Strange New World of the Bible

Traveling is a weary business, especially in ancient Palestine, without cars, trains or other modern modes of getting from one place to another in an expediate manner. But there in the villages near Caesarea Philippi, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth has just lambasted a group of Pharisees for hypocrisy, exorcised a demon from a Syrophoenician girl, returned hearing to a deaf man and fed four thousand people with seven loaves of bread and a few fish with plenty of leftovers.

Then Jesus takes a boat to Bethsaida where he once again challenges a group of Pharisees and heals a blind man. According to Mark 8:27, after a season of travel, performing miracles, deflecting the petty suspicions of the Pharisees, Jesus turns to his disciples and asks, “Who do men say that I am?”

This is the most enigmatic and profound question in all the New Testament and seems to be a question of a man who likes to confuse others but is maybe himself a bit confused by his situation.

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A man who at times seems like he is trying to find his way and other times confident in the role and responsibilities that have been placed on his shoulders. So, it is considering these dichotomies, these inner struggles, that Jesus asks his disciples a question that perhaps he is also searching for the answer to. In the moment of his question, Jesus reveals himself to be every inch a human, and in that human moment, Jesus reveals a vulnerability that the Gospel of Mark has not yet shown.

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And yet, the disciples’ answers were probably not all that helpful to their searching teacher as they suggested the common whisperings of Jesus’ identity as John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets. The disciples delicately omit some of the more disreputable names given to Jesus in Palestine – blasphemer, false prophet, madman. Jesus pushes his disciples when he asks, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?” Only Peter ventures an answer when he says, “You are the Christ.” According to Mark’s account, Jesus did not choose to elaborate and ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Jesus the Radical

Jesus was not someone who was comfortable with the status quo. Through his radical interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, he turns the establishment on its ear, downplaying the hierarchy. He is a friend to the persona non grata: the outcasts, the poor, the women, the children and the tax collectors. He totally bucks the traditional family trope and according to Powell, “is regarded as a single adult, committed (for religious reasons?) to a life of celibacy (Powell, 80). He even asks his disciples to leave their families behind to follow him (1:16-20). And these are not the social elites, but common people from every walk of life. Jesus continually presses the idea that the kingdom of God is for everyone, not just those few who outwardly obey an arbitrary set of rules (7:3-4). Jesus drives his message of inclusivity home by showing mercy to the Gentiles and by welcoming “whoever does God’s will” (3:35).

Jesus the Social Worker

From the beginning of Mark’s gospel, Jesus is depicted as a healer, someone who cares about others’ health and well-being. He heals a leper, someone who is paralyzed and a man with a withered hand (1:40-45; 2:1-12; 3:1-6). After that, wherever he went, “people immediately recognized Jesus and ran around that whole region bringing sick people on their mats to wherever they heard he was. Wherever he went—villages, cities, or farming communities—they would place the sick in the marketplace and beg him to allow them to touch even the hem of his clothing. Everyone who touched him was healed” (6:54-56). Jesus further shows compassion for the well-being of others when the crowds of four thousand and five thousand spend days listening to him teach without food to eat. Jesus miraculously feeds the crowds because, “they were like sheep without a shepherd” (6:34). Jesus continues his tour of care as he heals a deaf man (7:31-37) and a blind man (8:22-26), showing over and over again that caring for the physical needs of others is high on his list of priorities.

Jesus the Fiscal Socialist

Powell strikes a direct hit in identifying key themes in Jesus’ teachings with the idea that “God favors the poor over the rich and the meek over the powerful, with the obvious corollary hat those who wish t0 please God should humble themselves through voluntary poverty and service” (82). Through Mark, Jesus has a lot to say about global poverty as he advocates for his followers to be generous to the poor and even goes so far as to counsel a rich man to sell all his possessions and give it to the poor (10:21). But Jesus also makes it clear that this generosity is not just intended for the rich in Mark 12:41-44: “Jesus sat across from the collection box for the temple treasury and observed how the crowd gave their money. Many rich people were throwing in lots of money. One poor widow came forward and put in two small copper coins worth a penny. Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I assure you that this poor widow has put in more than everyone who’s been putting money in the treasury. All of them are giving out of their spare change. But she from her hopeless poverty has given everything she had, even what she needed to live on.’” Jesus makes it clear that this equitable giving to ease the poverty of others is for everyone, not just to those of a specific class—it is something all followers of Jesus are called to do.

Jesus promotes simple, equal, communal living through his frequent couch-crashing at Peter’s home in Galilee and frequently stays at the homes of other people he meets throughout his ministry and travels (Powell, 79). He also presses for social and economic justice and embodies the divine power of creative transformation.

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Strange New World of the Bible. (2021, Dec 28). Retrieved from

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