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Bible Commentaries
Mark 9

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-49

IX 1-7 The Transfiguration; cf.Matthew 17:1-8; Luke 9:28-36-1-2. This is the only place, outside the Passion narrative, where Mark gives a precise indication of the date. The six days are counted from Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi which is now confirmed by the events at the Transfiguration. The same three Apostles were present at the raising of the daughter of Jairus and were also with Christ at the Agony. A tradition coming from the 4th cent. identifies the high mountain as Tabor in Galilee. ’Transfigured’: µeteµ??F?+´Tð, ’transformed’. The glory of the divinity which was normally veiled is allowed to shine forth. The Apostles are made ’eye-witnesses of his majesty’, 2 Peter 1:16, ’we saw his glory’, John 1:14; cf.Philippians 2:6 f. Even’ Christ’s garments shared in the radiance proceeding from the glory of his divine Person.

3. Moses and Elias represent the Law and the Prophets. By their presence they testify to the continuity and harmony between the Old Dispensation and the New Covenant inaugurated by Christ who had come’ not to destroy the Law or the Prophets . . . but to fulfil’, Matthew 5:17.

4-5. ’It is well that we are here’: the exact purport of the phrase is uncertain. Peter may have thought that this vision was the beginning of the glorious reign of the Messias. In his confusion and eagerness he offered to provide three huts for Christ, Moses and Elias.

6. The voice of the Father, coming from the cloud which is the external manifestation of God’s presence (cf.Exodus 16:10; Exodus 19:9, Exodus 19:16), repeats the declaration made at the Baptism, Mark 1:11. This is the culminating point of Mark’s Gospel. ’Hear him’: henceforth they owe obedience to Christ, not to the Law and the Prophets which have rendered testimony to him through Moses and Elias. The Transfiguration of Christ, together with the appearance of Moses and Elias and the declaration by the Father, was a confirmation of all that Christ had taught them concerning his own Person and his relation to the Old Law. It was undoubtedly intended to strengthen the faith of the Apostles and to prepare them for the trials of the Passion. According to Leo the Great ( PL 54, 310) the chief purpose of the Transfiguration was to remove the scandal of the Cross from the hearts of the disciples. ’He reveals his glory so that they may no longer be distressed by their own death or the death of the Master’. (Catena in Marc.)

8-12 The Return of Elias; cf.Matthew 17:9-13-8-9. The command of silence was particularly necessary here because this manifestation of Christ’s glory would have made it all the more difficult to understand the prediction of his sufferings. After the Resurrection all these things would be seen in proper perspective.

10. According to a belief based on Malachi 4:5 f. Elias was to come before the. Messias to prepare for him; cf. Justin, Dial. c. Tryph. 49. But they have now seen Elias come after Christ, not before him, and he has disappeared without carrying out the expected preparation for the Messias.

11-12. ’[If] Elias comes first and restores all things, and [then] how is it written of the Son of Man that he must suffer many things and be despised? But I say to you that Elias has come, and they did to him what they would, as it is written of him’. The majority of ancient commentators concluded from this passage that the prophet Elias in person will return before the second coming of Christ; cf. Skrinjar, VD 14 ( 1934) 361-7. It is difficult however, to maintain this interpretation in view of Christ’s statements that Elias has come, 13, and that John the Baptist is ’Elias who is to come’, Matthew 11:13 f. Moreover, we are told that the disciples understood that the Elias of whom Christ spoke was the Baptist, Matthew 17:13. It seems more satisfactory to take the opening phrase ’Elias comes first’ etc. as a concessive clause. Christ grants that the Scriptures speak of the coming of Elias, but they also foretell the sufferings of the Messias (cf.Is 53; Ps 22). If it were true that Elias in person was to come and restore everything in preparation for the coming of the Messias, how then explain that the Messias should suffer? The fact is that the precursor of the Messias foretold by Scripture has already come in the person of John the Baptist, who is figuratively called Elias; ’and he will go before him in the spirit-and power of Elias’, Luke 1:17. The restoration which he carried out in preparation for the Messias did not save him from sufferings similar to those which befell Elias, his prophetic prototype; cf. 3 Kg chh 17-19. Similarly, all that has been foretold about the Messias must be fulfilled. His mission must be understood in the light of the prophecies concerning his sufferings.

13-28 Cure of a Possessed Boy; cf.Matthew 17:14-21; Luke 9:37-43—Here again it is noteworthy that the narrative of Mk is much more detailed than the accounts of the other Synoptics.

13. The dispute with the Scribes was about the failure of the disciples to cure the boy.

17. ’dasheth him’: ’casts him down’. The symptoms of the boy’s illness correspond to those of epilepsy. In Matthew 17:15 his condition is described by the word se?ð??a+´+´?eta? which was in common use to designate epilepsy. But it is clear from Christ’s words, 24f., that the boy was also possessed by the demon.

18. The complaint uttered by Christ applied to all present. All of them, in different degrees, were lacking in faith.

19. ’troubled him’: ’threw him into convulsions’.

20-23. This further description of the boy’s state is found only in Mk.

22. ’If thou canst believe’: lit. ’This if thou canst’, i.e. ’as for being able’. The phrase refers back to ’If thou canst’, 21.

23. The father realizes the imperfect nature of his faith but appeals to Jesus to help him nonetheless.

25. ’Greatly tearing him’: ’throwing him into violent convulsions’.

27-28. The power of casting out demons which the disciples had received did not operate after the fashion of magic. Christ expelled demons by a simple command because of his divine power. The disciples had failed to cast out this demon because they relied excessively on themselves, forgetting that they were only instruments of divine power. They should have recourse to God in prayer, with faith, Matthew 17:18-20, and humility.

28. ’This kind’: it is uncertain whether this means demons in general or a particular class of demons whom it is especially difficult to expel. ’and fasting’: these words are missing from a few important MSS.

29-31 The Second Prediction of the Passion; cf.Matthew 17:22 f.; Luke 9:44 f.—The Galilean ministry is now at an end and the last journey to Jerusalem about to begin.

30. Jesus avoided the crowds ’for he was instructing his disciples’. The renewed prediction of the Passion was necessary because this was an aspect of the role of the Messias which the disciples found it difficult to understand. Like the doctrine of the necessity for personal sacrifices by the followers of Christ, it did not accord with popular expectations.

32-36 Jesus Checks the Ambition of the Disciples; cf.Matthew 18:1-5; Luke 9:46-48—This and the succeeding sections to 9:49 give instructions on a variety of topics without any strict logical sequence. It is not necessary to hold that all were spoken in the same circumstances.

32-33. The discussion among the disciples may have arisen from the promise of the Primacy made to Peter a short time previously, Matthew 16:18 f. 34. Christ sets before them the ideal of humble and devoted service of which he himself had given the example; cf.Luke 22:24-27; John 13:13-15. In his kingdom selfish ambition for preferment is out of place. Greatness in the kingdom will be estimated not by the distinction of high position, but by the degree of devoted service.

35-36. The child represents the humble and unimportant among those whom the disciples will be called to serve. Whoever receives such little ones with kindness for Christ’s sake, receives Christ and the Father who sent him. If humble service brings so great a reward, ambition for the highest places in the kingdom is misplaced. Mk alone mentions that Christ embraced the child.

37-39 Use of the Name of Jesus; cf.Luke 9:49 f.—37. The phrase ’in Ty name’, 36, probably recalled to John’s mind the incident of the man who was casting out devils in the name of Jesus and had been ordere by the disciples to desist because he did not belong to their group. Jesus disapproves of their action and recommends a more tolerant attitude. One who performs miracles in Christ’s name thereby recognizes Christ’s authority, and is unlikely to speak ill of him. The dispositions and faith of such a person may be imperfect, but his miracles are a commendation of Christ and his teaching. Unlike the Scribes and Pharisees who were irreconcilable in their opposition, he is making common cause with the disciples.

40-41. Here Christ returns to the theme of 36. The smallest service rendered to the disciples because they are Christ’s followers, will not go unrewarded. But whoever scandalizes those who believe in Christ, especially children, will incur a dreadful punishment.

42-49 Avoidance of Scandal; cf.Matthew 18:6-9; Matthew 5:29f.; Luke 17:1 f.—The followers of Christ are to avoid causing scandal to others, and they must also be prepared to sacrifice anything which is a cause of scandal to themselves. The hand, foot and eye represent particularly dear possessions. But nothing, however precious or useful, is to be spared if it is a cause of scandal. ’Life’, 42, 44, is identified with ’the kingdom of God’ in 46. This is the true, eternal life which the just will attain as a reward for faithful service. The place of punishment is the hell of unquenchable fire, ?e+´e???, Gehenna. The Gk word is formed from the Aramaic Ge-hinnam = the valley of Hinnom. This was the name of the valley to the south of Jerusalem where at one time children were offered in sacrifice to Moloch, Jeremiah 7:31. Later it was made the dumping ground for the refuse of the city. The fire which burned there constantly and the worms which fed on the refuse became symbols of the torments inflicted on the wicked, and in the apocalyptic literature the name Gehinnom was applied to the place where the wicked were punished; cf. 4 Esdras 2:29; Enoch 27:2. In Isaiah 66:24, which is quoted in 47, the prophet alludes to Gehinnom as a symbol of the place of condemnation where rebels against God are punished; cf. Kissane, Book of Isaiah, 2, 327 f.

48a. ’For everyone shall be salted with fire’. Some take this phrase closely with 47 and interpret it in the sense that the fire of hell preserves as well as punishes. It has power to preserve, like salt, so that those who go to hell will not be destroyed by the fire, but will be punished for ever. Others take this verse as the conclusion to 42-47. The words ’salted with fire’ refer to the purifying effect of the voluntary renunciations and sacrifices made by the disciples who will be like acceptable sacrificial offerings which have been sprinkled with salt, Leviticus 2:13.48b. Critical editions of the text omit ’and every victim shall be salted with salt’ as a gloss. 49a. Similar expressions are to be found in Matthew 5:13; Luke 14:34. Salt is used to season and preserve foods, but if it should lose its saltness it is no longer of any use. 49b. This final admonition links up with the dispute among the Apostles. The imagery is based on the idea of salt as seasoning and as a symbol of friendship. A ’covenant of salt’ meant a perpetual covenant, Numbers 18:19; Numbers 18:2 Par 13:5. If the disciples have within them the salt of the true Christian spirit, they will be at peace with one another. They will not dispute about the highest places. This was all the more necessary in those who are the ’salt of the earth’, Matthew 5:13, as their example would influence so many others.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Mark 9". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/mark-9.html. 1951.
 
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