These are some of my notes for Sunday, January 17, 2010, in the Lifeway Explore the Bible series.
Books referenced in these notes are:
1. Gospel of Mark: New International Greek Testament Commentary by R.T. France
4. Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary by Ben Witherington III
This presumably happened in the Capernaum synagogue, sometime after Jesus had repeatedly offended the sensibilities of the Pharisees by eating with “sinners” and declaring man superior to the Sabbath law. The Pharisees were by now watching Jesus, and He well knew it. It was for this reason that he takes the initiative by calling the man with a withered hand out in front of the synagogue audience.(France)
The developing Jewish law had many specifications about what was defined as work on the Sabbath. The prohibition against work was so strongly interpreted that even medical attention was restricted to doing only that which would save a life, or keep an injury or sickness from getting worse, not improving it. Anything else must be delayed until after the Sabbath.(Barclay)
“Withered hand” is hard to specifically diagnose. It might shrunken and paralyzed from a stroke or polio, or it might be a less permanent condition reasonably expected to be healed over a course of time. Tradition claims the man was a stone mason who didn’t want to be forced to beg for a living. It is also important to remember that this ailment prevented the man from participating at the Temple, according to Lev. 21:6(France, Witherington)
Before Jesus heals the man in Matthew (12:11-12) He makes a classic rabbinic style argument from the lesser to the greater: specifically, that the Pharisees permit rescuing a sheep from a pit on the Sabbath, thus healing sick people ought to be acceptable on the Sabbath as well. Here in Mark the argument is different: If it is better to do good than evil, to save a life rather than take it, then surely on a day especially set aside for doing God’s work, it is right to do good, such as relieve human suffering from sickness.(France)
The Pharisees do not reply to Jesus’ argument, presumably because there is no way to safely refute His argument. One can’t deny the superiority of doing good to doing evil, but to agree is to ruin the classic rabbinic notion of “building a fence” around the Law, that is, preventing the violation of divine law by making rules so restrictive that one will not come close to violating a commandment. Jesus’ method of legal interpretation leaves entirely too much open for interpretation for the Pharisees. (France)
The healing is almost perfunctory here, barely narrated, presumably because it really isn’t the point of the passage, however blessed an event it was for the man. Jesus’ emotions are mentioned, anger and grief, at the Pharisees’ total inability to accept His point. It might also have something to do with the subsequent verse 6, where the Pharisees do indeed determine to do evil, beginning to plot Jesus’ death, likely that same Sabbath.(France)
In the midst of going to help Jairus, a synagogue elder, with his ailing daughter, Jesus encounters someone from a completely different class, a woman afflicted by a “flow of blood” for twelve years, for which cure she has spent all her money with no success. “Flow of blood” is presumed to hid a menstrual disorder, which explains her long and expensive search for a cure, outside the suffering of the disease itself. Lev 15:19-33 lays great concern on avoiding ritual contamination by contacting even a normally menstruating woman, and later rabbinic writings give some eleven sorts of cures for such ailments, some seemingly reasonable, some pure superstition, but all testifying to the debilitating effects of such an ailment Her physical suffering was accompanied by social and religious isolation from her fellows.(France, Barclay)
Generally it is Jesus who reaches out to touch the sick, for many diseases rendered the sick ritually impure. In Mark 6:56, Matt. 14:36, and Lk 6:19, many are mentioned who have this primitive, even magical notion of Jesus’ power. Later in Acts one reads of healings from Peter’s shadow and Paul’s clothes(Acts 5:15;19:12). We today find such ideas worthy of rebuke, but Jesus and the NT do not condemn people for them. (France)
We have a dual display of feeling here. The woman feels that she is cured, while Jesus feels that He has done a sign or miracle. We naturally suspect that Jesus, God in the flesh, knows quite well exactly what has happened, and to whom, so His question and His searching must be for another reason. (France)
The disciples take Jesus’ question at face value (as usual), and reply it is humanly impossible to know who all have touched Jesus in a crowded street with people pressing to get close to the miracle man walking by.
Jesus’ insistence forces the woman to return and confess openly that she has in fact, deliberately touched Jesus, and thus made Him ritually unclean, the very problem that doubtless lead her to her secretive method of being healed in the first place. Yet far from being angered, Jesus speaks very kindly to her “daughter”, commends her faith, and sends her off with a verbal confirmation of her healing and the classic salutation of “peace/shalom”, that is, to be well both physically and spiritually. It is the opportunity to display and commend this faith that presuambly lies behind Jesus’ insistence the woman reveal herself after being healed.(France, Witherington)
Mark 5:35- 36
The narrative about Jairus and his daughter resumes at this point with the terrible news that the daughter has died. The original request having been for Jesus to heal her, the householders who bring the news now suggest that Jesus need no longer be involved. Jesus immediately takes charge of the situation, insisting that Jairus, who is likely devastated by the news, not fear, but maintain the belief that brought him to Jesus in the first place. (France)
Typically it is assumed that the limitation of the disciples entering the home to three is due to the size of the room where the girl was laid and also the crowd of mourners and family in the home. It is also likely that Jesus here begins His practice of allowing only the innermost circle of disciples (Peter, James, and John) to be with Him in specially significant moments: the Transfiguration(Mark 9:2); the final discourse (Mark 13:3, with Andrew also); Gethsemane(Mark 14:33).
Mourning was quite ritualized among the Jews as well as other peoples of the ancient world. As soon as a death was known, wailing, beating of breasts, and hair tearing were performed. Clothes were torn until skin was exposed, on the heart side for parents, on the right side for others. The tear was left for a week, then might be crudely sown up, but only repaired properly after a month. Mourners ceased work for three days, and that included the whole household, servants as well. Even the poorest person was expected to hire at least two flute players for a wife’s funeral, and rich people employed more.(Barclay)
Thus it is easy to imagine the loud, disconcerting scene Jesus entered into upon reaching the house, and why He took only a few disciples in with Him.
Much has been made of Jesus’ terming the girl “sleeping”. It is of course a euphemism for dead from time immemorial, but in Jesus’ use must have had the sort of double meaning He used with “son of man”. Jesus more than anyone knew that death was not the end, nor a permanent condition when God was involved. And here it was only to be temporary, exactly like a nap.
Of course the family, and especially the hired mourners, found Jesus’ assertion laughable, but one wonders what sort of laughter people in a house of mourning would allow themselves. It is one of many times in the Bible where one wishes for a fuller narrative. Is it the paid mourners, assuming Jesus didn’t know anything about people dying, or the relatives, thinking Jesus was being crude and insensitive? Whatever sort of laughter it was, it didn’t suit Jesus’ purpose. He threw out (Greek ekballo usually implies force, especially in Mark) the mourners and took only the parents and His disciples in to see the dead girl. Likely the saying about “pearls before swine, the holy before dogs” had some part in this action.(France, NET, Witherington)
And so the miracle is performed, very much casually, and warmly, with a taking of the girl’s hand and a friendly word. “Talitha koum” might be translated “Get up, girl”. The repetition of the Aramaic and the note of the girl age of twelve is part of Mark’s habit of really setting the scene, and has long confirmed the traditional notion that Mark’s gospel is based on Peter’s recollections of Jesus. That Mark dutifully translates the Aramaic may be a desire to show it was just conversation, not some magical formula Greek speakers couldn’t grasp.(France, Witherington)
The charge of keeping silent about the resurrection of the girl has always been puzzling, simply because everyone around likely saw and heard the mourning, and would inevitably see the girl at some point. So what was Jesus’ point in so ordering silence? There are a few ideas:
1.Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:1-18)speaks of good being done simply because it is good, and not expecting a reward from men but rather from God. Here he suits His actions to His words.
2. If the news was immediately spread among the town, Jesus would have far more trouble getting away from the house than He had getting there, which was plainly not easy.
3. If news of how she was restored was spread soon, Jesus might face another “Let’s call Jesus ‘Messiah’” crisis, which would put both Himself and all the crowd involved in danger from the Romans, who had a simple formula: Messiah= Rebellion= murderous putdown
4.Jesus was not opposed to news of her restoration coming out so much as how, for reasons 1 and 3 above.
5.It is almost certainly Jesus’ desire to see the girl returned to a normal life, not made some freak show because of her resurrection.(Barclay, Witherington)
Mark gives no obvious indication here that he means the girl’s resurrection to foreshadow Jesus’ own, yet it is hard to imagine he did not expect his Christian readers to make just such a connection.(France)
The additional note of Jesus ordering the family to feed the girl reminds one of Luke 24:41-43, where Jesus convinces His disciples of His return to bodily life (a body that nevertheless appeared and disappeared, even in locked rooms!) by eating a fish. The girl is shown to be back to normal by doing just what she always did. After all, what decent parent isn’t intimately aware of how their child eats? (Barnes)
This passage gives another glimpse of folk religion, parents bringing their children for a Holy man to bless. The disciples show a natural but again wrongheaded assumption about the way of things. To them and ancient society in general children (small enough for Jesus to hold in His arms in v. 16) were among the least of the least, with no rights of their own and under care of their parents or slave guardians (Gal 4:1-5). They were “nobodies” and thus a waste of Jesus’ precious time, in society’s view.(France)
Jesus, of course, has a quite different attitude. He welcomed children, and He also welcomed the least among people. Look at the messianic interpretation of Is 61:1-2, and the lesson Jesus gave the disciples in Mar 9:35-37. Look at the repeated emphasis on the care of the lowly and poor in Isaiah, to name but one prophet. An especially favorite verse of mine emphasizes just this:
Isa 57:15 NET. For this is what the high and exalted one says, the one who rules forever, whose name is holy: “I dwell in an exalted and holy place, but also with the discouraged and humiliated, in order to cheer up the humiliated and to encourage the discouraged.
What is it that Jesus finds so worthy in children? Besides His care for the powerless, there is one basic element in young children that Jesus always appreciates: faith. A child actively believes and trusts in his parents’ goodwill, knowledge, and power. That is the attitude Jesus desires of His followers, and he repeatedly commends it in those who come to Him for aid. There is also the simple acceptance of being powerless and dependent in children, who necessarily take what is given them freely. These are the attitudes Jesus repeatedly commends and desires in believers. (France, Witherington)