COMINGS AND GOINGS1
6: 7 Then he summoned the twelve to him and began sending them as missionaries in pairs,2 authorizing them to exorcise impure spirits,3 8 He told them not to take along anything for their trip but a staff, no bread,4 no purse, no money in their belts, 9 but they should put on sandals, and not wear two tunics. 10 And he told them, “Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave it. 11 and if any place doesn’t welcome you and the people won’t listen to you, leave that place5 and shake the dust from off your sandals so they’ll notice it.”6 12 So they went out and preached that people should repent, 13 and they exorcised lots of demons and anointed several sick persons and healed them.
14 Then King Herod heard about him — his name certainly was well publicized; people were saying that John the Baptist had risen from the dead 7 and that was why the wondrous acts were performed by him. 15 Others said he was Elijah, still others, “He’s a prophet-just like one of the prophets.” 16 But when Herod heard about him, he said, “It’s John , the one I beheaded- he’s risen from the dead!” 17 In fact, it was Herod himself who had John arrested and imprisoned for the sake of Herodias, who was his brother Philip’s wife. Herod had taken her as his own wife; 18 John kept telling him that it wasn’t right for him to have his brother’s wife as his own. 19 Herodias was angry at him and wanted him put to death but couldn’t bring it about, 20 since Herod was in awe of John, knowing he was a righteous and holy man; so he kept him in custody, and although he had heard him, he really didn’t know what to do; he liked to listen to John.
21 As things turned out, circumstances settled matters on the day when Herod was celebrating his birthday; he held a banquet for his noblemen and officers and the chief men of Galilee; 22 Herodias’ daughter had come in and danced, and delighted Herod; his guests were so delighted that the king told the girl, “Ask me for anything you’d like and it’s yours!” 23 He even swore to this: “Even if you ask me for half my kingdom, I swear I’ll give it to you!” So the girl went out and asked her mother, “What should I ask for?” Her mother replied, “The head of John the Baptist.” The girl returned right away and told the king, “Let me have the head of John the Baptist on a platter at once!” 26 Then the king was quite distressed, but he had sworn and right in front of his dinner guests he felt he couldn’t say no to her.827 So at once the king sent an executioner with orders to fetch the man’s head; the executioner went off, beheaded John in the prison, 28 and then brought his head on a platter and presented it to the girl, who promptly gave it to her mother. 29 Later John’s disciples came and carried away his body and laid it in a tomb.
30 Then the missionaries that he had sent out gathered around Jesus and reported to him all that they had done and taught. 31 Then he told them, Come now, just yourselves, privately to a deserted area and rest a bit.” The fact is that lots of people were coming and going and circumstances didn’t even allow them to eat.9 32 So they went off in a boat to a deserted area privately. 33 And lots of people saw them going and recognized them and hurried along on foot from all the towns round about and got there ahead of them.10 and then he started to teach them numerous things. 34 So when he came off the boat he saw a great throng and he was deeply moved by them; they were, he thought, like sheep that have no shepherd,11
35 When it was already quite late in the day his disciples came to him and said, “This area is uninhabited and it is already quite late; 36 send them away, so they can go off into the countryside and villages round about to buy themselves something to eat. 37 But he replied, “It’s up to you to give them something to eat!”12 “What?” they said, “we should go and buy up 200 denarii worth of loaves to give them to eat?” 38 “How many loaves have you got?” he asked; “Go find out!” They did and then told him, “We have five loaves and two fishes.” 39 Then he told them to have the people lie down on the green grass in groups to be served. 40 So the people lay down in groups of 100 and of 50. 41 Then he took the five loaves and two fishes, looked up to heaven and blessed and broke apart the loaves and gave them to his disciples13 to serve to them; he also divided the two fishes into pieces to serve to everybody. 42 Everyone ate and was satisfied. 43 Afterwards the disciples picked up twelve baskets full of crumbs as well as pieces of the fish.14 44 Those who ate amounted to about five thousand people.
45 Then right away he insisted that his disciples board the boat and go ahead to the farther shore near Bethsaida while he was dismissing the crowd.15 46 When he had sent them away, he went into the hills to pray. 47 When it was very late the boat was out in the lake while he was alone on land. 48 When he saw that they were hard put to row forward (the wind was against them), about 3 o’clock in the morning he began to approach them, walking on the lake. He was intending to pass right by them; 49 but when they saw him walking on the lake they thought it was a ghost, and cried out. 50 Everyone had seen him and was worried, but right away he addressed them and said, “Cheer up, it’s me, don’t be afraid.”16 51 And he boarded their ship and the wind died down, and they were quite beside themselves; 52 they had failed to grasp the point regarding the loaves: so thick-headed were they.17
53 When they had crossed over to the far side they came to land at Gennesaret and moored there. 55 But when they had left the boat at once people recognized him and came running all over that territory and began bringing on litters those who were ill to the place where they heard he was staying. 56 And wherever he would enter into villages or towns or into the countryside, they would set down the sick in the market place and beg him to be allowed to touch the edge of his robe; and all those who touched him would be made whole.18
7:1 Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered about him.19 2 Then they noticed that some of his disciples were eating their loaves20 with unclean hands–i.e. unwashed hands21 (The Pharisees, you see, and Jews generally, will not eat unless they have first washed their hands; they do this in observance of the tradition of their ancestors. 4 Not even when they come from the market will they eat unless they have first bathed; and there are lots of other customs that they observe by tradition, ritual washing of cups, pots, and copper ware). So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why is it that your disciples don’t walk by the tradition of our ancestors but eat their bread with unclean hands?” 6 Jesus answered them, “Isaiah was right when he spoke out about you hypocrites; just as scripture says, “This people acknowledges me verbally, but their hearts are far removed from me; 7 their worship of me is useless, since they turn into sacred doctrine what mere human beings have ordained. 8 You’ve left behind what God commanded to observe human traditions.” 9 He told them also, “You’re very good at setting aside God’s command to make your own tradition authoritative.22 10 Moses taught you to respect your father and your mother; he even said that anyone who abuses a father or mother should be put to death. 11 But you assert, “If one says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever benefit you might have gotten from me is Corban [i.e. ‘gift’],’ you leave him without any further obligation to his father or mother, 13 and thus you annul God’s word with your hand-me-down traditions. And you do lots of other things of the same sort!” 14 Then he once again summoned the throng and told them, “I want you all to listen to me and understand: 15 Nothing outside of a person that goes into him can make him impure; rather it’s what comes out of a person that makes him impure. 17 And when he left the crowd and entered inside the house, his disciples asked him what this riddle-talk meant.23 18 He told them, “Can’t you see that everything that enters into a person from outside cannot make him impure? 19 That’s because it doesn’t enter his heart but rather his digestive system, and it comes out into the privy (by saying this he declared all foods clean24). 20 Then he went on, “What comes out of a person is what makes him impure. 21 That’s because it’s from inside people’s hearts that evil thoughts issue, and sexual misdeeds, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greedy acts, wicked acts, deceit, lust, jealousy, blasphemy, arrogance, and folly. 23 All these evil things issue from inside a person and make him impure.”
24 He left that place and moved off to the region of Tyre;25 there he entered a house, desiring to be seen by nobody, but he could not remain unrecognized. 25 Right away a woman came and fell down before his feet; she had heard about him and her daughter had an impure spirit. 26 The woman was Greek-speaking,26 a Syrophoenician by birth; she begged him to exorcise the demon from her daughter. 27 He told her, “You must first let the children get fed; it isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”27 28 But she retorted, “Lord, even the pups beneath the table eat the crumbs that the children have left. 29 At that he said, “That saying will do it; go on, the demon has left your daughter.”28 30 Then she went home and found the child was lying on the bed and the demon had left her.
31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre through Sidon to the lake of Galilee in the center of the region of the Decapolis.29 32 There people brought him a man who was deaf and dumb30 and begged him to lay a hand on him. 33 Jesus took him off away from the crowd by himself; he put his fingers into the man’s ears, spat and then touched the man’s tongue. 34 Then he looked up into heaven, groaned and said to the man, “Effatha” (that means, “Open up!”). 35 Then the man’s ears opened up, his tongue was untangled, and he began to speak intelligibly. 36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell nobody, but for all his orders, they proceeded to proclaim what he had done all the more. 37 And people were astounded to an extraordinary degree; they said, “He has done everything well: he makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”31
8:1 It was about then32 that it happened again: there was a large crowd and they had nothing to eat; he summoned his disciples and told them, 2 “I’m sorry for the crowd; they’ve stayed with me for three days and don’t have anything to eat. 3 And if I send them away hungry to go home, they’ll break down on the road; some of them have come quite a distance.” 4 His disciples then answered him, “How will anyone be able to get bread to feed these people in a deserted area?” 5 Then he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” 6 Then he tells the throng to settle down on the ground, then he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute them, and they served the crowd. 7 They also had a few small fish; so he blessed them and told his disciples to serve them as well. 8 And they ate and were satisfied, and the disciples gathered up seven baskets full of crumbs.33 9 There were about four thousand there; then he sent them away. 10 And right away he boarded a boat together with his disciples and went to the area of Dalmanutha.
11 And the Pharisees came out and began to interrogate him, asking him for a sign from heaven as they put him to the test.34 12 And heaving a great sigh from within him he said, “Why does this generation look for a sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to this generation.”35
13 Then he dismissed them and boarded the ship and went off to the other side of the lake.36 14 The disciples had forgotten to bring loaves of bread and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.37 15 And Jesus was advising them, Take note: watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.38 16 And they kept telling each other that they had no loaves of bread. 17 And once he realized their difficulty, he said to them, “Why are you telling each other that you don’t have loaves? Don’t you yet grasp it and understand? Are you so utterly thick-headed? 18 Have you eyes but can’t see and ears but can’t hear? Don’t you remember, 19 when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets of crumbs did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they said. 20 “And when I broke seven loafs for the four thousand, how many baskets of crumbs did you pick up?” “Seven,” they said. 21 And he kept saying to them, “Do you still not understand?”39
22 Then they arrived at Bethsaida. There people brought him a blind man and begged him to lay a hand on him. 23 So he took hold of the blind man’s hand and led him outside of the village. Then he put saliva into the man’s eyes and laid his hands upon him and asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And the man could see and he said, “I see people that look like trees walking.” 25 Then once again Jesus put his hands upon the blind man’s eyes, and he saw everything with crystal clarity.40 26 And Jesus sent him off to his home, telling him not even to enter the village.
Mark 6 Notes
1 This entire sequence of episodes extending from 6:7 through 8:26, although not easily characterized, constitutes a unit. A superficially strange feature of it is a doubling of several episodes: there are two miraculous feedings of large crowds of people in a wilderness, two crossings of the lake involving a failure of trust and understanding on the part of the disciples, two somewhat similar healings (one of a deaf-mute, the other of a blind man, both involving application of saliva to tongue or eyes by Jesus). There is considerable and recurrent movement from one place to another, some of it clearly into Gentile areas, movement heralded in the opening episode of the Twelve dispatched on missions of proclamation and healing, such that one theme here appears to be mission, not only that of Jesus but also that of those whom he sends as his missionaries, and the dispatch and return of the Twelve frames a gruesome account of the execution of John the Baptist, who clearly for this evangelist is a paradigm of the missionary. His mission and destiny are recapitulated in Jesus and in the disciples insofar as they are true to their mission and competent to carry it out. Doubts about the disciples in this regard are raised on several occasions throughout this sequence: they don’t have confidence in Jesus when they are away from him in rough waters, they have no imagination when it comes to meeting the needs of a large crowd, and they cannot get through their thick heads the radical notion Jesus expounds regarding dietary laws — they think what he’s saying is “riddle-talk” and have to have it explained to them. Finally, all their incompetence and thick-headedness are concentrated in their inability to grasp the meaning of the breaking of loaves and the myriad left-over crumbs at the two wilderness feedings of multitudes. In fact, although I’ve titled this sequence “Comings and Goings,” it might better be titled, “The Mystery of Bread and Crumbs,” for bread and crumbs, whether it be one loaf (ἄρτος) or several, tiny crumbs (ψίχια) or larger pieces gathered in baskets (klãsmata), recurs in story after story in this sequence in ways that suggest that bread symbolizes God’s tendance of his people or Jesus’ ministry as a shepherd to his scattered flock. But the bread is an impenetrable mystery to the disciples of Jesus who do not recognize it even when they have it with them.
2 It is clear that Mark here and Matthew and Luke in their respective gospels reflect a common tradition of instructions for missionary journeys. Matthew uses the word “missionary” (ἀπόστολος) only once (Mt 10:2), Luke 6 times in the gospel (6:13; 9:10; 11:49; 17:5; 22:14; 24:10), 28 times in Acts; Mark uses it only of the twelve when they return from this journey (6:30), but already in 3:14-15 he clearly indicates that the Twelve have been chosen precisely for this purpose, “And he appointed twelve to be with him and to be sent out to preach and to be authorized to exorcise demons,” and of course this was implicit in the call of Simon Peter and Andrew, “Come here after me, and I’ll turn you into fishers of human beings.” (1:17). I think it highly probable that we ought to read this sequence not simply or even so much as an account of what Jesus did and said during his ministry before the crucifixion and resurrection but far more as an account of what the evangelist understands Jesus to be doing and saying at the time of his writing; thus the comings and goings of this sequence of episodes is emblematic of the missionary activity of the church of the evangelist’s time: crossings of the lake may as well be Mediterranean voyages, the apostles will need to cope with multitudes of people with physical as well as spiritual needs (cf. Acts 4:35), they will have to travel without the physical presence of Jesus and they will have to trust him even though he is not present.
3 But of course they are authorized also to proclaim the gospel message and to heal (3:14-15).
4 The first appearance of the “bread” motif; here, of course, there are no implications, but one might suppose there’s some irony in 8:14, “The disciples had forgotten to bring loaves of bread and they had only the one loaf with them in the boat” — Jesus is the one
5 The missionaries are not to carry provisions with them; rather they are to go from one settlement or household to another and they are to look to the people of the household that welcomes them for sustenance while they are there.
6 A household or community that has rejected the gospel proclamation must be shown that it has rejected God’s offer.
7 The evangelist has cleverly positioned the account of the execution of John the Baptist at this point in his narrative sequence as a flashback to a scene that must have taken place considerably earlier; although Mk 1:14 refers to John’s arrest rather than to his execution, it seems not unlikely that John had already been executed as Jesus began his public ministry. But the placement of this account within a “Marcan triptych” whose outer frame tells of the departure of the Twelve on their mission of proclamation and healing and exorcism and then of their return to Jesus highlights the paradigm of the ἀπόστολος that John the Baptist represents for the evangelist: Jesus’ fame is so wide-spread that (a) people are speculating on a link between Jesus and John, and (b) Herod Antipas hears of Jesus and immediately concludes that Jesus is the resurrected John the Baptist. He still has pangs of conscience, it would seem, about the manner of John’s execution and his own reluctant but ineluctable part in that execution, and Mark’s readers/auditors take in the story of John’s death from the perspective of Herod who can never forget how it happened. But the juxtaposition of the “triptych” brings into a synoptic view the destiny of John the Baptist that has already been played out, that of Jesus now in play, and the role and destiny of the disciple-apostles destined for future fulfillment.
8 The description of Herod’s mind-set and stance toward others around him anticipates, in some ways, the description that is later given of the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate (Mk 15:1-15). Like Pilate, Herod is a man of some moral scruples, enough to feel the pangs of guilt when his immoral behavior is called to his attention, but not enough to put his brother’s wife away. He is at a loss what to do with John until, although he is absolute ruler in his tetrarchy (at least so long as he does not offend the Romans), the weakness of his character is exploited by a woman who has no scruples at all. Like Pilate, Herod is a crowd-pleaser; whether or not he really has enjoyed the performance of the girl dancing before his guests, he observes their pleasure and at once decides upon the extravagant gesture of gratifying any desire she expresses. It doesn’t occur to him that she could ask for anything unreasonable, but as soon as she has done so, he finds he must weigh his alternatives in terms of escaping embarrassment before Herodias’ daughter and his influential guests. Under the circumstances he is the victim of his own weakness of character. This story is told with consummate art; for my part, I seriously doubt the evangelist would have expended such effort upon it other than to anticipate the parallel circumstances of Pilate’s decision to have Jesus put to death.
9 ” circumstances didn’t even allow them to eat”: the Greek is οὐδὲ φαγεῖν εὐκαίρουν, literally, “they didn’t even have an opportunity to have a meal.” The use of this verb so closely cognate to the adjective used in the previous episode cannot, in my opinion, be fortuitous. Although it is difficult to carry over the effect into English, the Greek of 8:21 is γενομένησ ἡμέρας εὐκαίρου, literally, “a day of opportunity having arisen …”, which I have converted, in its own context, to “As things turned out circumstances settled matters “
10 In terms of the evangelist’s narrative sequence, what is said here is consistent with the recurrent theme of the relentless throng of people crowding around Jesus wherever he goes, frequently with a hint that the crowd are like swarming predatory insects or birds that one needs somehow to escape. And yet there is another dimension to this verse in the Greek that is hinted at but difficult to carry over into a translation without overstating it: “Many people both saw them as they went and drew conclusions and hurried on foot from every city to that place and got there before them.” The reader/auditor must wonder whether there is a hint of a future gathering of those who are devoted to Jesus, all coming from their own city to meet him in the desert/wilderness in order to be with him, and, whether or not they anticipate it, to find sustenance from him.
11 As he disembarks from the boat, Jesus is confronted by a wholly new situation; he had, so it seems, intended a respite for his disciples/apostles weary of their own missionary work and hungry as well. Now he sees a great throng and seems to have forgotten what his original intention was in taking the boat to this “deserted” locale. What he sees is people “from every city” who yearn to see him and be with him, and his heart goes out to them. For now, at least, he wants to be the shepherd for these “shepherdless sheep.” Yet a careful reader, one who has perhaps read through the entire gospel and surmised that the young man at the tomb was telling him to return to the beginning of the gospel and start over in Galilee, may recognize an echo of this in Mk 14:27, where Jesus cites Zechariah, “I shall smite the shepherd, and the sheep will scatter.” In that context, the verse is made applicable to the disciples who will desert Jesus when the chief-priests and officers come to arrest their master. Even within the present sequence of episodes, the disciples act occasionally, when they must travel without Jesus in their midst, like “sheep without a shepherd.”
12 While one might argue that this dialogue between Jesus and his disciples prior to the miracle is intended to make clear the full dimensions of what Jesus is about to do, I think that the focus is upon the inability of the disciples to cope with the situation: it would be easier if everybody would just go scavenging for himself and find something to eat, they think. But Jesus underscores the responsibility of the disciples to deal with this situation, even if he himself is to play the enabling role in it.
13 ” … he took the loaves , looked up to heaven and blessed and broke apart the loaves and gave them to his disciples ” One may compare the language of the second feeding story, 8:6: ” he took the loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples ” While it may be argued that these are doublets of the same story of a miraculous feeding, what should really be noticed is the similarity to the formula of 14:22: “And while they were eating he took a loaf, and after blessing it, broke it apart and gave it to them ” Surely the parallel formulation is intentional; either the evangelist intends the reader/listener to discern the parallelism and understand these miraculous feedings as anticipations of the Last Supper as it came to be ritualized in the early church, or (as I think more likely) he intends these stories to be understood as representing celebrations of the ritualized Last Supper-the Eucharist-that will be performed by Jesus’ disciples in the course of their future work as missionaries during their comings and goings across the Mediterranean world. Mark’s story, I think, is multidimensional in its intended range of meanings.
14 These statements reinforce the suggestion: the sufficiency of what Jesus offers to meet the needs of all, but also that “the crumbs” are enough to serve to all the tribes of Israel if they will only come to the Lord’s table.”
15 The verb ἠνάγκασεν here, “he forced/compelled them (to go ahead without him)” seems extraordinary. The evangelist clearly wants to imply that the disciples were reluctant to do this; they are being tested — or prepared? — for the time when “the bridegroom will be taken away from them.” They must go forward without him as they will have to do in the future.
16 The disciples are being tested here and they fail miserably. They cannot go forward by themselves and they don’t recognize Jesus as he approaches and is about to go past them as he walks on the surface of the lake.
17 Literally, “their heart was hard,” ( ἦν αὐτῶν ἡ καρδία πεπωρωμένη; the expression indicates willful failure to grasp a point, in this instance, the abiding presence of Jesus in the loaves shared in the wilderness.
18 Another transitional summary with motifs seen in earlier summaries repeated once more.
19 It is not made clear whether this is a different group from that previously described in chapters 2 and 3:22 or a new delegation; nevertheless the present episode is a renewal of themes from those chapters: the Pharisees and scribes champion the traditional understanding of the Torah in terms of rabbinical interpretation (Sabbath observance, fasting, eating with sinners) while Jesus insists that the traditions they are upholding run counter to what God actually wills and has taught in the Torah.
20 “eating their loaves”: §sy¤ousin toÁw êrtouw, usually conveyed by “eat” or “eating,” on grounds that the “loaves” is superfluous; yet this is, as noted previously a recurrent motif in the stories of this section: bread, loaves, crumbs.
21 It is the kosher laws of purity that are here at stake: Jesus’ disciples eat bread with “unclean” or “impure” or “profane” hands. The Greek word here translated thus is κοιναῖς, basically meaning “common” — not distinctive, and the sense here is not ritually cleansed and distanced from what is profane or common. In what follows Mark describes some of these Jewish kosher practices for his Gentile readers.
22 It is not observance of traditions itself that Jesus censures here but the practice of measures that actually contravene the will of God, as is the case with the practice which he proceeds to discuss, a way of evading one’s responsibility to care for elderly parents in need.
23 “riddle-talk” (Greek ἐπερώτων … τὴν παραβολήν. As earlier in the sequence of parables (chapter 4) so here Jesus prefaces his remarks with a call for paying careful attention to what he is about to say-and as happened then, so here too his disciples fail to understand what he says, although most readers/listeners would not find anything arcane in this teaching. The recurrent theme of dull-witted disciples continues.
24 While the Greek is awkward here (the best MSS have the masculine nominative singular participle καθαρίζων here, which can only be construed with Jesus as the implicit subject of λέγει at the beginning of verse 18. At one sweep here Jesus declares null and void the kosher dietary laws restricting foods that may be eaten and eating practices generally, on grounds that these restrictions have nothing to do with God’s will and that they are ordinances ordained by human beings and imposed by them upon other human beings. Rather, insists Jesus, it is evil behavior motivated by sinful attitudes that profanes a person. It should be noted that in this instance in Mark Jesus is more radical than he is in Matthew, whose parallel story (chapter 15) does not include this phrase, more radical too than he is in Luke. Luke does not have this story or these sayings of Jesus, and it is only in Acts 10 that it is revealed to Peter in a dream that foods traditionally deemed “profane” or “unclean” (κοινά) should not be so deemed.
25 Jesus has clearly entered Gentile territory for reasons not made clear (although he does evidently seek anonymity and at least temporary removal from the throngs that have surrounded him constantly. Despite his desire for anonymity he is accosted by a Gentile woman who by virtue of her bold importunity and wit brings into the open the question whether the salvation Jesus brings is meant for Jews only or also for Gentiles and the rest of humankind.
26“Greek-speaking” (῾Ελληνίς): while Mark takes pains to explain to a Greek-speaking reader/audience distinctive Jewish rites and words used by Jesus or others, he doesn’t comment here on whether or not Jesus speaks Greek in his conversation with her, but that appears to be the assumption. Although quite a few scholars assume that Jesus spoke only Aramaic, several assume that he knew and read Hebrew. For my part, I don’t see any reason why, as a native of Galilee, he would have had no knowledge of Greek at all.
27“You must first let the children get fed; it isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” The children are Jews, the dogs are Gentiles, the bread is the salvation (the making of people whole as God intended them to be) brought by Jesus.
28In this instance it is not Jesus who has the last word but rather it is the Syrophoenician woman. It is as if Jesus’ statement about “what is right” had been meant to evoke the definitive utterance offered in response to it: there are crumbs left over from the bread eaten by the Jews to whom salvation has been offered and given and they ought not to be withheld from the children of Gentiles. It is imperative that the woman’s saying be understood in the context of the left-over bread-crumbs collected by the disciples at the feeding of the multitude in chapter 6.
29The route described here seems somewhat strange in that it goes northward from the area of Tyre to Sidon and then back around to the southeast toward the Decapolis; it is evidently Jesus’ intention here to remain strictly within Gentile territory for the time being.
30“a man who was deaf and dumb”: in the present instance it is a man who cannot hear who is healed, while in 8:22 (at Bethsaida) it is a blind man. I cannot but think that the placement of these two healing stories within the double sequence is deliberate. In 7:14 Jesus, when speaking of what defiles a person, had said to the crowd, “I want you all to listen to me and understand!” The disciples on that occasion, as soon as they got away from the crowd with Jesus, asked him what the “riddle-talk” meant. The same motif that had earlier appeared repeatedly in Chapter 4 with reference to parables of eyes to see, ears to hear, and understanding recurs here. As in the earlier sequence it is distinctly the disciples of Jesus who have eyes to see and ears to hear but seem not to understand. I wonder whether the evangelist may here be suggesting, without making it explicit, that there is yet hope for would-be disciples that inability to hear and blindness can be cured by Jesus if the cure is earnestly sought out.
31Again the recurrent motif: Jesus enjoins silence about what he has done; his command to silence produces all the greater spread of his fame in the surrounding area. Indeed it is particularly his reputation as a miracle worker that is magnified and one cannot but wonder whether “making the mute to speak” carries the figurative sense that those who experience Jesus’ healing touch become the ones most intent upon proclaiming his achievements (36: αὐτοὶ μᾶλλον περισσότερον ἐκήρυσσον.
32“about then”: the Greek reads “in those days” (ἐν ἐκείναις ταῖς ἡμέραις); this is a loose connective; cf. note on Mk 1:9.
33 Cf. note 13 above on 7:41. I think it would be an error to suppose that Mark has simply reported the same feeding story twice; as set forth in note 1 above, this sequence is carefully developed; the multitude fed in the feeding described in 6:35-44 is Jewish, and twelve baskets of left-over crumbs are collected; this feeding is of a Gentile (Gentile Christian?) multitude, and the number of baskets of left-over crumbs is seven (cf. the numbers of officers in the church in Acts 6: there are twelve “apostles” who seem chiefly concerned with proclamation to Jews, seven Greek-speaking members are chosen who, according to the subsequent narrative in Acts, are engaged in proclamation to Greek-speaking Jews and Gentiles (although Acts 6 offers a somewhat confusing tale that they were chosen primarily to oversee distribution of food to the Greek-speaking members of the Jerusalem community).
34On the surface the positioning of this brief account of the Pharisees’ question to Jesus is awkward; we are told that they “came out” (ἐξῆλθον), evidently with the intention of disputing with him. But Jesus has been in Gentile territory (but is he in this instance? we have no idea where Dalmanutha may have been although it must certainly be in Galilee and not far from the lake shore); perhaps it is enough to note that once again the Pharisees have taken pains to seek Jesus out and to continue their confrontation with him (cf. 7:1 and note 19 above). While they (or another group similarly minded, 3:22) had asserted that Jesus’ power to exorcise demons was granted him by Satan, they now seek some miraculous proof that he is divinely empowered and authorized. Mark the evangelist is consistent in that only the demons recognize his identity clearly; those “saved” by Jesus acknowledge the power operant in him as divine in origin and carry abroad his reputation as one who heals infirmities, exorcises demons, and teaches with authority in a manner outside their previous experience. Evidently when Jesus has told people that “faith has saved” them, he refers to their confidence that divine power and authority resides in him. The Pharisees obviously do not hold or exhibit that faith but are looking for some unquestionable demonstration of the source of Jesus’ empowerment, presumably because they doubt that he can provide such a demonstration.
35“This generation” (γενεὰ αὕτη) probably does not refer to the generation contemporaneous with Jesus especially but more likely, I think, to the people of this world-age as characterized specifically by unbelief. Indeed, no sign will be given to those who are will not believe, either because they are somehow incapable of belief or because they willfully disbelieve: they are “thick-headed” (cf. note 17 above). In at least one sense, the Pharisees and the disciples are alike: in their “thick-headedness” or πωρῶσις τῆσ καρδίας).
36Since we do not know where Dalmanutha was (whether in Jewish or Gentile territory) it is unclear whether the evangelist intends us to understand this crossing of the lake as a return to the western, Jewish shore or a voyage to the eastern, Gentile shore.
37The phrasing of this story requires careful attention if one is to avoid confusion; verse 14 seems to indicate both that the disciples have brought no loaves at all with them and that they have only one loaf. Their own understanding is then made clear in verse 15 where the disciples tell Jesus that they have no loaves at all.
38“Leaven” of the Pharisees and of Herod: in the immediate context one may suspect on one level that “the leaven of the Pharisees” is “thick-headedness,” the stubborn imperviousness to acceptance of the divine power and authority resident in Jesus. But what of Herod? Is this Herod Antipas, who beheaded John or had John beheaded? And why are they mentioned in the same breath? Perhaps a clue is to be found in 3:6 where it was Pharisees and Herodians who began to conspire together on means of removal of Jesus from the Palestinian scene as a figure dangerous to the political interests of the Herodian client-kings who governed with authority granted by Rome and to the religious interests of the Jewish establishment. Some have thought that the evangelist might have cited the Jesus-saying as having some reference to the party of Herodians in the 60’s, but any answer would seem to be speculative. What is certain, and probably the only thing that is really important, is that the reaction of the disciples to this Jesus-saying reveals (a) their perplexity about his meaning (a perplexity that the reader may indeed share!) and (b) their preoccupation with their shortage of loaves.
39Jesus is the one loaf that they did indeed bring with them on the boat, but that is something that they have not understood because of their “thick-headedness.”
40As stated previously in note 30, this account of the healing of a blind man seems intended by the evangelist to serve a function parallel to that of the earlier account of the healing of the deaf-mute in 7:31-37. Whether or not the stories were originally located in the sequential order in which this evangelist situates them, he seems to have felt that this story was particularly suited to close the sequence wherein the disciples especially have shown a remarkable deafness, blindness and general obtuseness to what Jesus has been attempting to make evident to them. Perhaps it is significant that it requires two strokes by Jesus to achieve for this blind man the full clarity of vision which marks the restoration of his sight; if not the disciples, then at least the reader/audience may have gained some insight from the closure brought to this sequence by the evangelist. loaf. This is evident from 8:16, “they kept telling each other that they had no loaves of bread.”