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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
Mark 6

 

 

Verses 1-56

Chapter 6

WITHOUT HONOR IN HIS OWN COUNTRY (Mark 6:1-6)

6:1-6 Jesus left there and came into his own native place, and his disciples went with him. When the Sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue. Many, as they listened, were amazed. "Where," they said, "did this man get this knowledge? What wisdom is this that has been given to him? And how can such wonderful things keep happening through his hands? Is not this the carpenter, Mary's son, the brother of James and Joses and Judah and Simon? Are his sisters not here with us?" And they took offence at him. So Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honour except in his own native place, and amongst his own kinsmen and in his own family." And he was not able to do any wonderful deeds there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he was amazed by their unwillingness to believe. He made a tour of the villages teaching.

When Jesus came to Nazareth he put himself to a very severe test. He was coming to his home town; and there are no severer critics of any man than those who have known him since his boyhood. It was never meant to be a private visit simply to see his old home and his own people. He came attended by his disciples. That is to say he came as a Rabbi. The Rabbis moved about the country accompanied by their little circle of disciples, and it was as a teacher, with his disciples, that Jesus came.

He went into the synagogue and he taught. His teaching was greeted not with wonder but with a kind of contempt. "They took offence at him." They were scandalised that a man who came from a background like Jesus should say and do things such as he. Familiarity had bred a mistaken contempt.

They refused to listen to what he had to say for two reasons.

(i) They said, "Is not this the carpenter?" The word used for carpenter is tekton (Greek #5045). Now tekton (Greek #5045) does mean a worker in wood, but it means more than merely a joiner. It means a craftsman. In Homer the tekton (Greek #5045) is said to build ships and houses and temples. In the old days, and still to-day in many places, there could be found in little towns and villages a craftsman who would build you anything from a chicken-coop to a house; the kind of man who could build a wall, mend a roof, repair a gate; the craftsman, the handy-man, who with few or no instruments and with the simplest tools could turn his hand to any job. That is what Jesus was like. But the point is that the people of Nazareth despised Jesus because he was a working-man. He was a man of the people, a layman. a simple man--and therefore they despised him.

One of the leaders of the Labour movement was that great soul Will Crooks. He was born into a home where one of his earliest recollections was seeing his mother crying because she had no idea where the next meal was to come from. He started work in a blacksmith's shop at five shillings a week. He became a fine craftsman and one of the bravest and straightest men who ever lived. He entered municipal politics and became the first Labour Mayor of any London borough. There were people who were offended when Will Crooks became Mayor of Poplar. In a crowd one day a lady said with great disgust, "They've made that common fellow, Crooks, Mayor, and he's no better than a working man." A man in the crowd--Will Crooks himself--turned round and raised his hat. "Quite right, madam," he said. "I am not better than a working man."

The people of Nazareth despised Jesus because he was a working man. To us that is his glory, because it means that God, when he came to earth, claimed no exemptions. He took upon himself the common life with all its common tasks.

The accidents of birth and fortune and pedigree have nothing to do with manhood. As Pope had it,

"Worth makes the man, and want of it the fellow;

The rest is all but leather or prunello."

As Burns had it,

"A prince can mak' a belted knight,

A marquis, duke, an' a'that!

But an honest man's aboon his might--

Guid faith, he mauna fa'that!

For a'that, an'a'that,

Their dignities an'a'that,

The pith o' sense an'pride o'worth

Are higher rank than a'that."

We must ever beware of the temptation to evaluate men by externals and incidentals, and not by native worth.

(ii) They said, "Is not this Mary's son? Do we not know his brothers and his sisters?" The fact that they called Jesus Mary's son tells us that Joseph must have been dead. Therein we have the key to one of the enigmas of Jesus' life. Jesus was only thirty-three when he died; and yet he did not leave Nazareth until he was thirty. (Luke 3:23.) Why this long delay? Why this lingering in Nazareth while a world waited to be saved? The reason was that Joseph died young and Jesus took upon himself the support of his mother and of his brothers and sisters; and only when they were old enough to fend for themselves did he go forth. He was faithful in little, and therefore in the end God gave him much to do.

But the people of Nazareth despised him because they knew his family. Thomas Campbell was a very considerable poet. His father had no sense of poetry at all. When Thomas' first book emerged with his name on it, he sent a copy to his father. The old man took it up and looked at it. It was really the binding and not the contents at all that he was looking at. "Who would have thought," he said in wonder, "that our Tom could have made a book like that?" Sometimes when familiarity should breed a growing respect it breeds an increasing and easy-going familiarity. Sometimes we are too near people to see their greatness.

The result of all this was that Jesus could do no mighty works in Nazareth. The atmosphere was wrong; and there are some things that cannot be done unless the atmosphere is right.

(i) It is still true that no man can be healed if he refuses to be healed. Margot Asquith tells of the death of Neville Chamberlain. Everyone knows how that man's policy turned out in such a way that it broke his heart. Margot Asquith met his doctor, Lord Horder. "You can't be much of a doctor," she said, "as Neville Chamberlain was only a few years older than Winston Churchill, and I should have said he was a strong man. Were you fond of him?" Lord Horder replied, "I was very fond of him. I like all unlovable men. I have seen too many of the other kind. Chamberlain suffered from shyness. He did not want to live; and when a man says that, no doctor can save him." We may call it faith; we may call it the will to live; but without it no man can survive.

(ii) There can be no preaching in the wrong atmosphere. Our churches would be different places if congregations would only remember that they preach far more than half the sermon. In an atmosphere of expectancy the poorest effort can catch fire. In an atmosphere of critical coldness or bland indifference, the most Spirit-packed utterance can fall lifeless to the earth.

(iii) There can be no peace-making in the wrong atmosphere. If men have come together to hate, they will hate. If men have come together to refuse to understand, they will misunderstand. If men have come together to see no other point of view but their own, they will see no other. But if men have come together, loving Christ and seeking to love each other, even those who are most widely separated can come together in him.

There is laid on us the tremendous responsibility that we can either help or hinder the work of Jesus Christ. We can open the door wide to him--or we can slam it in his face.

HERALDS OF THE KING (Mark 6:7-11)

6:7-11 Jesus called The Twelve to him and he began to send them out in twos. He gave them power over unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for the road except a staff. He ordered them not to take bread, or a wallet, or a copper coin in their belts. He ordered them to wear sandals and, he said, "You must not put on two tunics." He said to them, "Wherever you enter into a house, stay there, until you leave that place; and, if any place refuses to give you hospitality, and, if in any place they will not listen to you, when you leave there, shake off the dust from the soles of your feet, to bear witness to the fact that they were guilty of such conduct."

We will understand all the references in this passage better if we have in our minds a picture of what the Jew in Palestine in the time of Jesus ordinarily wore. He had five articles of dress.

(i) The innermost garment was the chiton (Greek #5509), or sindon (Greek #4616); or tunic. It was very simple. It was simply a long piece of cloth folded over and sewn down one side. It was long enough to reach almost to the feet. Holes were cut in the top corners for the arms. Such garments were commonly sold without any hole for the head to go through. That was to prove that the garment was in fact new, and it was to allow the buyer to arrange the neck-line as he or she wished. For instance, the neckline was different for men and women. It had to be lower in the case of women so that a mother could suckle her baby. At its simplest, this inner garment was little more than a sack with holes cut in the corners. In a more developed form it had long close-fitting sleeves; and sometimes it was opened up so that it was made to button down the front like a cassock.

(ii) The outer garment was called the himation (Greek #2440). It was used as a cloak by day and as a blanket by night. It was composed of a piece of cloth seven feet from left to right and four and a half feet from top to bottom. One and a half feet at each side was folded in and in the top corner of the folded part holes were cut for the arms to go through. It was therefore almost square. Usually it was made of two strips of cloth, each seven feet by a little more than two feet, sewn together. The seam came down the back. But a specially carefully made himation (Greek #2440) might be woven of one piece, as Jesus' robe was (John 19:23). This was the main article of dress.

(iii) There was the girdle. It was worn over the two garments we have already described. The skirts of the tunic could be hitched up under the girdle for work or for running. Sometimes the tunic was hitched above the girdle, and in the hollow place so made above the girdle a parcel or a package could be carried. The girdle was often double for the eighteen inches from each end. The double part formed a pocket in which money was carried.

(iv) There was the head-dress. It was a piece of cotton or linen about a yard square. It could be white, or blue, or black. sometimes it was made of coloured silk. It was folded diagonally and then placed on the head so that it protected the back of the neck, the cheek-bones, and the eyes from the heat and glare of the sun. It was held in place by a circlet of easily stretched, semi-elastic wool round the head.

(v) There were the sandals. They were merely flat soles of leather, wood or matted grass. The soles had thongs at the edges through which a strap passed to hold the sandal on to the foot.

The wallet may be one of two things.

(a) It may be the ordinary travellers' bag. This was made of a kid's skin. Often the animal was skinned whole and the skin retained the original shape of the animal, legs, tail, head and all! It had a strap at each side and was slung over the shoulder. In it the shepherd, or pilgrim, or traveller carried bread and raisins, and olives, and cheese enough to last him for a day or two.

(b) There is a very interesting suggestion. The Greek word is pera (Greek #4082); and it can mean a collecting-bag. Very often the priests and devotees went out with these bags to collect contributions for their temple and their god. They have been described as "pious robbers with their booty growing from village to village." There is an inscription in which a man who calls himself a slave of the Syrian goddess says that he brought in seventy bags full each journey for his lady.

If the first meaning is taken, Jesus meant that his disciples must take no supplies for the road, but must trust God for everything. If the second meaning is taken, it means that they must not be like the rapacious priests. They must go about giving and not getting.

There are two other interesting things here.

(i) It was the Rabbinic law that when a man entered the Temple courts he must put off his staff and shoes and money girdle. All ordinary things were to be set aside on entering the sacred place. It may well be that Jesus was thinking of this, and that he meant his men to see that the humble homes they were to enter were every bit as sacred as the Temple courts.

(ii) Hospitality was a sacred duty in the East. When a stranger entered a village, it was not his duty to search for hospitality; it was the duty of the village to offer it. Jesus told his disciples that if hospitality was refused, and if doors and ears were shut, they must shake off the dust of that place from their feet when they left. The Rabbinic law said that the dust of a Gentile country was defiled, and that when a man entered Palestine from another country he must shake off every particle of dust of the unclean land. It was a pictorial formal denial that a Jew could have any fellowship even with the dust of a heathen land. It is as if Jesus said, "If they refuse to listen to you, the only thing you can do is to treat them as a rigid Jew would treat a Gentile house. There can be no fellowship between them and you."

So we can see that the mark of the Christian disciple was to be utter simplicity, complete trust, and the generosity which is out always to give and never to demand.

THE MESSAGE AND THE MERCY OF THE KING (Mark 6:12-13)

6:12-13 So they went out and heralded forth the summons to repentance; and they cast out many demons, and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

Here in brief summary is an account of the work that the Twelve did when Jesus sent them out.

(i) To the people they brought Jesus' message. The word used is literally that used for a heralds proclamation. When the apostles went out to preach to men, they did not create a message; they brought a message. they did not ten people what they believed and what they considered probable; they told people what Jesus had told them. It was not their opinions they brought to men; it was God's truth. The message of the prophets always began, "Thus saith the Lord." The man who would bring an effective message to others must first receive it from God.

(ii) To the people they brought the King's Message; and the King's message was, "Repent!" Clearly that was a disturbing message. To repent means to change one's mind and then to fit one's actions to this change. Repentance means a change of heart and a change of action. It is bound to hurt, for it involves the bitter realization that the way we were following is wrong. It is bound to disturb, because it means a complete reversal of life.

That is precisely why so few people do repent--for the last thing most people desire is to be disturbed. Lady Asquith, in a vivid phrase, speaks of people who "dawdle towards death." So many people do that. they resent all strenuous activity. Life for them is "a land where it is always afternoon." In some ways the positive, vivid, swashbuckling sinner who is crashing his way to some self-chosen goal is a more attractive person than the negative, nebulous, loiterer who drifts spinelessly and without direction through life.

There is a passage in the novel Quo Vadis? Vinicius, the young Roman, has fallen in love with a girl who is a Christian. Because he is not a Christian she will have nothing to do with him. He follows her to the secret night gathering of the little group of Christians, and there, unknown to anyone, he listens to the service. He hears Peter preach, and, as he listens, something happens to him. "He felt that if he wished to follow that teaching, he would have to place on a burning pile all his thoughts, habits and character, his whole nature up to that moment, burn them into ashes and then fill himself with a life altogether different, and an entirely new soul."

That is repentance. But what if a man has no other desire than to be left alone? The change is not necessarily from robbery, theft, murder, adultery and glaring sins. The change may be from a life that is completely selfish, instinctively demanding, totally inconsiderate, the change from a self-centred to a God-centred life--and a change like that hurts. W. M. Macgregor quotes a saying of the Bishop in Les Miserables. "I always bothered some of them; for through me the outside air came at them; my presence in their company made them feel as if a door had been left open and they were in a draught." Repentance is no sentimental feeling sorry; repentance is a revolutionary thing--that is why so few repent.

(iii) To the people they brought the King's mercy. Not only did they bring this shattering demand upon men; they brought also help and healing. They brought liberation to poor, demon-possessed men and women. From the beginning Christianity has aimed to bring health to body and to soul; it has always aimed not only at soul salvation, but at whole salvation. It brought not only a hand to lift from moral wreckage, but a hand to lift from physical pain and suffering. It is most suggestive that they anointed with oil. In the ancient world oil was regarded as a panacea. Galen, the great Greek doctor, said, "Oil is the best of all instruments for healing diseased bodies." In the hands of the servants of Christ the old cures acquired a new virtue. The strange thing is that they used the things which men's limited knowledge knew at that time; but the spirit of Christ gave the healer a new power and the old cure a new virtue. the power of God became available in common things to the faith of men.

So the Twelve brought to men the message and the mercy of the King, and that remains the church's task today and every day.

THREE VERDICTS ON JESUS (Mark 6:14-15)

6:14-15 King Herod heard about Jesus, for his name was known everywhere. He said, "John the Baptizer has risen from the dead. That is why these wonderful powers work through him." Others said, "It is Elijah." Others said, "He is a prophet, like one of the famous prophets."

By this time news of Jesus had penetrated all over the country. The tale had reached the ears of Herod. The reason why he had not up to this time heard of Jesus may well be due to the fact that his official residence in Galilee was in Tiberias. Tiberias was largely a Gentile city, and, as far as we know, Jesus never set foot in it. But the mission of the Twelve had taken Jesus' fame all over Galilee, so that his name was upon every lip. In this passage we have three verdicts upon Jesus.

(i) There is the verdict of a guilty conscience. Herod had been guilty of allowing the execution of John the Baptizer, and now he was haunted by what he had done. Whenever a man does an evil thing, the whole world becomes his enemy. Inwardly, he cannot command his thoughts; and, whenever he allows himself to think, his thoughts return to the wicked thing that he has done. No man can avoid living with himself; and when his inward self is an accusing self, life becomes intolerable. Outwardly, he lives in the fear that he will be found out and that some day the consequences of his evil deed will catch up on him.

Some time ago a convict escaped from a Glasgow prison. After forty-eight hours of liberty he was recaptured, cold and hungry and exhausted. He said that it was not worth it. "I didn't have a minute," he said. "Hunted, hunted all the time. You don't have a chance. You can't stop to eat. You can't stop to sleep."

Hunted--that is the word which so well describes the life of the man who has done some evil thing. When Herod heard of Jesus, the first thing that flashed into his mind was that this was John the Baptizer whom he had killed, come back to reckon with him. Because the sinning life is the haunted life, sin is never worth the cost.

(ii) There is the verdict of the nationalist. Some thought that this Jesus was Elijah come again. The Jews waited for the Messiah. There were many ideas about the Messiah, but the commonest of all was that he would be a conquering king who would first give the Jews back their liberty and who would then lead them on a triumphant campaign throughout the world. It was an essential part of that belief that, before the coming of the Messiah, Elijah, the greatest of the prophets, would come again to be his herald and his forerunner. Even to this day, when the Jews celebrate the Passover Feast, they leave at the table an empty chair called Elijah's chair. They place it there with a glass of wine before it, and at one part of their service they go to the door and fling it wide open that Elijah may come in and bring at last the long-awaited news that the Messiah has come.

This is the verdict of the man who desires to find in Jesus the realization of his own ambitions. He thinks of Jesus, not as someone to whom he must submit and whom he must obey; he thinks of Jesus as someone he can use. Such a man thinks more of his own ambitions than of the will of God.

(iii) There is the verdict of the man who is waiting for the voice of God. There were those who saw in Jesus a prophet. In those days the Jews were pathetically conscious that for three hundred years the voice of prophecy had been silent. They had listened to the arguments and the legal disputations of the Rabbis; they had listened to the moral lectures of the synagogue; but it was three long centuries since they had listened to a voice which proclaimed, "Thus saith the Lord." Men in those days were listening for the authentic voice of God--and in Jesus they heard it. It is true that Jesus was more than a prophet. He did not bring only the voice of God. He brought to men the very power and the very life and the very being of God. But those who saw in Jesus a prophet were at least more right than the conscience-stricken Herod and the expectant nationalists. If they had got that length in their thoughts of Jesus, it was not impossible that they might take the further step and see in him the Son of God.

AN EVIL WOMAN'S REVENGE (Mark 6:16-29)

6:16-29 But when Herod heard about it, he said, "This is John, whom I beheaded, risen from the dead." For Herod had sent and seized John and had bound him in prison because of the affair of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife--because he had married her. For John had said to Herod, "It is not right for you to have your brother's wife." Herodias set herself against him, and wished to kill him, and she could not succeed in doing so, for Herod was afraid of John, because he well knew that he was a just and holy man, and he kept him safe. When Herod listened to John he did not know what to do, and yet he found a certain pleasure in listening to him. But a day of opportunity came, when, on his birthday, Herod was giving a banquet to his courtiers and to his captains and to the leading men of Galilee. Herodias' daughter herself came in and danced before them, and she pleased Herod and those who were reclining at table with him. The king said to the maiden, "Ask me for anything you like and I will give it to you." He swore to her, "Whatever you ask me for, I will give you, even up to half of my kingdom." She went out and said to her mother, "What am I to ask for myself?" She said, "John the Baptizer's head." At once she hurried into the king and made her request. "I wish," she said, "that here and now you will give me the head of John the Baptizer on a plate." The king was grief-stricken, but, because of the oath he had taken, and because he had taken it in front of his guests, he did not wish to break his word to her. So immediately the king despatched an executioner with orders to bring his head. The executioner went away and beheaded him in prison, and brought his head on a plate, and gave it to the maiden, and the maiden gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took away his body and laid it in a tomb.

This story has all the simplicity of tremendous drama.

First, let us look at the scene. The scene was the castle of Machaerus. Machaerus stood on a lonely ridge, surrounded by terrible ravines, overlooking the east side of the Dead Sea. It was one of the loneliest and grimmest and most unassailable fortresses in the world. To this day the dungeons are there, and the traveller can still see the staples and the iron hooks in the wall to which John must have been bound. It was in that bleak and desolate fortress that the last act of John's life was played out.

Second, let us look at the characters. The marriage tangles of the Herod family are quite incredible, and their inter-relations are so complicated that they become almost impossible to work out. When Jesus was born Herod the Great was king. He was the king who was responsible for the massacre of the children in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16-18). Herod the Great was married many times. Towards the end of his life he became almost insanely suspicious, and murdered member after member of his own family, until it became a Jewish saying, "It is safer to be Herod's pig than Herod's son."

First, he married Doris, by whom he had a son, Antipater, whom he murdered. Then he married Mariamne, the Hasmonean, by whom he had two sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, whom he also murdered. Herodias, the villainess of the present passage, was the daughter of this Aristobulus. Herod the Great then married another Mariamne, called the Boethusian. By her he had a son called Herod Philip. Herod Philip married Herodias, who was the daughter of his half-brother, Aristobulus, and who was therefore his own niece. By Herodias, Herod Philip had a daughter called Salome, who is the girl who danced before Herod of Galilee in our passage. Herod the Great then married Malthake, by whom he had two sons--Archelaus and Herod Antipas who is the Herod of our passage and the ruler of Galilee. The Herod Philip who married Herodias originally, and who was the father of Salome, inherited none of Herod the Great's dominions. He lived as a wealthy private citizen in Rome. Herod Antipas visited him in Rome. There he seduced Herodias and persuaded her to leave her husband and marry him.

Note who Herodias was: (a) she was the daughter of his half-brother, Aristobulus, and therefore his niece; and (b) she was the wife of his half-brother Herod Philip, and therefore his sister-in-law. Previously Herod Antipas had been married to a daughter of the king of the Nabataeans, an Arabian country. She escaped to her father who invaded Herod's territory to avenge his daughter's honour and heavily defeated Herod. To complete this astounding picture Herod the Great finally married Cleopatra of Jerusalem, by whom he had a son called Philip the Tetrarch. This Philip married Salome who was at one and the same time (a) the daughter of Herod Philip, his half brother, and (b) the daughter of Herodias, who herself was the daughter of Aristobulus, another of his half brothers. Salome was therefore at one and the same time his niece and his grand-niece. If we put this in the form of a table it will be easier to follow. See the table below.

Herod The Great

Herod the Great married

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

| | | | |

Cleopatra Doris Mariamnethe Mariamne Malthake

of Jerusalem | the Hasmonean Boethusian |

| | | | -------------------

| | ------------------ | | |

| | | | | | |

Philip the Antipater, Alexander, Aristobulus, Herod Philip, Herod Antipas Archelaus

Tetrach, murdered by murdered by murdered by who married who married

who married his father his father his father Herodias Herodias

Salome | |

Herodias Salome

Seldom in history can there have been such a series of matrimonial entanglements as existed in the Herod family. By marrying Herodias, his brother's wife, Herod had broken the Jewish law (Leviticus 18:16; Leviticus 20:21) and had outraged the laws of decency and of morality.

Because of this adulterous marriage and because of Herod's deliberate seduction of his brother's wife, John had publicly rebuked him. It took courage to rebuke in public an oriental despot who had the power of life and death, and John's courage in rebuking evil wherever he saw it is commemorated in the Prayer-book collect for St. John the Baptist's Day.

"Almighty God, by whose providence thy servant, John the

Baptist, was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of thy

Son our Saviour, by preaching of repentance; Make us so to

follow his doctrine and holy life, that we may truly repent

according to his preaching; and after his example constantly

speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the

truth's sake."

In spite of John's rebuke Herod still feared and respected him, for John was so obviously a man of sincerity and of goodness; but with Herodias it was different. She was implacably hostile to John and determined to eliminate him. She got her chance at Herod's birthday feast which he was celebrating with his courtiers and his captains. Into that feast her daughter Salome came to dance. Solo dances in those days in such society were disgusting and licentious pantomimes. That a princess of the royal blood should so expose and demean herself is beyond belief because such dances were the art of professional prostitutes. The very fact that she did this is a grim commentary on the character of Salome, and of the mother who allowed and encouraged her to do so. But Herod was pleased; and Herod offered her any reward; and thus Herodias got the chance she had plotted for so long; and John, to gratify her spleen, was executed.

There is something to learn from every character in this story.

(i) Herod stands revealed before us.

(a) He was an odd mixture. At one and the same time he feared John and respected him. At one and the same time he dreaded John's tongue and yet found pleasure in listening to him. There is nothing in this world so queer a mixture as a human being. It is man's characteristic that he is a mixture. Boswell, in his London Diary, tells us how he sat in church enjoying the worship of God and yet at the same time was planning how to pick up a prostitute in the streets of London that same night.

The strange fact about man is that he is haunted both by sin and by goodness. Robert Louis Stevenson speaks about people "clutching the remnants of virtue in the brothel or on the scaffold." Sir Norman Birkett, the great Q.C. and judge, speaks of the criminals he had defended and tried. "They may seek to escape but they cannot; they are condemned to some nobility; all their lives long the desire for good is at their heels, the implacable hunter." Herod could fear John and love him, could hate his message and yet not be able to free himself from its insistent fascination. Herod was simply a human being. Are we so very different?

(b) Herod was a man who acted on impulse. He made his reckless promise to Salome without thinking. It may well be that he made it when he was more than a little drunk and flown with wine. Let a man have a care. Let a man think before he speaks. Let him never by self-indulgence get into a state when he loses his powers of judgment and is liable to do things for which afterwards he will be very sorry.

(c) Herod feared what men might say. He kept his promise to Salome because he had made it in front of his cronies and was unwilling to break it. He feared their jeers, their laughter; he feared that they would think him weak. Many a man has done things he afterwards bitterly regretted because he had not the moral courage to do the right. Many a man has made himself far worse than he is because he feared the laughter of his so-called friends.

(ii) Salome and Herodias stand revealed before us. There is a certain greatness about Herodias. Years after this her Herod sought the title of King. He went to Rome to plead for it; instead of giving him the title the Emperor banished him to Gaul for having the insolence and the insubordination to ask for such a title. Herodias was told that she need not share this exile, that she might go free, and she proudly answered that where her husband went she went too.

Herodias shows us what an embittered woman can do. There is nothing in this world as good as a good woman, and nothing as bad as a bad woman. the Jewish Rabbis had a quaint saying. They said that a good woman might marry a bad man, for by so doing she would end by making him as good as herself. But they said that a good man might never marry a bad woman, for she would inevitably drag him down to her own level. The trouble with Herodias was that she wished to eliminate the one man who had the courage to confront her with her sin. She wished to do as she liked with no one to remind her of the moral law. She murdered John that she might sin in peace. She forgot that while she need no longer meet John, she still had to meet God.

(iii) John the Baptizer stands revealed before us. He stands as the man of courage. He was a child of the desert and of the wide open spaces, and to imprison him in the dark dungeons of Machaerus must have been the last refinement of torture. But John preferred death to falsehood. He lived for the truth and he died for it. The man who brings to men the voice of God acts as a conscience. Many a man would silence his conscience if he could, and therefore the man who speaks for God must always take his life and his fortune in his hands.

THE PATHOS OF THE CROWD (Mark 6:30-34)

6:30-34 The apostles came together again to Jesus, and they told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, "Come you by yourselves into a lonely place, and rest for a while." For there were many coming and going and they could not find time even to eat. So they went away in the boat to a lonely place all by themselves. Now many saw them going away and recognized them; and they ran together there on foot from all the towns and went on ahead of them. When Jesus disembarked he saw a great crowd, and he was moved to the depths of his being with pity for them, because they were like sheep who had no shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

When the disciples came back from their mission they reported to Jesus all that they had done. The demanding crowds were so insistent that they had no time even to eat; so Jesus told them to come with him to a lonely place on the other side of the lake that they might have peace and rest for a little time.

Here we see what might be called the rhythm of the Christian life. The Christian life is a continuous going into the presence of God from the presence of men and coming out into the presence of men from the presence of God. It is like the rhythm of sleep and work. We cannot work unless we have our time of rest; and sleep will not come unless we have worked until we are tired.

There are two dangers in life. First, there is the danger of a too constant activity. No man can work without rest; and no man can live the Christian life unless he gives himself times with God. It may well be that the whole trouble in our lives is that we give God no opportunity to speak to us, because we do not know how to be still and to listen; we give God no time to recharge us with spiritual energy and strength, because there is no time when we wait upon him. How can we shoulder life's burdens if we have no contact with him who is the Lord of all good life? How can we do God's work unless in God's strength? And how can we receive that strength unless we seek in quietness and in loneliness the presence of God?

Second, there is the danger of too much withdrawal. Devotion that does not issue in action is not real devotion. Prayer that does not issue in work is not real prayer. We must never seek the fellowship of God in order to avoid the fellowship of men but in order to fit ourselves better for it. The rhythm of the Christian life is the alternate meeting with God in the secret place and serving men in the market place.

But the rest which Jesus sought for himself and for his disciples was not to be. The crowds saw Jesus and his men going away. At this particular place it was four miles across the lake by boat and ten miles round the top of the lake on foot. On a windless day, or with a contrary wind, a boat might take some time to make the passage, and an energetic person could walk round the top of the lake and be there before the boat arrived. That is exactly what happened; and when Jesus and his men stepped out of the boat the very crowd from which they had sought some little peace was there waiting for them.

Any ordinary man would have been intensely annoyed. The rest Jesus so much desired and which he had so well earned was denied to him. His privacy was invaded. Any ordinary man would have resented it all, but Jesus was moved with pity at the pathos of the crowd. He looked at them; they were so desperately in earnest; they wanted so much what he alone could give them; to him they were like sheep who had no shepherd. What did he mean?

(i) A sheep without the shepherd cannot find the way. Left to ourselves we get lost in life. Principal Cairns spoke of people who feel like "lost children out in the rain." Dante has a line where he says, "I woke up in the middle of the wood, and it was dark, and there was no clear way before me." Life can be so bewildering. We can stand at some cross-roads and not know what way to take. It is only when Jesus leads and we follow that we can find the way.

(ii) A sheep without the shepherd cannot find its pasture and its food. In this life we are bound to seek for sustenance. We need the strength which can keep us going; we need the inspiration which can lift us out of ourselves and above ourselves. When we seek it elsewhere our minds are still unsatisfied, our hearts still restless, our souls still unfed. We can gain strength for life only from him who is the living bread.

(iii) A sheep without the shepherd has no defence against the dangers which threaten it. It can defend itself neither from the robbers nor the wild beasts. If life has taught us one thing it must be that we cannot live it alone. No man can defend himself from the temptations which assail him and from the evil of the world which attacks him. Only in the company of Jesus can we walk in the world and keep our garments unspotted from it. Without him we are defenceless; with him we are safe.

LITTLE IS MUCH IN THE HANDS OF JESUS (Mark 6:35-44)

6:35-44 When it was now late the disciples came to Jesus. "The place," they said, "is lonely, and it is now late. Send them away that they may go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat." He answered, "You give them something to eat." "Are we," they said to him, "to go away and buy ten pounds worth of loaves and so give them something to eat?" "How many loaves have you?" he said to them. "Go and see!" When they had found out, they said, "Five and two fishes." He ordered them to make them all sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in sections of hundreds and of fifties. He took the five loaves and the two fishes, and he looked up into the heaven and blessed them and broke the loaves. He gave them to the disciples to serve the people with them. and he divided up the two fishes among them all. And they all ate until they were completely satisfied; and they gathered up the broken pieces of bread and what was left of the fishes--twelve basketsful. And those who ate the loaves amounted to five thousand men.

It is a notable fact that no miracle seems to have made such an impression on the disciples as this, because this is the only miracle of Jesus which is related in all four gospels. We have already seen how Mark's gospel really embodies the preaching material of Peter. To read this story, so simply and yet so dramatically told, is to read something that reads exactly like an eye-witness account. Let us note some of the vivid and realistic details.

They sat down on the green grass. It is as if Peter was seeing the whole thing in his mind's eye again. It so happens that this little descriptive phrase provides us with quite a lot of information. The only time when the grass would be green would be in the late springtime, in mid-April. So it is then that this miracle must have taken place. At that time the sun set at 6 p.m., so this must have happened some time in the late afternoon.

Mark tells us that they sat down in sections of a hundred and of fifty. The word used for sections (prasiai, Greek #4237) is a very pictorial word. It is the normal Greek word for the rows of vegetables in a vegetable garden. When you looked at the little groups, as they sat there in their orderly rows, they looked for all the world like the rows of vegetables in a series of garden plots.

At the end they took up twelve basketsful of fragments. No orthodox Jew travelled without his basket (kophinos, Greek #2894). The Romans made a jest of the Jew and his basket. There were two reasons for the basket which was a wicker-work affair shaped like a narrow-necked pitcher, broadening out as it went down. First, the very orthodox Jew carried his own food supplies in his basket, so that he would be certain of eating food that was ceremonially clean and pure. Second, many a Jew was an accomplished beggar, and into his basket went the proceeds of his begging. The reason that there were twelve baskets is simply that there were twelve disciples. It was into their own baskets that they frugally gathered up the fragments so that nothing would be lost.

The wonderful thing about this story is that all through it runs an implicit contrast between the attitude of Jesus and the attitude of the disciples.

(i) It shows us two reactions to human need When the disciples saw how late it was, and how tired and hungry the crowd were, they said, "Send them away so that they can find something to eat." In effect they said, "These people are tired and hungry. Get rid of them and let someone else worry about them." Jesus said, "You give them something to eat." In effect Jesus said, "These people are tired and hungry. We must do something about it." There are always the people who are quite aware that others are in difficulty and trouble, but who wish to push the responsibility for doing something about it on to someone else; and there are always the people who when they see someone up against it feet compelled to do something about it themselves. there are those who say, "Let others worry." And there are those who say, "I must worry about my brother's need."

(ii) It shows us two reactions to human resources. When the disciples were asked to give the people something to eat, they insisted that ten pounds, or what the King James Version calls two hundred "pence" was not enough to buy bread for them. The word the King James Version translates penny is denarius. This was a Roman silver coin worth about 3p. It was the standard day's wage of a working man. In effect the disciples were saying, "We could not earn enough in more than six months' work to give this crowd a meal." They really meant "Anything we have got is no use at all."

Jesus said, "What have you got?" They had five loaves. These were not like English loaves: they were more like rolls. John (John 6:9) tells us they were barley loaves; and barley loaves were the food of the poorest of the poor. Barley bread was the cheapest and the coarsest of all bread. They had two fishes, which would be about the size of sardines. Tarichaea--which means the salt-fish town--was a well known place on the lake from which salt-fish went out to all over the world. The little salt-fishes were eaten as relish with the dry rolls.

It did not seem much. But Jesus took it and worked wonders with it. In the hands of Jesus little is always much. We may think that we have little of talent or substance to give to Jesus. That is no reason for a hopeless pessimism such as the disciples had. The one fatal thing to say is, "For all I could do, it is not worth my while trying to do anything." If we put ourselves into the hands of Jesus Christ, there is no telling what he can do with us and through us.

THE CONQUEST OF THE STORM (Mark 6:45-52)

6:45-52 Immediately he made the disciples embark on the boat and go across ahead to Bethsaida while he sent the crowd away. When he had taken leave of them, he went away into a mountain to pray. When it was late the boat was half way across the lake and Jesus was alone upon the land. He saw that they were sore beset as they rowed, for the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he came to them walking on the sea, and it looked as if he meant to pass them by. When they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and they cried out in terror, for they all saw him and they were distracted with fear. At once he spoke with them. "Courage!" he said. "It is I. Don't be afraid." And he came into the boat with them, and the wind sank to rest. And they were exceedingly astonished within themselves, because they did not understand about the loaves because their minds were obtuse.

After the hunger of the crowd had been satisfied, Jesus immediately sent his disciples away before he dismissed the crowd. Why should he do that? Mark does not tell us but most probably we have the explanation in John's account. John tells us that after the crowd had been fed there was a move to take Jesus and to make him king. That was the last thing Jesus desired. It was that very way of power that once, finally and for all, he had rejected at the time of his temptations. He could see it coming. He did not want his disciples to be infected and caught up in this nationalistic outburst. Galilee was the hotbed of revolution. If this movement was not checked, there might well emerge amongst the excitable people a rebellion which would wreck everything and lead to disaster for all concerned. So Jesus sent away his disciples lest they too should become inflamed by this movement, and then he calmed the crowd and bade them farewell.

When he was alone, he went up into a mountain to pray. Thick and fast the problems were descending upon him. There was the hostility of the orthodox people; there was the frightened suspicion of Herod Antipas; there were the political hotheads who would make him a nationalistic Messiah against his will. At this particular time there was many a problem on Jesus' mind and many a burden on his heart.

For some hours he was alone amidst the hills with God. As we have seen, this must have happened about mid-April, and mid-Aped was the Passover time. Now the Passover was deliberately fixed for the full moon, as Easter still is. The Jewish night ran from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and it was divided into four watches--6 p.m. to 9 p.m., 9 p.m. to 12 midnight, 12 midnight to 3 a.m., and 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. About three o'clock in the morning Jesus looked from the mountainside out across the lake. The lake was only four miles across at that point, and in the light of the moon it lay stretched out before him. The wind was up and he saw the boat, with his men in it, having a hard struggle to reach the other side.

See what happened. Immediately Jesus saw his friends in trouble his own problems were set aside; the moment for prayer was past; the time for action had come; he forgot himself and went to the help of his friends. That is of the very essence of Jesus. The cry of human need to him surpassed all other claims. His friends needed him; he must go.

What happened we do not know, and will never know. The story is cloaked in mystery which defies explanation. What we do know is that he came to them and their storm became a calm. With him beside them nothing mattered any more.

When Augustine was writing about this incident he said, "He came treading the waves; and so he puts all the swelling tumults of life under his feet. Christians--why afraid?" It is the simple fact of life, a fact which has been proved by countless thousands of men and women in every generation, that when Christ is there the storm becomes a calm, the tumult becomes a peace, what cannot be done is done, the unbearable becomes bearable, and men pass the breaking point and do not break. To walk with Christ will be for us also the conquest of the storm.

THE DEMANDING CROWDS (Mark 6:53-56)

6:53-56 When they had crossed over and reached land they came to Gennesareth, and moored the boat there. When they had disembarked from the boat the people immediately recognized him; and they ran all over that countryside, and, wherever they knew he was, they began to carry to him on pallets those who were ill. And whenever he came into villages or towns or country places, they laid the sick in the open spaces, and they kept begging him to be allowed to touch even the tassel of his robe; and all who touched it were restored to health.

No sooner had Jesus landed on the other side of the lake than once again he was surrounded by crowds. Just sometimes he must have looked on the crowds with a certain wistfulness, because there was hardly a person in them who had not come to get something out of him. They came to get. They came with their insistent demands. They came--to put it bluntly--to use him. What a difference it would have made if, among these crowds, there had been some few who came to give and not to get. In a way it is natural that we should come to Jesus to get things from him, for there are so many things that he alone can give: but it is always shameful to take everything and to give nothing, and yet it is very characteristic of human nature.

(i) There are those who simply make use of their homes. It is specially so with young people. They regard their homes as being there to cater for their comfort and their convenience. It is there they eat and sleep and get things done for them; but surely home is a place to which we ought to contribute, from which we ought not only to be taking all the time.

(ii) There are those who simply make use of their friends. There are some people from whom we never receive a letter unless they want something from us. There are those who regard other people as existing to help them when they need their help, and to be forgotten when they cannot be made of use.

(iii) There are those who simply make use of the church. They desire the church to baptize their children, marry their young people and bury their dead. They are seldom to be seen there unless they wish some service. It is their unconscious attitude that the church exists to serve them, but that they have no duty whatever towards it.

(iv) There are those who seek simply to make use of God They never remember him unless they need him. Their only prayers are requests, or even demands, made of God. Someone has put it this way. In American hotels there is a boy called the "bell-hop." The hotel guest rings the bell and the bell-hop appears; he will fetch anything the guest wishes on demand. Some people regard God as a kind of universal bell-hop, only to be summoned when something is needed.

If we examine ourselves, we are all, to some extent, guilty of these things. It would rejoice the heart of Jesus if more often we came to him to offer our love, our service, our devotion, and less often to demand from him the help we need.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


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Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Mark 6:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/mark-6.html. 1956-1959.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, September 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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