This week we're reading Mark 5-8 as a church. These four chapters contain some of the most memorable and provocatives encounters Jesus has with people. The Gerasene Man and the Woman with the Issue of Blood are equally distressing and wonderful, distressing in the pain which evil and sickness had caused and wonderful in their individual stories of salvation. Their place and pace in this Gospel text serves also to illustrate the way the Gospel's proclamation was received gladly by Gentiles and challenged by the Jews. 

Last week we read that to (the disciples) it has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that

    “they may indeed see but not perceive,
        and may indeed hear but not understand,
    lest they should turn and be forgiven.”

(Mark 4:11-12)

James Tissot, The Swine Driven Into The Sea, 1896

James Tissot, The Swine Driven Into The Sea, 1896

Jesus arrives on the Gerasene shore, certainly a Gentile community due to the pig farming present there, and Mark spends a significant amount of words describing his encounter with a distressing figure who hid amongst the tombs. He heals the possessed man and then charges him to tell everyone "how much the Lord has done" for him. It is possible for this Gentile man to proclaim the "Most High God" despite having no prior knowledge of him due entirely to the work of this God in his life. 

Jesus then returns to the Jewish world and is asked to heal a little girl. On the way he is interrupted by another distressing character. A woman who has been bleeding for twelve years. Like the Gerasene Man, Jesus stops to receive this woman and shows that his power is available for all in distress or oppressed. Jesus then raises the twelve year old daughter of Jairus and curiously charges them to tell no-one what has happened. 

So then we are shown two sides of an ocean, one where the work of God in Jesus is shared and celebrated, and one where it is not. Jesus works faithfully on both sides to proclaim the Gospel and perform miracles yet as he said of the parables, so also he seems to say of his miracles     

“they may indeed see but not perceive,
        and may indeed hear but not understand,
    lest they should turn and be forgiven.”
    
This theme of the spead of the Gospel through preaching and miracles occupies a prominent place in this part of Mark's text. This might not be clear on a close reading of a small portion of a text–such a reading can illuminate other aspects–rather the locations and movements which frame out each episode give a broader message. For example after Jesus sends out the 12 and we hear of John's death, Jesus gathers back his disciples, presumably not far from Galilee where he had previously been rejected and at least five thousand men follow them to come and hear Jesus! Jesus sent out his disciples and there was fruit, and there is even more fruit from the mission of the Geresene Man who had been delivered from many demons. 

This great and marvelous fruit, of the deliverence and healings and the spread of the knowledge of God amongst the Gentiles is contrasted with the petty debates of the Pharisees. In chapter 7 the discussion with the Scribes is placed alongst two healings of gentiles based on their faith. Amongst the Gentile cities of the "Decapolis" Jesus works another feeding miracle, showing how that which had previously been enjoyed by the Jewish people was being given now to all people who believed in him. 

The disciples who had seen all of this and even shared in perfomring miracles are still clueless about who Jesus is and what he is there to do. A detail in the healing story of Chapter 8 gives a context for their misunderstanding. Like the man who had to be healed twice, Peter is able to see that Jesus is the Christ but he fails to understand what that means in terms of his death and resurrection.

Yet even in this partial-sighted faith Jesus calls Peter and all who had gathered to him to take up their crosses and follow him. It seems that Jesus is patient enough to welcome into his company anyone who would follow him no matter how much they have misunderstood.

3 Formation Questions

  1. What is easily misunderstood about Jesus' teaching or work? Do we exclude those whose only failure is misunderstanding, whilst giving honor to the 'Pharisees' who know it all yet are deaf to Jesus?
  2. How do you hear the comissioning of the Geresene Man or the Twelve Disciples? Can you pray for one person or reach them with the liberating words of the Gospel?
  3. To whom are we being sent? To those who have no knowledge of God or to those who know him yet still need to experience the power of his saving Gospel?