Sunday Morning Greek Blog

March 6, 2011

Feeding, Walking, and Transfiguring

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Greek,Mark Gospel of,New Testament — Scott Stocking @ 2:02 pm

Mark’s versions of the feedings of the 5000 men plus women and children (Mark 6:30–44) and 4000 men plus women and children (Mark 8:1–10) proved to have some interesting “grist for my mill,” as one of my college professors used to say. Mark has a couple interesting features not found in Matthew’s account. One minor difference I noted is that in Mark 6:39, Jesus commands the crowd to sit down on the “green grass” (χλωρος χόρτος chlōros chortos), while Matthew just has them sitting down on the grass (in Mark 8, they sit on the ground, γή ). The disciples make a point that they are in a “wilderness” or “remote place” (ἔρημος ὁ τόπος erēmos ho topos). Often, we may have an image of the region as a dry desert, but not so here. This seemed to be a very verdant place where it would have been quite comfortable to sit for some time.

The other implication here is that while Jesus was teaching, the crowd apparently was standing. Otherwise, why would he instruct them to sit down? But this command is qualified by another part of the story unique to Mark: in 6:38–39, Jesus instructs the crowd to sit down in “groups [by] groups,” and they sat down in “blocks [by] blocks]” of fifty and one hundred each. Those of you who know the Exodus story might recognize that this is how Jethro instructed his son-in-law Moses to divide the responsibility of judging the people in Exodus 18. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. How do you feed a hungry crowd? One group at a time. Jesus was reiterating Moses’ crowd management philosophy.

Not only does Mark’s account look back to the Exodus story, but it also looks forward to the Last Supper (as all of the Gospel accounts of the feeding of the masses do). In chapter 6, Jesus blesses (ευλογέω eulogeō) and breaks in pieces (κατακλάω kataklaō) the bread. In chapter 8, Jesus gives thanks for (εὐχαριστεω eucharisteō) and breaks (κλάω klaō) the bread. In Mark 14:22–23, Jesus blesses and breaks the bread and gives thanks for the cup.

If you’ve been going to church for a while and have been paying attention to the preacher, you may have already heard this next feature of the story, common to all Gospel accounts. The baskets used to collect the leftovers are not the same in each story. In the feeding of the 5000, the twelve baskets are more like lunch or grocery baskets (κοφίνος kophinos), while in Mark 8, the seven baskets there are large enough to hold a man (see Acts 9:25). Scholars are fairly certain that the seven larger baskets held more than the twelve smaller baskets. Later, in 8:19–21, after talking about the yeast of the Pharisees, Jesus queries his disciples about the two feeding events: The number of baskets (twelve and seven) may be as significant as the bountiful leftovers. Both numbers are used frequently in the Bible for symbolism: twelve for the number of tribes of Israel and seven for a number of completeness or perfection. After the disciples answer the questions about the number of baskets successfully (again, significant that the numbers stick in their minds), Jesus asks, “Do you still not understand?” What point is he getting across? God’s Word was not meant to be understood by a select few Phrarisees! God’s Word is practical and it satisfies (χορτάζω chortazō; note the similarity of this to the word for “grass”)! God provides! (I think my resistance to tithing at this point in my life may have just gone out the window. I need to pause and reflect on that.)

Okay, done reflecting; still unsettled, but not as much. I must move on from the feeding of the masses, because time always seems to slip away from me while I’m writing this.

By way of transition, I find it interesting, although not surprising for Mark (see earlier posts), that the disciples put out to sea after each of the feeding events. In the first story, Jesus sends his disciples out by themselves, this after the terrifying event of the healing of the Gerasene demoniac, after which the disciples were apparently afraid to go back out on the sea. In Mark 6, we have the story of Jesus walking to them on the water (see another earlier post). Mark is filled with other scary demoniac stories as well, and I think this whole section here (Mark 5–9 at least) is not just about showing Jesus’ power, but about showing Jesus’ need to get away from the crowd for a while. That may be why sailing back and forth across the lake was so popular with Jesus. He could just hang out, maybe cast a line or a net over the side and do some fishing. (Do you suppose Jesus had a bumper sticker on his boat that said, “I’d rather be fishing”?)

Getting away from the crowd had its ultimate expression in the transfiguration story (Mark 9:2–13). Jesus took his “inner circle” (Peter, James, and John) with him up to a mountain, where his glory was revealed, and where he also spoke to Moses and Elijah. Now I don’t know how I would have reacted, but I’d like to think I would have reacted differently than Peter. Here are Moses and Elijah, two of the greatest figures in Jewish history, talking to Jesus, and Peter wants to get out his hammer and nails and make a racket building booths! If I had been there, I think I would have wanted to listen in on the conversation! The story has some connection to Exodus 34:29–35, the radiant face of Moses, which is probably why Peter wanted to build a shelter: Moses was the only one permitted to see the glory of God, and that indirectly, in the innermost part of the tabernacle.

But the story also comes right before the strongest demon that Jesus had yet to face and is a turning point as Mark begins the last half of his Gospel leading up to the parousia. When Jesus returns from the mountain (9:15), he finds his disciples “discussing” (Peter, James, and John do the same kind of “discussing” in 9:10 about Jesus’ prediction that he would rise from the dead; the word is unique to Mark and Luke-Acts) with the Pharisees about a deaf-mute demoniac. The disciples were not strong enough to cast out the demon, and when they later ask why they could not, Jesus tells them that that kind can only come out by prayer. It is interesting, though, that nowhere in the story do we have a direct reference to Jesus praying before he casts out the demon. But Jesus had also just come down from the Mount of Transfiguration, and the people were “astonished” (ἐκθαμβέω ekthambeō, a word found only in Mark—here, of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and twice in Mark 16 of the women who found the tomb empty) to see him. I take from that that Jesus may have still been glowing a bit, just as Moses did after he left the presence of God. Jesus was fully prepared to take on Satan’s strongest minions. I don’t think it is accidental or coincidental that Mark places these two stories side by side.

Well, that wraps up the post for this morning. Church time approaches, and I have to put the finishing touches on my PowerPoint for my Ephesians Sunday school class. Peace to all!

Scott Stocking

1 Comment »

  1. […] have written elsewhere on the feeding of the 5000, so I won’t go into all that again, except to say that John […]

    Pingback by “I Am the Bread of Life” (John 6:35) « Sunday Morning Greek Blog — June 6, 2011 @ 10:32 pm | Reply

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