Mark 7:3

(For the Pharisees, and indeed all strict Jews, will not eat without first scrupulously washing their hands, holding in this to the traditions of their ancestors.

won’t our ancestors be proud
we copy the old ways
conceived in limits not ours
dedicated to denied new opportunities

carefully we consult laws
built on one circumstance
eager to ease today’s decisions
with cut and paste reduction

each and every action we meet
comes pre-cut pre-chewed
digested down to a smaller package
treasured or trashed

such offal is awful
no shoulder-standing allowed
we become nose-blind to stink
accommodated to the uncouth

won’t our ancestors be proud
we copy the old ways
conceived in limits not ours
dedicated to denied new opportunities

Perkins605 notes,

Controversy stories ordinarily begin with a question or challenge, and the retort follows quickly. But both the question over customs of purification (v. 5) and the reply are delayed in this episode (vv. 14–15).

This is a notation worthy of a question or two about what would lead Mark to bring emphasis to this encounter by changing the style of telling his story.

An easy response has to do with the possibility of Mark dealing with Gentiles who aren’t up on a significant struggle within the Israelite community about a relationship with G*D: The Torah as written, the oral Torah which finds options to the strictness of commandment abominations.

Perhaps closer to an author’s process is that the introduction of the elders and heritage begins to set up a different line of inquiry that Jesus will look at more closely than the too-easy, either/or question by Pharisees and Scribes.

Though Mark can be an awkward writer, he wrestles with what a new Messiah might mean for those not yet scared away from the dangers posed by following John and/or Jesus. Mark continues his simultaneous use of and revision of the ancient texts that shape the frame of a new response in the midst of a stuck situation with the Roman Empire ruling through the Herods and Temple leadership. The written/oral debate is no longer helpful in a state of occupation.

Mark 7:2

They had noticed that some of his disciples ate their food with their hands ‘defiled,’ by which they meant unwashed.

when wrong is looked for
it is but moments away
nothing can block
ever-creative conspiracy
quickly finding a greater fault
than our own weakness

the slightest jot
smallest tittle
stands out as a large affront
to sensibilities and privileges
an endless line of quo-ed status
built to continue order

before realization sparks
expected and unexpected heresy
breaks into the open
with chaos its expected wake
we prepare to fight not flee
to save god universe and all

hand wringing
takes precedence over hand washing
to such a degree
we wash our hands of responsibility
prepared to cut off hands
imagining heads

A helpful reminder for readers of many recent translations that either speak simply of eating or eating food. The Greek here is “bread”. This is loss of a reading signifier as we continue to live out of the hardened hearts regarding a feeding of 5,000.

Bratcher219 is helpful in looking at the word translated as “unclean” — κοινός (koinos, common).

koinos ‘common (to) all)’, ‘communal’: from this primary sense the word came to mean (in the N.T.) ‘ordinary’, ‘profane’. Here, then, it would mean ‘ceremonially unclean’. Morton Smith (Tannaitic Parallels, 31-32) adduces proof from Rabbinical literature to show that koinos in the N.T. refers to “objects of which the cleanness or uncleanness is uncertain, and which are therefore a sort of third class, apart from the clean (certainly so) and the (certainly) unclean.”

In hearing this accusation, Jesus, as usual, walks a third way between clean and unclean with the understanding that there is much that is simply uncertain about its categorization. He will respond from a point beyond the givens of an either/or proposition. When partnered with G*D and Neighb*r things are never as clear as we project them to be based on our preferences and heritage.

Mark 7:1

One day the Pharisees and some of the teachers of the Law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus.

adversary fascination
confronts our confrontation gene
a temptation too far

we gather to plot
implement our plan
surrounding the infection

an autonomic reaction
to self-limited survival
gathers strange bed-fellows

a common enemy
builds a false unity
between adversaries

such heightened awareness
will crash soon enough
of its own weightlessness

The timing and setting of this confluence of local Pharisees and Scribes connected with the High Priest and Temple in Jerusalem is not known. This is an urgent shift from Crowd to Institutional Debate. However the Pharisees and Scribes came together and honed in on Jesus, there is a looming background.

Imagine yourself sitting, teaching, as your known opponents “assemble” around you. There is menace in the air.

The Revised Common Lectionary pieces the first part of Chapter 7 together (1–8; 14–15; 21–23). Swanson201 notes that the resultant scene “sets ethics in opposition to ritual”.

This tension needs a bit of warning that we not set Jesus against Judaism. As generations-later Christians, removed by time and culture, we dare not overlook the importance of codes of practice or purity for a community. Every community, including Christianity, has them. We are in danger of allowing this ethical/ritual tension to turn into anti-Semitism. Without an appreciation for the positive value of boundaries to aid in a “stable and orderly love of God”, Swanson205 continues, “Gentile Christians will simply misunderstand this scene from beginning to end.”

It is easy to miss an internal debate between an oral Torah of specific commentary by Rabbis and a written Torah of overarching commandments. This tension has continued in what has become the Christian tradition. Mark and other Gospel writers are quite capable of shading prior written words to speak for and to their communities. By refining and redefining a word here and there, the prophets devolve from present warning to predictor of our bias.

Mark 6:56

So wherever he went – to villages, or towns, or farms – they would lay their sick in the market-places, begging him to let them touch only the tassel of his cloak; and all who touched were made well.

we beg for allowance
to do what we could do
simply on our own

thinking life is a trick
we look for permission
to access an open door

when external affirmation
is not forthcoming
we collapse

these internal limits
crop up again and again
to stunt our growth

after spending so much time
and energy to travel
we abort our arrival

lift up your head
o mighty gate-crasher
you are welcome

Jesus is portrayed as observing the Torah commandment from Numbers 15:37­­–41: G*D partnered with Moses says, “Tell the Israelites to make fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations. When they see it, they will remember and live our rules of engagement.”

This technical term, κράσπεδον (kraspedon) noted by Bratcher218

(only here in Mark) ‘edge’, ‘border’, ‘hem’; probably here not in the general sense, but in the specific sense of ‘tassel’ worn by pious Jews on each of the four corners of the cloak.

is lost in our contemporary familiarity with the fabric neatly turned under and stitched flat.

Who knows what else we have lost in the passage of time and culture as language is added to and, at the same time, turns archaic. Reading slowly with others heals compromised understanding when everyone uses their own lens and applies their own meaning to ancient words.

Connecting touching in Jesus’ work with reading, Moore40 says:

This touching is a kind of darshan, being in the presence of the teacher and receiving healing power from it. It is significant that a story like this one shows the importance of an effort to be present, rather than an intellectual agreement with a set of teachings. Many people who love the Gospel stories have not had the full experience because they have been taught to think of them as the basis for a creed rather than a way of being…. We might think of reading the Gospel stories as a kind of darshan, where the reading itself puts us in touch with the power of the story.

Mark 6:55

hurried over the whole country-side, and began to carry about on mats those who were ill, wherever they heard he was.

finding health
is difficult enough
without a secret M.A.S.H.
mobile announcement spreading hero

put the wounded on mats
toted stretcher style
slowly through tough terrain
faster helicoptering above

rather than ride off in all directions
tune-in to traffic on the eights
for news of delays and accidents
to arrive before another venue change

In Europe first, United States of America next, and expected in the currently growing churches south of the equator—people are not running to bring the sick and poor to the church. When they are not present, “church” ceases to be a community of compassion and premeditated mercy. Not all the money in the world will cover for the bankruptcy of homogeneity.

Somehow the crowds are able to see value in the presence of Jesus and go out of their way to see that those who need a revival are able to be present with him. Admittedly, an appreciation of a return to health can be short-lived and turn into, “I’ve got mine; you are responsible for your own getting.” What we too easily term curing miracles pale in regard to a healing miracle of heart, attitude, and running to honor a healing by sharing its source with all about.

The detail of people being carried on a mat takes us back to Chapter 2 and the friends of a paralytic digging through the roof to be let in.

Imagine the sick of a whole region showing up. It was difficult with the paralytic when the “competition” for healing was only the city of Capernaum. If even more people crowd around, the desired respite (remember this is a continuation of wanting to get away because there wasn’t time to eat) is again put off.

An obvious question: Why the current disconnect from people running to bring folks to Jesus and folks running from the presence of his official trademark? A not obvious response: First, we have lost the Chapter 6 commission to recognize “hospitality” and leverage it to cast out demons. Second, will be a Chapter 9 “prayer” (vs. 29) that redeems technique from proof to the mystery of partnered relationships. On these two rest an authority connected with creation energy.

Mark 6:54

But they had no sooner left her than the people, recognizing Jesus,

everywhere we go
people seem to know
who we are
without an advance team
or a Barnum barker

no one knew we were coming
without being ready
ears perked up eyes widened
a good word about now and soon
carries across water

the never-ending teachings
skipped before us on the wind
preparing our landing in tomorrow
before we even completed today
now back to business

Here we go again. John has been beheaded. The Twelve report their adventures in healing and proclaiming. Too many people leaves no time and so a journey only to be met by 5,000. Continuing to get away, the Twelve are packed off and Jesus goes to pray. A storm. A storm strider. Go ashore, one more time.

Arrgh! How do we have time to reflect and also cool these sorts of receptions until Herod cools off?

It is in this tension of internal desires and external pressures that we live and move and present what passes for being.

Sometimes we overemphasize one desire or pressure. In so doing we set up a coming correction. Eliza Gilkyson has a truthful song, “The Great Correction”. This is not just some End-Time judgment but a recognition that today is a Correction Day. To reprise Jesus’ first insight as a result of his wilderness testing, “A right-timed Correction Day stands in our midst. The Presence of G*D is closer than breath. Keep on changing toward a larger Partnership by trusting good news will persist and prevail.”

At some point, whether it is where we first aimed or not, we need to leave intentions behind and wade ashore to implement our latest incomplete vision cast without enough time to reflect or energy to press past old tapes.

We just left a crowd that had its eye on Jesus’ location and beat him to his landing spot. Now, because of the storm, no one has seen how an announced trip to Bethsaida took a turn to Genneraset and still a crowd rises up, seemingly from nowhere. Again, unspoken this time, compassion for people not-doing-well wells up.

Our call is, simply, to let our compassion overflow its banks.

Mark 6:53

When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret, and moored the boat.

we were headed toward Bethsaida
rowing like our lives depended on it
such persistence we had
stubborn in the face of such a wind

that’s us loyal to a fault
especially when that fault is in us
sea shanty after shanty was sung
until we began hallucinating

at long last we got our bearings
Bethsaida here we come
and then we arrived at Gennesaret
how did that happen

we’re sailors in our own pond
we know directions wind and wave
this is a baffling turn of events
what else do we think we are sure of

It is not unusual on a journey to end up at a waypoint different than expected. This shift from Bethsaida to Gennesaret takes us back to the basics of fishing for people.

This simple stage direction is as integral to the vision of Jesus as any healing or feeding or teaching or prophecy. It indicates a vast understanding from much testing and retreat reflection on that testing. “Seventy times seven” but scratches the surface of times to regroup after one more unexpected landing.

Imagine if the story ended with verse 52—hearts changed away from good news.

But, after intending to pass by on his way to somewhere—(Gennesaret? Bethsaida? Elsewhere?) Jesus ends up in the boat. This shift is a form of repentance from going it alone to throwing one’s lot in with questionable others. This valuing of inclusion has previously shown up with Noahic rainbows, Abram advocating for Sodom, Moses interceding for the Israelites at Sinai, Jonah finally coming around and whispering in Ninevah. Even when arriving at a different conclusion than that intended, Jesus does not giving up on misdirected, hard-hearted, and fearful partners.

What seems like segue material turns out to be a summary of journeys toward an evolving good news, not a static news sequentially codified as a creedal statement intended for all time. This will carry us to the end of a story that will be reread to go deeper into the beginning of good news that won’t be appreciated the first or even second or third time through.

A missed landing shows providence still at work.

Mark 6:52

for they had not understood about the loaves, their minds being slow to learn.

the half-life of a call
seems extraordinarily short
one moment flush with vision
only to find our heart hardened
repeated misunderstandings

a call without a manual
increases our tendency
to turn everything into yesterday
continuing former powers
past any previous benefit

what don’t we get
let us count the ways
unaccounted for abundance
exponential expectations
our reclamation

The loaves? In the midst of a dramatic windy, stormy sea we are to remember the loaves before we were summarily sent off and Jesus went away to pray?!

This gives pause to reflect on everything up to this point. Can you go back and tick off the journey to this point? If you check your memory against the text there is a good chance that the moments forgotten weren’t really understood.

Do you understand the gaps in your understanding as do some of the languages that don’t have an easy reference for a hardened heart (which is how most English translations spell out the import of having been “changed”)? “They have hard heads” (Trique), “Their ears do not have holes” (Shipibo), or “They do not have pain in their hearts” (Tzeltal). Bratcher216 goes on to note:

Hardened indicates primarily a state of being resulting from a process, not a specific process requiring identification of the particular agent. The Greek has reference to the condition of the hearts, not the process by which they become hardened.

A part of the reader’s task is to supply meaning to that which is being read. How might the hearts of the Twelve have come to be changed away from an understanding that leads to repentant change and follow where good news leads and, instead, result in simply being amazed and baffled? It is our unthinking projections that can help us identify where the missed insight is located.

Simply remembering Chapter 6 tracks us back to connectivity and partnership. Nazareth, an immersion laboratory, Herod and John, a good lab report, boat greeted by 5,000, wanting to send them away, and sent away themselves—hardened—not understanding hospitality. To miss the loaves is to miss compassion, partnership, and mutuality.

Mark 6:51

Then he got into the boat with them, and the wind dropped. The disciples were utterly amazed,

shift again
from passing by all else
to living in another’s space

such shifting
is proclaimer work
it’s face-to-face stupid

shifting lessons
keep us off-guard
mystified by our bafflement

shift teaching
introduces us to ourself
and tomorrow’s self

shift intentionally
choosing curiosity over
disappointed expectation

An important question is, “What happened that Jesus intended to pass by but ended up entering the boat?”

LaVerdiere183, seems certain about Mark’s intent:

Mark,… is telling two stories at once, that of Jesus with his disciples and that of the Lord with apostolic Church. His Gospel makes little or no effort to distinguish these two periods in our Christian origins. Rather, they interpenetrate one another…. The statement must have been especially meaningful to Mark’s early readers, many of whom may have felt that the Lord was passing them by, while in fact he was with them in the boat of the Church, but unrecognized.

This seems optimistic as we are in a post-fact, alt-fact, culture where

—Who can tell truth from falsehood any more?

I say it, and you feel it in your hearts:

no man or woman on this big small earth.

—How should our sages miss the mark of life,

and our most skillful players lose the game?

your hearts will tell you, as my heart has told me:

because all know, and no one understands.

(E.E. Cummings, “Santa Claus: A Morality”)

This may be why Matthew adds the story of inviting Peter into the storm. His first attention to walking with Jesus becomes drawn by the waves and he sinks. Peter’s being plucked from pre-creation waters is likely an encouraging connection with a scared reader.

Here, however, Jesus has sent the Twelve in one direction while he retreated in prayer. There is a storm, a ghostly Jesus, and a calming of the storm (as before). We are about to reenter a teaching mode with no further dramatics to catch our attention and distract us.

One way we can tell teaching, not action, is the order of the day is the bafflement of the Twelve—their response to teaching.

Mark 6:50

for all of them saw him, and were terrified. But Jesus at once spoke to them. “Courage!” he said,“it is I; do not be afraid!”

just then
in terrors midst
when crazy
disorients disorientation
driving us twice as far
into a foot-sucking slough

just then
a light-footed faun
shifts from tripping up
to topping up
relax WE ARE
no fear

Were the pond still, we can imagine a strong surface tension (perhaps enough to hold one up if feet were broad enough). But the waters are roiling. Anyone moving over the face of this deep goes beyond our understanding. The Twelve represent well our experience of G*D once we get beyond pat phrases and repeated praises. Terror, confusion, and trouble right here are all ways we know we are beyond awe and in a wilderness of testing.

Caught between wanting this apparition to pass by, which it seems was its intention, and wanting Jesus to step in, we are at sixes and sevens—an internal reflection of our external setting.

This trouble we are in traps us in our fear. From previous accounts of people being troubled, we might remember “angelic” visitations that offered an encouraging word, “Peace”. That same pronouncement is here in the form of the result of “Peace”—“Courage”. [Note: This is a two-way street. Peace gives courage to act. Courage to act brings peace.]

One of the questions is why a goodly many translations translate ἐγώ εἰμί (ego eimi, I am) as “It’s me”, when this same phrase in 13:6 and 14:62 has “I am”, G*D’s self-revelation to Moses in Exodus 3:14, “I am who I am”. This potential theophany scene stays in the ghostly here and now with the “weaker” (Aichele25), “It’s me” (which sounds more horrifying than calming in today’s post-Chucky context).

Even if the stronger language were here in English, any befuddled disciples initially responding as Moses did, there is an official end-bracketing of “I am” with an official word of “Peace”.

This strange scene in Mark doesn’t quite make it to a full blown appearance of G*D by a Human One. Nonetheless, “Courage” before a revelation of G*D and “Peace” after is a helpful model upon which we can see our life and lives bob, bob, bobbing along. Courage and Peace, here and elsewhere, are both singular and plural.