Wednesday, February 08, 2012
In the previous chapter, we have dealt in a somewhat summary way with the question of whether Jesus came from God or the Adversary. The issue, of course, is that Jesus claims the support of the God of Israel at the same time that "he contradicted well ensconced conventional views" (the Cambridge Companion to the Bible 486); specifically, Jesus welcomed "outcasts, 'sinners,' women, and children, and approached 'lepers,' people thought to be dead, Gentiles, and the demon-possessed" (485). His "divinely mandated future, anticipated by Isaiah and Zechariah, "saw purity in terms of love of God and neighbor" (485). It may help readers to recall that Caiphas had removed the Sanhedrian from the Temple and had permitted vendors to set up shop in the Great Court (482); Jesus, on the other hand, supported offerings of one's produce. At bottom, Jesus challenges the priestly control of the Temple and worship there (482). Jesus, "hunted by Herod Antipas in Galilee, uncertain of safety in within the domain of Herod Philip, repulsed by the Gentile population east of the Sea of Galilee" (502) dispatched the Twelve as" delegates on his behalf… to proclaim God's kingdom and heal."
Perhaps first attention, as Turton suggests, in chapter 4 should be given to possible Scriptural references, summarized below:
Parable of the Sower
Myers (1988, p172) is among a number of exegetes who argue that the writer of Mark appears to have adopted his parable (which Myers interprets as political criticism) from Ezekiel's use of the term parable (mashal) in Ezekiel 17:2:
"Son of man, set forth an allegory and tell the house of Israel a parable." (NIV)
Additional parable verses in Exekiel include 20:49:
Then I said, "Ah, Sovereign LORD ! They are saying of me, 'Isn't he just telling parables?' " (NIV)
Tell this rebellious house a parable and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: (NIV)
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Turton continues by explaining that parables predate Jesus (Judges 9:7-15, 2 Samuel 12:1-4), that parables have a fixed pattern, similar stories are known in Jewish and Greek literature, and the use of seeds was a stock metaphor in Hellenistic culture, (Seneca, Epistles 38.2); the parable seems to have been developed to explain, etiologically, the nickname of Peter, the Rock, Peter's faithlessness also found in Galatians 2: 11-14; and "the phrase, "the eyes of those who see will no longer be closed, and the ears of those who hear will listen" may echo Psalm 135:17, Proverbs 20:12; or Isaiah 30:21 and belongs as a common motif to Old Testament literature; " The imageries of the field, sowing seeds, miscarriage, and harvest are standard metaphors for God's dealing with Israel in Jewish apocalyptic, wisdom, and prophetic literatures("Mack 1988, 155); the teaching scene exhibit a discernible structure--public instruction, change of location, private question, sarcastic complaint from the Teacher, followed by a decisive explanation; "to you is given the secret of the kingdom of God" see4ms to be based pn Isaiah 6:9-10; the messianic secret parallels a very public mission; "mystery" follows Hellenistic literature in emphasizing "only a few are qualified to know"; the phrase may also link to Numbers 12;6,distinquishing prophets who know through visions and dreams from those with whom God speaks mouth to mouth; Paul (1 Cor. 2:6-7) highlight wisdom as gained by the mature and as not being the wisdom of the world; and finally, what becomes clear is that the disciples just do not get it; on the inside, they misunderstand.
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We have previously discussed, albeit briefly, the nature of parables and entertained the question, at least tentatively, of why Jesus used this mode of communication rather than "simple-speak." The question ultimately dovetails into another question, this one of the messiahship of Jesus , as well as historicy. John M. Depoe answers this definitively:
I propose that there is not one solitary hermeneutical formula that needs to be invoked whenever we encounter the alleged messianic secret. Rather, I suggest that there are several corroborative reasons which can account for the motif of secrecy in Mark’s gospel that do not compromise the historicity or message of the gospel.
First of all secrecy could have been implemented because Jesus did not wish to berenown for being a miracle worker.
Secondly, faith based upon miraculous exhibitions is not faith in the person and message of Jesus but rather on the miracles he performs.
Everyone who witnessed Jesus’ miracles did not come to have faith in him. Instead, they usually revealed the content of faith that people already had in Jesus. David Garland correctly notes that miracles actually disclose “those who want only miracles can see nothing" <http://www.johndepoe.com/Messianic_secret.pdf >.
1) The indirect communication obstructs the truth from those whose hearts are not open to it, a strategy that fulfills the prophecy found in Psalm 78. When Israel looked for and needed direct signs of God’s reality, presence, and provision, God gave them plenty. But direct signs did not lead Israel to faith. As a judgment, the Messiah comes speaking in puzzling parables that obscure immediate apprehension of the truth so that in seeing they do not see and in hearing they do not hear.
2) Jesus’ indirect communication invites openhearted, genuine seekers to seek further. The parables provoke the hearer to engage the puzzling sayings and the profound questions they raise. This intriguing “provocation of obscurity” thus fosters an interest in knowing more. Jesus’ strategy is to “puzzle” those who will hear him out of their darkness and self-deception. Jesus thus employs what has been called “a rhetoric of awakening” to stun the listener to awareness of how he, Jesus, is the truth.
In chapter three, we noted that parables have been interpreted to work allegorically; such a definition concurs with Hurd's notion that hearers/readers must seek further than the actual story itself. Michael Turton hightlights the connection made by Hoskyns and Davey (1931) to messiahship and to the advent of the kingdom of God breaking forth in the words and actions of Jesus:
"This Christological penetration of the parables renders them everywhere less illustrations of moral or spiritual truths that are easy of understanding than an integral element in the revelation of God that is taking place in Palestine with the advent of the messiah in his humiliation. Their understanding therefore depends upon the recognition of Jesus as the messiah and upon the recognition of the kingdom of God that is breaking forth in his words and actions. As a result of this particular historical situation, the Greek word parabole escapes from its Greek context, escapes also from the meaning which the Rabbis attached to its Hebrew equivalent, mashal, and acquires the meaning, which mashal, translated by parabole, possessed in certain important Old Testament passages. There the word was used to denote Israel as a surprise or a byword, a scandal or an enigma to the nations, because the chosen people composed the concrete sphere of God's revelation to the world. In their captivity they revealed His judgement upon disobedience:
I will even give them up to be tossed to and fro among all the kingdoms of the earth for evil; to be a reproach and a proverb (mashal-parabole), a taunt and a curse, in all places whither I shall drive them; (Jer.xxiv.9) in their possession of the law they displayed the righteousness which he demanded: And thou (Israel) shalt become an astonishment, a proverb (mashal-parabole), and a byword, among all the peoples whither the Lord shall lead thee away. (Deut.xxviii.37)
It is therefore not in the least surprising to find Mark recording that the parables of Jesus were the means by which he presented to his disciples 'the mystery of the kingdom' (Mk.iv.11), and that he expected his disciples to perceive this meaning."
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Turton further quotes Stephen More to the effect parables form a permeable boundary between insiders and outsiders:
"Parabolai in Mark are a partition, screen, or membrane designed to keep insiders on one side, outsiders on the other. Outsiders are those for whom 'everything comes in parables,' parables that they find incomprehensible (4:11-12). At the same time, parabolai are what rupture that membrane, render it permeable, infect the opposition with contradiction: those who should be on the inside find themselves repeatedly put out by Jesus' parabolic words and deeds. Appointed to allow insiders in and to keep outsiders out, parables unexpectedly begin to threaten everyone with exclusion in Mark, even disciples seeking entry. Deranged doormen, parables threaten to make outsiders of us all" (p21-2)
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Verse 33 seems to support this interpretation:
33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
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The above approaches to parable, largely in agreement, may miss two major points made by Norman Perrin: that parables are not allegories and that parables were meant to be heard in the actual history in which they are told as opposed to interpreted in light of theology, which largely has made parables into allegories:
In speaking of the parables of Jesus, I intend to speak of the parables as Jesus actually taught them, that is, of the parables of Jesus as reconstructed from the gospels by modern New Testament scholarship. This reconstruction is indeed one of the triumphs of that scholarship, and work upon the parables remains a major preoccupation of contemporary New Testament scholars.1 As originally delivered by Jesus, they were oral texts—they were remembered rather than written down. But they were of course eventually written down, and they were transmitted in the tradition of the church, no doubt both orally and in writing, and finally found their present place in the canonical gospels and in the Coptic gospel of Thomas, a Gnostic document from Nag Hammadi. In the canonical gospels, they have usually been reinterpreted as allegories, and this allegorization continued in the church until modern times. The question of the legitimacy of this reinterpretation will concern us later. The parables of Jesus are artistic creations of a very high order, and they embody a distinct and distinctive vision of reality. They represent probably the highest form of verbal art in the New Testament, and they are religious texts of very great importance indeed. ("Historical Criticism, Literary Criticism, and Hermeneutics: The Interpretaion of the Parables of Jesus and the Gospel of Mark Today" in the Journal of Religion, Vol.52, No. 4, Oct. 1972, accessed 15/03/2012n10:59, 362)
Perrin says of parable, "The parables of Jesus are highly personal texts. By means of metaphor and of metaphor extended in narrative, they express the vision of reality of their author, Jesus."
Chapter 4 can be summarized briefly:
In chapter four of Mark, Jesus speaks in parables: the parable of the sower, the lamp under the bushel basket, the parable of the growing seed, and the parable of the mustard seed. The chapter concludes with a word about the use of parables and a demonstration of Jesus' authority over natural forces.
My earlier work on Mark provides the following commentary on this chapter:
The first parable provided is that of the sower.
3 "Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold." 9 And he said, "Let anyone with ears to hear listen!"
In this case, Jesus himself interprets the parable for his disciples; we need to note that he is alone with the twelve and other believers:
13 And he said to them, "Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. 17 But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. † 18 And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing. 20 And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold."
Jesus is about the work of instructing his followers. There is clearly here the sense of those inside and those outside: truth is revealed but comprehended only by those initiated.
On the heels of Jesus' words about mystery and those initiated into truth revealed comes the next parable:
21 He said to them, "Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lamp stand? 22 For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. 23 Let anyone with ears to hear listen!" 24 And he said to them, "Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. 25 For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away."
If this is applied to the previous parable, it would seem to suggest that Jesus is not in the business of hiding light: what is hidden will be disclosed; what is secret will come to light. These lines suggest the mystery exists relative to timing: hidden now, will be disclosed; what is secret now, will come to light. The obstruction to understanding is, ironically, the very means of understanding: the mental structure of time. Little wonder that Jesus should say, "Pay attention." He goes on to speak even more directly: what you give, you will get; those having will get more, and those without anything will discover even that taken. If one begins with possessing truth revealed, then more will be gotten; if one begins without revealed truth, even what he has will be taken. How simple! The parable works on two levels--the invisible kingdom coming into being and the existing, but disappearing temporal kingdom.
Jesus, still speaking of the Kingdom of God turns to the parable of the growing seed:
26 He also said, "The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come."
He's direct here in talking about the Kingdom of God and the mystery of its growth--the point is that "how it [the kingdom] grows," one does not know. Even organic life is not understood in impulse, but only in manifest result: the stalk, the head, the full grain. These parables are not unrelated: Jesus began by talking about a sower, then talked about parables as not being anything more than a "timed" disclosure, and moves now to the idea of the germinating seed or the invisible made visible in time.
The Kingdom of God, if one credits the connected argument, begins with twelve and a few followers, a very small number. This time, the figurative image is the mustard seed.
Thus, in addition to fertility, abundance, and continuity, plants are used to represent life’s frailty, brevity, and transitory nature (Isaiah 40.6–8; Job 14.2; Psalm 90.6; 1 Peter 1.24). Biblical symbolism draws also on the characteristics of individual plants, such as the great height and longevity of the cedar tree (Psalm 92.12; see similarly the parable of Jotham, Judges 9.8–15, and the parable of the mustard seed,Matthew 13.31–32). The New Testament is replete with agricultural imagery; see, for example, Mark 4.3–8; Mark 4.26–29; Matthew 9.37–38; Luke 13.6–9. (Oxford Companion)
The mustard seed grows very quickly, in a matter of weeks, from the smallest of seeds into a ten to twelve foot bush. As the mustard seed becomes the greatest bush, so will the Kingdom of God become the greatest kingdom.
Having used details from nature in these parables, it's not surprising to find this argument logically culminating in a demonstration of Jesus' authority or control over the natural or temporal world:
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"
I'm struck by the very human cry, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" This is the mortal cry in all days and all ages. Jesus responds, as he has throughout Mark, by acting, "He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, 'Peace! Be still." What follows is dead calm. The disciples are probably even more afraid now; at first, they had been confronted only by natural and temporal powers; now, they are in the presence of the spiritual manifest, and they are afraid and filled with awe. They ask, even though Mark has answered this in the beginning and will continue to answer it through the passion and resurrection. "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" The answer, though not supplied here, is simple: he is the Son of God, and the Kingdom of God is even now being revealed among humankind.
Dominic Rudman sees in this passage what he calls the chaoskampf theme; more of this is discussed in chapter fifteen where the next step is taken to link the gospel of Mark with the original act of creation:
This chaoskampf theme is far from alien to the gospels (especially in confrontations with the demonic), and features most prominently in the narrative in which Jesus demonstrates his command over the forces of chaos by ordering the winds and waves that had threatened his boat to be still (Matt 8,23-27; Mark 4,35-41; Luke 8,22-25). Several commentators see in this latter episode an allusion to Psalm 104, in which Yahweh accomplishes the same feat. Indeed, it is noticeable that Jesus, faced by the raging chaos waters, does not call on Yahweh, but, rather, acts as if he were Yahweh 6. Naturally, the synoptic writers stop short of taking the parallel to its logical conclusion (i.e. calling Jesus "God")7, but there is certainly a blurring of the distinction between Jesus as human and the Jesus as a creator figure. The act of repulsing the hostile forces of chaos is implicitly linked with creation, and the godlike power of Jesus in so doing is evidenced in the terrified exclamation of the disciples: "Who is this? Even the winds and waves obey him!" (Matt 8,27; Mark 4,41 cf. Luke 8,25).
2. Jesus’ Death and Resurrection
Readers will note that this earlier work, springing as it does from what exists in the current text, concludes with the theological position that Jesus is "the Son of God" and the Kingdom of God is being revealed. Readers will recall I introduced the argument that "son of God" may be connected to later Christology and that kingdom of God could be looked at eschatologically (end-time) or more idealistically, as utopia. I quote my conclusion"
Given what is recorded of Jesus in action and words--the Great Commandments to love God and love people, his ministry to the marginalized, Mark's presentation of Jesus as servant--Thomas's view that the "Kingdom of God" is a metaphor for just rule would seem to be justified. Interpreted in this way, Jesus begins his mission with "just rule" has come near, and it has something to do with people who need to repent and believe. The NISB Notes makes the point that "the Kingdom of God, which Jesus proclaims, precedes Jesus' own ministry; indeed, Jesus' ministry may be toward the culmination of this process," basing this explanation on the use of the perfect tense in Greek. After a brief remark on belief (pistis in Greek), NISB says belief "becomes a standard for those who hear Jesus' message" and "The Kingdom of God refers to the period or place in which God reigns as undisputed King over the people and the creation." Readers will further recall that I suggested an in sweeping of a vortex of creative at the baptism of Jesus; I quote that again here:
Kingdom of God is imminent (:1) and "comes with power" and Transfiguration--the latter associated with Ezekiel and Merkavah (throne chariot: analogy of the way YHWH works in the world). Note the inner circle of Peter, James, and John, who see Jesus talking with Elijah and Moses, two prophets believed not to have died but to have been taken up directly to heaven; according to Malachi (4:5-6) Elijah was to come as precursor to the Messiah. Notes to the NRSV says some have viewed the transfiguration as a "misplaced resurrection." Mark may also be read as an initiation story: the initiates must be prepared for inclusion in the mystery of the coming Kingdom of God, this touching on how one reads--whether literally or metaphorically--as well as defines who is inside or outside the mystery. The throne of God, Merkavah, represented the vortex of creative energy which determines significance of any given historical period; this tradition of thinking dates back to Mesopotamia (twenty-third century BCE) and to Babylonia (Cambridge Companion to the Bible, 520). Readers must remember that the ancient view of the world was that of multiple, hard shells that had to be rended by the divine, thus the descension of the Spirit at the baptism of Jesus (Mark 1: 9-13). The term son of god, often used to describe angels and their relationship to God, expressed, not biological relationship but revelatory relationship (Companion, 521). By this view, Jesus may be viewed as a practitioner of divine presence.
This chapter has further been summarized theologically in the following way:
In Mark chapter 4 there are two main theological implications: The kingdom of God and disciples. The kingdom refers to the rule or rein of God. The primary representative of that kingdom in Mark’s gospel is Jesus, who proclaimed “the good news of God: ‘The time has come. The kingdom of God is near.
In the parable of the sower, Jesus referred to understanding its message as an aspect of the “secret of the kingdom of God” (4:11) which had been given to His disciples. The seed which is sown is “the word” (v. 14) which Jesus proclaimed. Those described as “good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop” (v. 20).
The parable of the growing seed Mark (4:26–29), is a reminder to those who “scatter seed” that the life-giving power of God’s Word is effective even if it is to a certain extent unfathomable. This, like the parable of the mustard seed (vv. 30–32), shows that the progress of the kingdom is ultimately God’s doing. However small and inauspicious it may seem, the kingdom will enjoy a grand and glorious final result. But that will be because the work of God, not only in name but also in fact, is finally His.(Zuck)
Mark tells it how it is when it comes to the disciples. Mark showed how prone they were to misunderstanding. He used various terms to describe this failing, which was characteristic of the disciples at least until Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ (8:29). Yet even after that, Mark demonstrated that the implications of Jesus’ messiahship continued to be lost on the disciples who recoiled from the idea of a suffering and dying Messiah. As Jesus said to their spokesman,Peter, “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (8:33).(Zuck)
The first reference to the disciples’ lack of understanding occurs in the Parables’ Discourse (4:1–34). Jesus cited Isaiah 6:9–10 as an explanation of why He used parables, so that “they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!” (4:12). The problem, as Mark indicated, was that the disciples had problems with understanding as well! “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given” to the disciples (4:11), but apparently there was a communication breakdown (or at least a “slowdown”) somewhere along the line because Jesus questioned why they did not understand the basic point of the parable: “Then Jesus said to them, ‘Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?’ ” (4:13).(Zuck)
It is interesting to compare the parable of the sower in Matthew and Mark in relation to this point. Matthew begins his account of the parable’s explanation with these words: “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart” (Matt. 13:19). The parallel in Mark (4:15) is similar except that he did not include the phrase “does not understand,” probably because his portrayal of the disciples shows this to be a characteristic of them as well.
In totality, chapter 4 consists of teachings about the Kingdom of God, not surprising since Jesus has previously been introduced as "proclaiming the good news of God" and nearness of the Kingdom of God (1:14, 15), teaching in the synagogue (1:21, 29) and arousing objections and controversies at the same time that he heals the sick and calls disciples to act as delegates for the message (3:13-19). Matthew Henry explains these parables as speaking ultimately to the evolving nature of the kingdom of God in the world:
These declarations were intended to call the attention of the disciples to the word of Christ. By his thus instructing them, they were made able to instruct others; as candles are lighted, not to be covered, but to be placed on a candlestick, that they may give light to a room. This parable of the good seed, shows the manner in which the kingdom of God makes progress in the world. Let but the word of Christ have the place it ought to have in a soul, and it will show itself in a good conversation. It grows gradually: first the blade; then the ear; after that the full corn in the ear. When it is sprung up, it will go forward. The work of grace in the soul is, at first, but the day of small things; yet it has mighty products even now, while it is in its growth; but what will there be when it is perfected in heaven!
The NISB provides a detailed excursus linking the two long parables (4:1-20; 12:1-12) in Mark as providing guidance to listeners/readers , using an agricultural images to symbolize human and divine action, providing opportunity for "insiders" to understand the story of Jesus himself. Chapter 4 ends with a nature miracle in which the disciples awaken a sleeping Jesus to calm a storm that has evoked fear and illustrates a lack of faith (40). Chapter 5 then begins with three healing miracles, all connected by Jesus' movement back and forth across the Sea--one, an exorcism in which the demons, once again, recognize Jesus as "Son of the Most High God" (reminding readers of "the Holy One of God" recognition in chapter 1. The two final healings involve a twelve year old girl raised from death and a woman who has been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years, the two stories intercalated (Notes NISB). Both of these two stories speak symbolically to life.