We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Crowd - Mark 3:7-12 (xxxv)

Lion of St. Mark, Piazza San Marco, Venice
This posting is the 35th in a series (originally written in 1998) looking at the Gospel of Mark from the perspective of a historian. The first posting in this series is (here).

The crowd is important. It's an active, important participant in the gospel's reconstruction of Jesus' life. This passage, Mark 3:7-12, recalls that theme. It focuses our attention on the crowd of people who swarmed to Jesus, and it alerts us to changes taking place in the nature of that crowd. First, it's clearly growing in size, and one senses from Mark's narrative how overwhelming it was becoming for Jesus. It threatened to crush him (3:9). It contained, especially, many suffering people in need of his healing touch (3:10). Second, it was a more international crowd. Jesus' fame had spread beyond Galilee and beyond the larger Palestinian region. We should note here that people were coming to him from non-Jewish regions as well, according to Mark's list in 3:7-8. Nothing is said of it, but the implication seems to be that Gentiles were now numbered among those attracted by Jesus.

This last point is extremely important from a church history perspective. The first great crisis the church faced, after the Resurrection, was the "Gentile Problem". An important part of the earliest church felt that it should admit into its numbers only those Gentiles who underwent circumcision and converted to Judaism. The bulk of the church eventually rejected that viewpoint. It may well be that the author of Mark is here reminding his readers that the Gentiles began coming to Jesus early in his ministry. He was their teacher and healer/exorcist too.

In any event, the crowd was growing in size and complexity. Again, I'd like to note that while the particular event described here seems generic rather than specific, the underlying developments revealed through the story seem to have historical weight. Jesus' ministry, over time, attracted more and more interest in an ever expanding geographical region. Communications and travel conditions were quite good so that news about Jesus could spread quickly, and it wouldn't have taken all that long for people to travel to Galilee from surrounding territories to find out about Jesus for themselves.