Mark 6: Jesus the new Moses
This chapter continues to unpack who Jesus is as Mark slowly unpacks the titles that Jesus was given in the first verse of the book.
Rejected at Home
First notice the argument over Jesus’ vocation. Is He a carpenter (v. 3) or is He a prophet (v. 4)? One of the interesting aspects of this accusation is the connection to His hands. His occupation has been one of creating/re-creating with his hands (e.g. 1:31, 1:41, 5:41) much like a carpenter. Given the symbolism of wood and trees through Scripture, we should not ignore the fact that Jesus is fulfilling His trade, only different than most would expect. Verse 3 records that the people of his own country were offended at him; this is one of the responses to the word described in the parable of the seeds (4:17). Finally, notice the contrast in Jesus’ response: He “marveled” (v. 6). The previous use of this word is where the people of Decapolis respond to Jesus’ healing of the demoniac (5:20) and other words are used to describe the surprise and awe of the crowds (e.g. 1:27, 2:12). Jesus’ reaction and the commentary imply that unbelief is more deadly than death itself (v. 5).
Commissioning the Twelve
Here is the first recorded commissioning of the apostles. They are given authority in particular over unclean spirits (v. 7). In addition to preaching and casting out demons, they also heal many people through anointing them with oil (v. 13). Oil is a priestly/kingly substance. The high priests were anointed with oil for their ordinations to service in the tabernacle/temple (Lev. 8) and of course kings were anointed with oil as a sign of their office and calling (e.g. 1 Sam. 10, 1 Sam. 16:13). Jesus is the Christ, the “anointed one” (1:1). For the disciples to anoint the sick and heal them was for them to unite them to the Anointed One, the King. It was an enacting, a uniting of King Jesus to those in need of His touch. When he lays his hands on them, he is bestowing his status on them. His life is entering them. He is creating a royal people, an anointed people, a kingly people (1 Pet. 2:9). And the church is still called to this ministry today (Js. 5:14).
A False Shepherd and a True Shepherd
Herod hears about this kingly proclamation very quickly and assumes that John the Baptizer has been raised from the dead (v. 14). The suggestion that Jesus is “the Prophet” is probably a reference to Deut. 18:15 where Moses foretold the coming of a prophet like him. And this fits with how Mark describes Jesus (6:34 cf. Num.27:17). But Mark suggests this “shepherd/flock” theme as early as Mark 5:41. He records the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter and the words of Jesus in Aramaic (“Talitha, cumi”) which may be a pun on a Hebrew word for “lamb” (cf. Is. 40:11). Ezekiel 34 is also a famous passage describing the failure of the Kings of Israel as shepherds who feed on their flocks rather than giving food to them. And this is exactly what is being contrasted in this chapter. Herod is a false shepherd who has set himself up as king. The title is repeated five times in the episode and the irony is that Herod was not technically a “king” but a tetrarch. Of course Mark doesn’t tell us this, but at the very least, he’s being ironic, comparing him to Jesus. Again, like Moses, Jesus gives bread to Israel in the wilderness (vv. 31, 32, 35); He is a faithful shepherd/king who has compassion on His people and feeds them.
Walking on Water
Two things are striking about this episode apart from the basic startling nature of what Jesus does. First, the text says that Jesus would have or wanted to “pass by them” except His disciples were too scared and troubled (v. 48-50). And this is not just because Jesus wanted more ‘alone time’. This word for “pass by” is the same root word that is used in the Greek Septuagint to refer to the event when Yahweh passed His glory before Moses (Ex. 33:19-22, 34:6). For Jesus to “pass by” the disciples may be an allusion of some kind to this event with Moses. This may also explain something of their response (6:50). Secondly, it is the disciples’ turn to “marvel” and they do so the text says, because “they had not understood about the loaves” (v. 52). Something about the miraculous feeding was supposed to be the key to understanding the water-walking venture. While this seems somewhat obscure, it is likely that this is once again connected to the Exodus and subsequent wilderness wanderings. If Jesus has fed Israel in the wilderness then He is a new Moses with authority of over seas and wind. Don’t you get it?
Conclusion and Application
Interestingly, the chapter ends in stark contrast to how it began. Jesus could not do mighty works in His home town because of their unbelief, but here in the land of Gennesaret the multitudes recognize Him immediately and come rushing out with their sick. Notice too that word has gotten out that power emanates even from His clothing (6:56 cf. 5:28). But these bracketing stories point inward showing us the story of the Exodus once more again: The “Pharaoh” Herod hears about The Twelve and assumes John has been raised from the dead. Then, Jesus and his disciples cross the sea (v. 32) and finding a great multitude, he feeds his people (the 5000) in the wilderness v. 32, 35). Finally, He crosses the sea again, walking on water (v. 45ff). The Exodus motif is hard to miss: from Passover to Pharaoh to the sea to bread in the wilderness to crossing the sea.
We are called to this same faith, especially on this side of the gospel. We have all of the miracles of Jesus, and most importantly, we have His death and resurrection. If a story were written about our congregation, how Mark describe our unbelief? Perhaps he would say: And they grumbled among themselves because they did not understand the miracles of Jesus. And their hearts were hardened. Or perhaps: And they were puffed up with arrogance about how Biblical their liturgy was because they did not understand the resurrection of Jesus. And their hearts were hardened. Or maybe: And they had critical spirits and held grudges against one another, refusing to forgive one another with joy because they did not understand the ascension of Jesus into heaven. And their hearts were hardened.
All of this is true. All of this is the gospel of grace to you. Jesus still greets you and says: Be of good cheer, it is I, do not be afraid. Believe it with all of your hearts and go and extend this same grace to your families and neighbors.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!