Mark’s Gospel Chapter 6
Bible study notes, first posted on Facebook in 2010
The importance of faith is stressed regularly — 2.5, 4. 40, 5.34, 36. This finds its ultimate fulfilment in 6.1–6, ‘he was unable to do any miracle there … and he was astonished at their lack of faith’ (6. 6). This story addresses the concept of the mysterious stranger, Jesus’ power was severely limited where he was known. Although his home town was impressed by his teaching it was too much for them and they did not respond in faith but in disbelief. This picks up the conversion theme from the beginning that, on the surface, has not been developed much. It is the unlikely people who respond to him, his family and the religiously orthodox do not respond. This is another Gnostic element — the physical distracts and the spiritual is overlooked, except by those who have faith-knowledge, which comes from the Holy Spirit. Very little is expressed about faith in Jesus as the one who takes away sin (see John Ch. 1). So far ‘sin’ is only a minor theme — ‘I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners’ (2.17). ‘Sinners’ respond to the message, but the key thrust of the narrative is people responding to Jesus and being made, on the surface, spiritually whole. Looking deeper into the narrative indicates that the whole of their lives are being transformed; the miracles themselves, understood as physical events, are not the key to Jesus’ ministry or message.
We meet John the Baptist again, suddenly learning that he is dead before finding out how and why. Herod’s fear that John has come back to life (6.14) adds to the mysterious stranger ideas about Jesus, Elijah and other prophets are referred to. Maybe this causes us to think that Jesus will have a similar fate. This is also the second time that Jesus has had trouble with the Herod family, Mark does not mention Herod the Great’s massacre of the children, this Herod is Herod Antipas. It also introduces the weak ruler with a powerful wife (like Ahab and Jezebel at the time of Elijah, the parallels may be a little suggestive). The burial of John may make us think about Jesus’ burial.
Following this, Jesus takes pity on the crowd who follow him, not because of their sin but because they lack teaching or enlightenment. We learn nothing about this particular teaching, we can assume that it is the same as other teaching in the Gospel. We can also interpret Jesus’ feeding of the crowd as being spiritual feeding, as in John. Afterwards, the disciples have the second unpleasant and dramatic sea experience (sea representing Chaos as in the Creation story and Jesus the Lord who has mastery over it?), he does not rebuke them for their lack of faith this time (6.50). He does not need to because Mark does so, ‘they were utterly astounded, for they had not understood the incident of the loaves; their minds were closed’ (6.51,52). This is the same theme as in John’s Gospel after the feeding incident.