Mark 6: 1-6
I propose a biblical analysis with the following steps: a study of each Greek word of the evangelical text, followed by an analysis of the structure of the narrative and its context, to which is added a comparison of parallel or similar passages. At the end of this analysis and as a conclusion, I propose to summarize what the evangelist meant, and I end up with some suggestions on how this Gospel could shed light on our current situation.
|And he came out from there||
The previous scene takes place in Capernaum where Jesus brings Jairus' daughter back to life and heals a woman who was bleeding.
"and he comes into the hometown (patrida) of him". Patris means: homeland, country of origin. It is a very rare word in the Gospels (Mt = 2; Mk = 2; Lk = 2; Jn = 1) and in all the rest of the New Testament (only in Hebrews 11: 14). In the gospels, the word is found only in the same context proposed by Mark, i.e., where Jesus complains of having little value and of having his word badly received. What is meant by homeland or country of origin? Today, country is the equivalent of a state. But what about the Palestine of Jesus' time? This is where the text of Hebrews 11:14 comes to our aid. For the author refers to Abraham and his heirs to whom God made the promise of a land for inheritance, a homeland, and this homeland turns out to be heavenly: for in heaven God prepared for them a city (polis). City of origin and homeland are therefore synonymous. Now what is the city of origin of Jesus? Mark has already written this, "And it came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee" (1:9). Jesus' hometown, then, is Nazareth, where he lived and worked, and where his family lived (on Nazareth, see the Glossary). The distance from Capernaum to Nazareth is about thirty kilometers. We will have noticed that Mark uses a verb in the present tense. This is a way for him to make his story more vivid.
In Mark's gospel, the disciples occupy an important place. As soon as Jesus begins his ministry, he begins by choosing Andrew, Peter, James and John (Mark 1:16-20). From then on, his disciples accompany him everywhere and never leave him. They will witness all his words and actions, receive special teaching to clarify the meaning of the parables and will be called to perform the same acts of healing. We can guess the intention of the evangelist: he wants his audience, the community of Christians, to identify with these disciples who follow Jesus.
|Noun mathētēs in Mark|
|v. 2 On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue. On hearing him, many were perplexed and wondering: where does it come from, how could he have acquired this wisdom, how can his hands do such extraordinary things?
Literally: And having come Sabbath (sabbatou), he began to teach (didaskein) in the synagogue (synagōgē), and many hearing were astonished (exeplēssonto) saying, from where (pothen) to this (man) these things, and what (is) the wisdom (sophia) the having been given (dotheisa) to him, even the works of power (dynameis) such by the hands (cheirōn) of him are done?
As we know, the Sabbath began on Friday night at sunset and ended on Saturday night at sunset. Two major activities took place on this day, the family meal and the gathering in the synagogue. Of the evangelists, Mark makes the most frequent reference to the Sabbath (Mt = 6; Mk = 8; Lk = 5; Jn = 5). If we examine these references to the Sabbath in relation to Jesus' ministry, we see that in Mark they revolve around two themes: a time of gathering for the Jews in the synagogue where Jesus also goes and which offers him an opportunity to teach (1:21; 6:1), and a time of debate with the Pharisees because of the restrictive rules that Jesus or his disciples seem to break (2:23; 3:2). Based on 1:21, which fits into a typical day for Jesus, we can say that Jesus' presence in the synagogue on the Sabbath was quite typical of his ministry.
|didaskein (to teach)||
It may surprise us to learn that Mark is the evangelist who uses the term "teach" the most (didaskō: Mt = 13; Mk = 18; Lk = 17; Jn = 10). For Mark presents us above all in Jesus a man of action, in constant struggle against the forces of evil. Yet he insists that Jesus taught, first in the synagogue (1:21; 6:2), then by the sea (2:13; 4:1-2; 6:34). When he was in Jerusalem, he taught in the temple (11:17; 12:35). When he sends his disciples on mission, he asks them to teach (6:30). For Mark, catechetical action is at the core of the Christian life.
Synagōgē: Mt = 9; Mk = 8; Lk = 15; Jn = 2. The synagogue is the main place of religious activity in Judaism, whereas the single temple was in Jerusalem and was attended only on annual festivals. On the Sabbath, the Scriptures were read, commented on, and prayed over (see the Glossary on the synagogue). During the week, scribes taught the young men the meaning of the Scriptures there. It is from the synagogue that the young Christian community will proclaim its faith. According to Mark, the synagogue is an important place in Jesus' work: it appears at the very beginning of his ministry (1:21-38), then in a summary of his work in Galilee, in the account of the miracle of the man with the paralyzed hand (3:1), and finally in our section that seems to summarize his activity among his own people (6:2).
|Noun synagōgē in Mark|
|exeplēssonto (they were astonished)||
Mark uses the term ekplēssō the most, which means: to be struck, to be amazed (Mt = 4; Mk = 5; Lk = 3; Jn = 0). This term serves to emphasize the fact that Jesus stands out from the others in different ways. Let us consider the five cases:
Recall that this astonishment comes from the fact that it was not expected from a simple citizen who had never stood out before. This point is important for Mark when he addresses his community: it allows them to grasp that the extraordinary is happening in ordinary life. Note the use of the imperfect tense "were astonished", a tense that signifies an action that continues in time.
|pothen (from where)||
The question of the source of Jesus' ability is important. As we shall see, this ability concerns two things, his teaching and his healings. Since he did not associate with any of the great Pharisees, such as St. Paul, and is not identified with any school of scribes, his practical wisdom is not well understood. His ability to heal is problematic, for such an ability involves something supernatural, hence the accusation that he is associated with Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons. The question of origin helps to resolve the question of the meaning of Jesus' intervention and to situate that meaning in relation to God.
|sophia hē dotheisa (wisdom the having been given)||
I translated "he have acquired this wisdom" to address the question of the source of this wisdom in Jesus, but the Greek text literally says: what is this wisdom that has been given to him. In Judaism, a verb in the passive tense is a way of speaking implicitly of God, and so one would be referring to God's action in giving this wisdom to Jesus. As for the word "wisdom", it is the only mention by Mark in his entire gospel, which indicates the small place that this reality occupies. Suffice it to say that wisdom, in Judaism, designates above all actions adjusted to the divine will.
|dynameis (works of power)||
The word dynamis (Mt = 15; Mk = 10; Lk = 17; Jn = 0) which gave our English words: dynamism or dynamo or dynamite, is often translated as miracle. But it must be understood that the Jewish world, and the New Testament in particular, has no specialized term like miracle, which, for the contemporary world, designates either an event inexplicable by the laws of nature and attributed to God, in a context of religious faith, or a surprising, unexpected, unhoped-for, marvelous event, in a secular context. Dunamis, which translates as power or strength or ability, is a generic Greek term that covers a wide range of meanings (see Glossary to browse these various meanings). For Jesus' audience, these exceptional actions set him apart, and that is what she is trying to understand.
Mark uses the word "hand" frequently (Mt = 24; Mk = 26; Lk = 26; Jn = 15). The recurrence of this word in Mark can be grouped into four categories:
The last group contains the largest number of references and it is to this group that our verse refers: by his hands Jesus performs healings.
|v. 3 Is not he the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And do not his sisters live in the midst of us? They were shocked by him.
Literally: Is not this (guy) the carpenter (tektōn), the son of the Mary (Marias) and the brother (adelphos) of James (Iakōbou) and Joses (Iōsētos) and Judas (Iouda) and Simon (Simōnos)? And are not the sisters (adelphai) of him here towards us? And they took offense (eskandalizonto) in him.
Tektōn (literally: craftsman) is the Greek translation of the Hebrew: ḥārāš. In the Old Testament, it refers to a manual worker who touches just about everything: lumber if he is involved in building construction, but more often in carving wood for everyday objects or repairing them; metal to make tools or objects related to building, such as locks, or even pieces of goldsmithing; stone for some masonry work or engraving on stelae or seals. He is therefore a jack of all trades.
That's why modern Bibles use different words to translate ḥārāš: carpenter, blacksmith, craftsman, artist, sculptor, tailor, chiseler, mason, stonecutter, engraver, worker, goldsmith, woodcutter. In his little village of Nazareth, was Jesus all of these? Clearly, he was not involved in the construction of large buildings that did not exist in this humble hamlet. He could be described as a carpenter, if one recognizes that this trade involved a wide range of tasks: the laying of beams for the roofs of stone houses, the making of doors and doorframes, as well as window bars, furniture such as beds, tables, stools, as well as closets, chests or boxes. Justin the Martyr states that Jesus also made plows and yokes for animals. The practice of this trade required a certain amount of dexterity and physical strength, which moves us away from the image of the innocent puny man that pious images present to us of Jesus (for an analysis of tektōn/ ḥārāš, see the Glossary). Note that Matthew (13:55) reproduces this verse, but makes Jesus the carpenter's son, his father. This should not be surprising since a trade was practiced from father to son.
All the evangelists, with the exception of John, agree on giving the name Mary to the mother of Jesus (Mt = 5; Mk = 1; Lk = 12; Jn = 0). Luke and Matthew do so in their infancy narrative. Mark is the only one to name her during the ministry of Jesus, taken up by Matthew in a parallel passage. It is surprising that John is content to say "mother of Jesus" (Jn 2:1,3,5,12; 6:42; 19:25-27) without ever naming her, for example at Cana, and especially in the scene where he entrusts her to the beloved disciple. Her name is also mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (1: 14) where Luke informs us that she was assiduous in prayer with the Eleven. It may be noted that the spelling of Mary in Greek varies between Maria (Mk 1: 16.18.20; 2: 11; Mk 6: 3; Lk 1: 41), typical in the Greek world, and Mariam (Mk 3:55; Lk 1: 22.214.171.124-39.46.56; 2: 126.96.36.199), an echo of the Hebrew name Miryām. Why these variations? It's hard to answer this question, because there doesn't seem to be any logic: for example, Matthew uses Maria to refer to Mary Magdalene in 27:56, but uses Mariam four verses later (27:61) to refer to the same person. Mark uses only Maria to refer to either the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, or the other Mary. Luke, in his infancy narrative of Jesus, uses only Mariam to refer to Jesus' mother, but uses only Maria during Jesus' ministry to refer to either his mother, Mary Magdalene, or the other Mary, reserving Mariam only for Martha's sister. In the Acts of the Apostles, the word appears twice, first as Mariam to refer to Jesus' mother (1:14), then as Maria to refer to Mark's mother (12:12).
|Noun Maria or Mariam in the Bible|
The question arises: what meaning is given to brother (adelphos)? Technically, the Greek word adelphos means a biological brother. But the question of Jesus' biological siblings has become a disputed issue between Catholics and Protestants, with the former giving it the meaning of half-brothers or cousins, and the latter the meaning of actual siblings. This question is linked to another question, that of Mary's perpetual virginity, i.e. that of never having had sexual relations. What does the analysis of today's best biblical scholars reveal?
Let us take the text of Matthew. It is Joseph who gives Jesus his name, and by the same token, accepts the paternity and gives him the Davidic descent ("and he did not know her until the day she bore a son, and he called his name Jesus", 1: 25). Of course, the phrase "he did not know her (he did not have sexual relations) until the day" is ambiguous, because what does "until the day" mean? Clearly, Joseph did not have sexual relations with Mary from the moment he realized that she was pregnant until the day she gave birth. But what about afterwards? Let's look at his version of the passage we are analyzing: "Is this not the carpenter's son? Is his mother not named Mary, and his brothers James, Joses, Simon and Judas? (13: 55). The fact that he names the brothers and sisters with the biological mother gives the impression that he is really on the biological level, especially since he does not name Joseph, who would not be the biological father. Finally, in 12:46-50, people mention that his mother and brothers want to talk to him, but Jesus replies that his true mother and brothers are those who do the will of God; this aphorism would lose all its force if the first part did not refer to blood brothers. It is therefore highly probable that Mary, after Jesus, had other children.
St. Paul helps us to firm up our conclusion, for he uses the expression "James, the brother (adelphos) of the Lord" (Gal 1:19). Now, Paul distinguishes well between the two Greek words adelphos (brother) and anepsios (cousin): "Aristarchus, my fellow captive, greets you, and Mark, the cousin (anepsios) of Barnabas" (Col 4:10). In another letter, he refers again to the brothers of Jesus: "Would we not have the right to take with us a Christian woman like the other apostles, the brothers (adelphoi) of the Lord and Cephas? " (1 Cor 9:5). Thus, James was so well known as the brother of Jesus that even the Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus (Antiquities, 20, 197-203), who is nevertheless unfamiliar with the New Testament, refers to "James, the brother of Jesus." On the subject, see the Jesuit Joseph Meier who considers that Mary had at least 6 children (the four sons named by Mark and Matthew, and the fact that the word sister was plural) and credits St. Jerome in the late 4th century with introducing the idea of Mary's perpetual virginity and thereby interpreting brother by cousin.
Like Mary, James is a common name. It comes from the Hebrew yaʿăqōb which became either Jacob or James. In the Synoptics (the name James never appears in John, only the mention "son of Zebedee" is found in Jn 21:2), five James are mentioned.
What do we know about this James? He was considered a pillar and a leader of the Jerusalem community, since, according to the Acts of the Apostles, Peter, released from prison, asks to be informed about him (Acts 12:7), and Paul, after his conversion, goes to Jerusalem to meet him after Peter (Gal 1:19). He too experienced the risen Jesus, but after Peter and the Twelve, and after the 500 brothers (1 Cor 15:7). As leader of the mother community in Jerusalem, he plays a decisive role in the so-called Council of Jerusalem, where decisions had to be made about the minimum requirements for non-Jewish converts to the Christian faith. Luke puts in his mouth the final decision (Acts 15:13-21) of the Jerusalem community, and it is to him that Paul reports on his return from the mission (Acts 21:18). But he represents the conservative and traditionalist side of the Christian community, so much so that Paul has to denounce the pressure of those around him who want to maintain the segregation between people of Jewish and Gentile origin during the Eucharistic celebrations (Gal 2:12). Tradition attributes to him the writing of the epistle of James. The quality of the Greek of this epistle makes it doubtful, but the very Jewish ideas that are developed in it, as well as a warning against certain ideas of Paul, make it likely that an educated scribe from his entourage put his thought into it. If Flavius Josephus is to be believed (Antiquities 20, 197-203), he died tragically by stoning around the year 61 or 62, at the behest of the high priest Ananius ben Anan (Joseph Caiaphas' brother-in-law), during that period of unrest which preceded the Roman intervention and would lead to the fall of Jerusalem in 70.
This name comes from the Hebrew yôsēp, which is sometimes translated as Joset, sometimes as Joses. There is little to say about this name other than that it recurs in Mark at the end of the passion narrative as the son of a woman named Mary and the brother of James the younger (15:40; see also 15:47). He is probably another Joses, a fairly common name that seems a variant of Joseph (Iōsēph), since in his parallel passages Matthew speaks of Joseph rather than Joses (Mt 13:55; 27:56). Nothing else is known about this brother of Jesus.
The same Greek name Ioudas, which translates the Hebrew yěhûdâ, is translated into English in multiple ways: Judas, Judah and Jude. This name appears in eleven different occasions:
Nothing is known of this Jude or Judas, the brother of Jesus, except that tradition attributes to him this epistle, called the epistle of Jude. This short letter of only one chapter is marked by an apocalyptic atmosphere and very Jewish features. Like the letter attributed to James, the other brother of Jesus, it may not have been written by Jude himself, but by a scribe of his entourage, but it must have enjoyed a certain notoriety in conservative and Jewish Christian circles.
Simon or Simeon are the translation of the Hebrew: šimʿôn. This is another very common name in the Jewish world.
This Simon, the brother of Jesus, despite the fact that he is mentioned in Mark and Matthew, has not left any trace in history.
The word "sister" must be interpreted in the biological sense (see the analysis above on the word "brother"). And since the word is in the plural, we must admit that there were at least two. It is not surprising that their names are not mentioned, since the women had no real social status. The sisters of Jesus have left no trace in history. But all this helps us to understand that Jesus was born into a normal family.
|eskandalizonto (they took offense)||
The word skandalizō (Mt = 10; Mk = 8; Lk = 2; Jn = 2) literally means: to cause to stumble, to be an occasion of falling, to cause to sin. In the New Testament, it is always connected to the loss of faith, as we see in Paul who apostrophizes the Corinthians who allow themselves to eat meat sacrificed to idols, to the great scandal of the other members of the Christian community, and to whom he says: "Therefore, if any food should cause the fall (skandalizō) of my brother, I will do without meat forever, so that I may not cause the fall (skandalizō) of my brother" (1 Cor 8:13). So when Mark says that the people of Nazareth were "scandalized" about him, he means to assert that the people of Nazareth were unable to believe in Jesus because he was a man like them. This means that if Jesus had been very different, if he had come from very far away, the Nazarenes might have believed in him.
|v. 4 Jesus told his disciples that a prophet is despised only in his homeland, his kinsmen, and his family.
Literally: And was saying to them the Jesus that a prophet (prophētēs) is not without honor (atimos) if not in hometown (patridi) of him and among the relatives (syngeneusin) of him and in the house (oikia) of him.
First of all, one gets the impression that this scene in Nazareth is only meant to teach the disciples. In his introduction, Mark was careful to say that his disciples were accompanying him. And as soon as the reaction of the Nazarenes is expressed, Jesus turns to his disciples to draw a lesson from what has just happened. That lesson concerns the fate of the prophet.
The first question to ask: what is a prophet? The Greek word prophētēs is a contraction of two words pro (before, in place of) and phēmi (to declare, to say). The prophet is one who is the spokesman for another, who proclaims on his behalf. In the Jewish world, the prophet is first and foremost God's spokesman: he conveys God's thought, his purposes, his will. In Hebrew, he is called: nābîʾ. It will have been noticed that very often in the Old Testament, their word is introduced by: "Oracle or word of the Lord". The believers considered them as men of God, speaking in his name, acting in his name. But the prophets were far from creating consensus, because they often confronted the way of thinking and acting of people. We know the most famous ones: Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Hosea, Micah, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Nahum, Haggai, Abdia, Zechariah, Malachi, Daniel.
Now, Mark puts into the mouth of Jesus this saying, "Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house'". There is something remarkable about this phrase: it is found in one form or another in all four evangelists.
Accepting the widely accepted theory of the independence of Mark and John's sources, one is left with two independent sources on the claim that a prophet is not honored in his homeland. According to Mark, literally, a prophet is not without (a-) honor (timios), except in his homeland, in his kinship, and in his house. Matthew picks up the same phrase from Mark, but eliminates the mention of kinship. Luke took up Mark's idea, but preferred the notion of acceptance to that of honor, and kept only the reference to the homeland. John draws from a different source than Mark, but this source has the same idea of honor and the same reference to the homeland. What does this mean? We have here a case of multiple attestation, and it is very likely that we are dealing here with something that goes back to the historical Jesus, who would have recognized that he had difficulty in having his worth recognized in the Galilee where he was born and grew up. As a corollary, we can affirm that Jesus perceived his action in the prophetic line.
All this is confirmed by other texts, first in a passage proper to Luke (13:33): "Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet (prophētēs) to be killed outside of Jerusalem.'". Such an indirect statement is also found in Document Q: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets (prophētēs) and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" (Mt 23:37 || Lk 13:34). It is therefore very likely that Jesus used prophetic language to describe himself.
All this begs the question: how was Jesus perceived by his audience? If Mark is to be believed, the people perceived Jesus primarily as a prophet: "Jesus went away with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi, and on the way he asked his disciples this question, 'Who do the people say I am?' And they answered him, 'John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets (prophētēs)" (Mk 8:27-28). Matthew (16:13-14) and Luke (9:18-19) repeat this statement. Earlier, Mark had presented us with a similar statement on the occasion of Herod's questioning of Jesus: "King Herod heard of him, for his name had become famous, and they said, 'John the Baptist has risen from the dead; hence the miraculous powers that are displayed in his person'". But others said, 'It is Elijah." And others said, "It is a prophet (prophētēs), like one of the prophets (prophētēs) of old'" (Mk 6:14-15). Luke (9:7) reproduces this statement, but not Matthew, who considers it a duplicate of the previous statement. But would Mark be the only one to give us this echo of people's perception? Matthew and Luke, on the contrary, make their own independent statements:
But it is not only Mark, Matthew or Luke who report this perception of the people about Jesus, there is also John:
The presence of all these different and independent sources supports with a high degree of probability that, historically, Jesus presented himself as a prophet and was perceived as a prophet. And the very fact that he performed healings could associate him with prophets like Elijah who also performed healings.
However, we note that with time, probably within the believing communities, this perception of Jesus as a prophet took on a particular color, that of associating him with Moses, or rather with God's promise in Deuteronomy (18: 18) to send a prophet like Moses. This is evidenced by the latest of the gospels, that of John, and the Acts of the Apostles:
In the Jewish world, prophetic language was the most accessible for appropriating the personality and action of Jesus. This figure could easily be associated with that of the promised Messiah, either in the person of the successor of Moses, as we have just seen, or in the person of the successor of David (see Acts 2:30 where David is presented as a prophet).
|Noun prophētēs in the Gospel-Acts|
|atimos (without honor)||
The Greek word means: without honor, despised. In the gospels, Mark is the only one to introduce this word, and he does so only here, copied by Matthew. The only other case is that of Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:10 where he tries to deflate the pride-filled balloon of some Corinthians by insisting on the plight of the apostles, and especially his own, where they are displayed in the last rank, appear as fools, weak and despised people (atimos). Note that, literally, this word is formed from the privative a and the adjective timios (of great value, dear, precious, honored). It therefore does not describe an action, but a lack of action: that of not honoring someone or not finding value in them. Thus, Jesus does not say that one insults the prophet or spits on him, but more simply that one finds no value in him, that he is unimportant, a totally banal being.
Mark's sequence is clear: from larger circle to smaller circle. But what does each of the circles contain? We have already analyzed the meaning of patris, which refers to its city of origin, i.e. Nazareth.
Syngenēs means: relative, kinship. This is the only use in Mark here and is infrequent in the gospels (Mt = 0; Mk = 1; Lk = 6; Jn = 1). This word designates those with whom one has blood ties, i.e. uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces. For example, Elizabeth is called "your relative " (syngenēs) by the angel Gabriel as he addresses Mary (Lk 1:36). These blood ties are differentiated from immediate blood ties, such as father, mother, brothers, and sisters: "You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives (syngenēs) and friends; and they will put some of you to death" (21:16). We see this in Paul's greetings in his epistle to the Romans, as he names in turn Andronicus, Junias (16:7), Herodion (16:11), Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater (16:21) as his relatives (syngenēs).
|Noun syngenēs in the Bible|
Oikia means: house, building, household. Here is a very frequent word in the Gospels (Mt = 25; Mk = 18; Lk = 24; Jn = 5). But it designates above all the physical dwelling, the building, the place where people live. However, the movement of thought here refers rather to the symbolic meaning of the house, i.e. to the inhabitants of the house. In the gospels, this is infrequent, but not unheard of. Thus, when Jesus says, "And if a house (oikia) is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand" (Mark 3:25), he does not mean the building, but the family that inhabits it; moreover, he then applies this image to those who belong to Satan and the possibility of their being divided. In Luke 10:5, when Jesus says, "Peace to this house! ", he obviously means the inhabitants of the house, not the physical building. When the evangelist John writes, "he believed, he with his whole house (oikia)," he is obviously not referring to the building, but to the family residing in it. Who are these people who live in a house? One can easily guess the parents and their children. But we also find the extended family, as we see in the fact that in the house of Simon and Andrew also lived Simon's mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-30).
Thus, the target of Jesus' criticism is represented by three concentric circles: first the whole town, then all the uncles, aunts, cousins, in short all those who have a certain blood relationship, and finally the people who live in the same house, i.e. the father, the mother, and a number of dependents such as children or in-laws.
|Nouns oikia and oikos in Mark|
|v. 5 Thus he was unable to do there any extraordinary thing, except some healings by laying on hands.
Literally: And he was not able (ouk edynato) to do there any work of power, if not [on] a few sick [people] (arrōstois) having laid the hands (epitheis tas cheiras) he healed.
|ouk edynato (he was not able)||
The word dynamai, a word Mark likes, is sort of trite, used in all sorts of ways (Mt = 11; Mk = 22; Lk = 15; Jn = 15). What is remarkable about our phrase is that it presents us with a limitation of Jesus, a form of incapacity. While the evangelists insist on Jesus' extraordinary abilities, here we are talking about a limit to his abilities. Mark is the only one to do so. Of course, there is this special case here of a limit to his ability to heal. But Mark presents us with two other situations where Jesus fails to perform an action:
The last two examples are less dramatic, but they are nonetheless significant, because the other evangelists did not see fit to take them up, as if they tainted the figure of our hero. Only John speaks of Jesus' inability, but in a completely different context and with a completely different meaning: "I can do nothing (dynamai) of myself" (John 5:30); this is to express Jesus' perfect communion with his Father.
Mark therefore insists on the importance of collaboration between Jesus and his audience: his action is dependent on their faith. We are far from a magical world. For part of the success of the healing comes from the petitioner.
|arrōstois (sick people)||
There is little to say about the word arrōstos (sick, weak), except that it is very rare in the New Testament. It occurs twice more in Mark, once in Matthew, and once in Paul.
The word arrōstos appears in a summary context, where Jesus' action is summarized. For, usually, the evangelist is more specific about the disease: it is a paralytic, it is an epileptic, it is a blind man, it is a leper, etc.
|epitheis tas cheiras (having laid the hands)||
The gesture of laying hands goes back to the beginning of time. The hand is a symbol of power, and laying hands on someone seems to be a gesture of power transmission. Mark has the most scenes of Jesus laying on his hands in the gospels (Mt = 3; Mk = 7; Lk = 1; Jn = 0). Each time, it is a healing scene: the centurion's daughter (5, 23); the sick (6: 5); a deaf man who is almost mute (7: 32); a blind man (8: 23.25). It is always Jesus who acts, with the exception of 16:18, which is an addition to the gospel and summarizes the Christian activity. It is always the laying on of both hands, with the exception of 7: 32 where Mark writes: "and they beg him to lay his hand on him (deaf)"; it is difficult to distinguish this gesture from the other gestures. A similar case is found in Matthew: "My daughter is dead just now; but come and lay your hand on her and she will live" (9:18). We can simply say that this mention is in the mouth of the petitioner, not in the description of Jesus' actions. It is worth mentioning a scene unique to Matthew, the one in which Jesus lays his hands on some children while praying (9:15), presumably to call down God's blessing on them.
The act of laying on hands will be used for other activities with the Christian community. Of course, the action of healing will continue: Ananias will lay hands on Paul to restore his sight (Acts 9:12.17), and Paul himself will heal Publius' father in this way (Acts 28:8). But now it will be part of the rite of giving the Holy Spirit to those who have received baptism (Acts 8:17; 19:6). And above all, it will be used to send out on mission (Acts 13:3) or to confirm the assignment of community functions (Acts 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:22).
Historically, it is difficult to deny that Jesus performed healings (see Meier), and it is likely that he used the methods of the healers of the time, among them that of laying on hands. Mark would be the best witness to this, and it is with the evolution of theology, as seen in Matthew and Luke, and especially in John, that there has been a tendency to eliminate this similarity to the healers of the time and to present someone who heals only by his word.
|Verb tithēmi in the Gospels-Acts|
|v. 6 Jesus was astonished at their lack of faith. Subsequently, he traveled around the surrounding villages to teach.
Literally: And he was amazed (ethaumazen) because of the unbelief (apistian) of them. And he was going about (periēgen) the villages (kōmas) around (kyklō) teaching (didaskōn).
|ethaumazen (he was amazed)||
Although we encounter thaumazō (to be amazed or astonished, to marvel, to wonder) a number of times, the word is not widespread in the gospels (Mt = 7; Mk = 4; Lk = 13; Jn = 6) and throughout the New Testament (Acts = 5; Paul = 2; Epistles of John = 1; Jude = 1; Revelation = 4). What is remarkable about the thirty uses of this verb in the gospels is that it is always related to Jesus, with two exceptions (Lk 1:21: the crowd that is surprised at the delay of Zechariah; Lk 1:63: the crowd that is surprised at the name of John). Let's look at two sets, those where Jesus himself is amazed, and those where people are amazed about Jesus.
|Verb thaumazō in the Gospel-Acts|
The word apistia (infidelity, unbelief) is formed from the concatenation of two words, the a privative, and pistis (faith, trust), thus literally: without faith or trust. Here is a very rare word. In the Gospels, it is found practically only in Mark (Mt = 1; Mk = 3; Lk = 0; Jn = 0), since the occurrence in Matthew is a reworking of our scene in Mark. In addition to our passage, the word appears in the scene where the father of an epileptic child, after being rebuked by Jesus for the expression "if you can," cries out, "I believe! Come to the aid of my lack of faith (apistia)! " (9: 24). Finally, it appears in this addition to Mark's gospel: "he (the risen Jesus) rebuked them for their unbelief (apistia) and their stubbornness in not trusting those who had seen him raised" (16: 14). Its twin brother, the adjective apistos (unbeliever, infidel), is also very rare (Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 2; Jn = 1). Let's say right away that the word appears in the scene of the epileptic child in Mark just mentioned, as Jesus throws to the people, "Unbelieving children (apistos)" (9:19), which is repeated by Matthew (17:17) and Luke (9:41). So there are only two other independent passages, Lk 12:46 (the parable of the unfaithful steward who lost faith when the master returned) and Jn 20:27 (the risen Jesus invites Thomas to forsake unbelief and embrace faith). In short, it can be said that Mark is unique in putting on the mouth of Jesus during his ministry the attribute "lack of faith" and "unbelieving" when challenging his audience. One cannot help but see this as a strong challenge to Mark's Christian community.
|periēgen (he was going about)||
The verb periagō (to go around, to take with one) is used only here in Mark (Mt = 3; Mk = 1; Lk = 0; Jn = 0), and three times in Matthew, of which twice as a summary of Jesus' action in going around Galilee to teach and heal. It seems to be a catch-all word to summarize Jesus' missionary activity.
|kōmas kyklō (villages around)||
The words kōmē (town, village, small city) (Mt = 4; Mk = 7; Lk = 12; Jn = 3) and kyklō (in a circle, all around) (Mt = 0; Mk = 3; Lk = 1; Jn = 0) give the impression of a very limited radius of action. Unlike Paul who goes to the big centers like Ephesus, Antioch, Corinth, Rome, the Jesus of Mark concentrates his action in the villages of Galilee. And among his first disciples are Peter and Andrew who are from Bethsaida, which is considered a village (Mark 8:23). When we look at the images of Jesus' preaching, we notice that they are borrowed a lot from the world of the land and its fields (4:3: the sower who went out to sow; 4:26: the seed in the ground that rises by itself; 4:30: mustard seed).
|Noun kōmē in the Gospels-Acts|
Didaskō (teach, instruct) is part of the summary of Jesus' action: he heals and he teaches. For Mark, these two actions go hand in hand: one cannot speak of the Reign of God without demonstrating its transformative power, and one cannot perform a transformative action without expressing its deeper meaning. When he sends his disciples out, it is also to heal and teach (Mark 6:30). This is the Christian mission.
-André Gilbert, Gatineau, July 2015