the worthiness of those he welcomes to eat with him.

6:45-47 It was already late afternoon (6:35) when the crowd was fed. Now Jesus sent the disciples away in their boat back across the lake to Bethsaida, and he remained to persuade the crowd to disperse. Peter remembered he said "good-bye" to them, and said he needed to go up the mountain to be alone and pray.

6:48-50 They made little progress all night rowing hard against a strong wind. Early in the morning (the fourth watch was between 3 and 6 am) Jesus saw that they were in trouble and walked by on the water. They all thought it was a ghost, and were terrified, but he told them not to be afraid. When Matthew copied Mark's account almost verbatim, he added the part about Peter walking on the water, which Peter did not report in the interview (Matthew 14:28-33).

6:51-52 Peter then described how the wind ceased as Jesus came into the boat with them (as in the previous occasion on the lake, 4:39). He also remembered that the feeding of the five thousand should have convinced him that by the Spirit Jesus had power over any natural forces.

6:53 Gennesaret (this day the Sea of Galilee is called Yam Kinnereth) is a plain five miles south-west of Capernaum. Magdala (where Mary Magdalene lived) was at the south end of it. And there is now an excellent Kibbutz hotel located there named Beth Ginnosar (a personal recommendation from the Brows)..

6:54 Jesus was immediately recognized and a crowd gathered bringing the sick on mats for healing. Touching Jesus often resulted in immediate healing (as in 5:27-29).

Chapter 7