Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Jesus as Lord? A Neglected Text in the Markan Christology Debates

Following the episode of the storm-stilling (Mk 4:35-41), Jesus has an encounter with a demon-possessed man as he departs the boat along with his disciples in the region of the Gerasenes (5:1ff.). I will not rehearse this episode, except to say that Mark connects the storm-stilling (4:35-41) in the previous episode to this one by what Jesus does in expelling the demons into nearby swine, who run off a cliff into the sea (5:13). Just as Jesus demonstrates his mastery over the forces of chaos that inhabit the sea (the wind and waves), he now expels those forces back into the sea, i.e. their home.

What I am most interested in is the postscript to the healing, namely, the exchange between the healed Gerasene and Jesus (5:18-20). Due to the brief and subtle nature of this episode, it is often neglected in Markan Christology debates. Despite this, I believe this passage plays a crucial role in Mark's view of Jesus. 
From Demoniac to Disciple (Mark 5:18-20)

 After Jesus exorcises the Gerasenes demons by sending them into a herd of swine (5:8-13), the townsfolk begin to plead with Jesus to leave their region (5:17).
As Jesus begins his departure by getting into the boat, the now healed Gerasene begs Jesus to allow him to accompany him on the journey (5:18). Jesus will not permit this (cf. 1:34), but instead of a command to silence, Jesus tells him: "Go home to your people and report to them how much the Lord has done for you, (ὅσα ὁ κύριός σοι πεποίηκεν) and how He had mercy on you" (πεποίηκεν καὶ ἠλέησέν σε; 5:19). 'Mercy' is a defining characteristic of the God of Israel (e.g. 2 Sam 24:14; 1 Chr 21:13; Pss 23:6; 25:6; 40:11; 69:16; 119:156; 123:2, 3; Isa 30:18; 55:7; 63:7; Jer 16:5; 31:20; Lam 2:2; Ezek 39:25; Dan 9:9; Hab 3:2; Tob 3:2; 13:6; Wis 9:1; Sir 2:7, 9, 18; 16:11; 17:29; 18:11; 36:17; 47:22; 51:8, 12; Bar 2:19; 3:2; Pr Az 1:67; 2 Ma 8:5; 11:10; 1 Es 8:78; 3 Ma 6:39; 4 Es 2:4, 31; 7:132; 8:45). In perhaps the most famous theophany of all, YHWH identifies himself to Moses in response to the latter's request to see his "glory" (Exod 33:18): "And he (God) said, 'I will pass by before you in my glory, and I will call by my name, the Lord (κύριος) and I will have mercy upon whomever I will have mercy (καὶ ἐλεήσω ὃν ἂν ἐλεῶ) and I will have compassion upon whomever I will have compassion' (Exod 33:19).
Returning to the Markan passage, after Jesus refuses the Gerasene entry unto his boat in order to journey with him (5:19), the narrator records the actions of the Gerasene: "And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus did for him (ὅσα ἐποίησεν αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς) and all were amazed" (5:20). Notice the subtlety? When the narrator describes the actions of the Gerasene, he substitutes 'Jesus' (ὁ Ἰησοῦς; 5:20) for the divine name 'The Lord' (ὁ κύριός; 5:19). One more piece of corroborating evidence is the fact that Mark refers to Jesus as Lord elsewhere in his Gospel (Mark 1:3; 2:28; 11:9; 12:36-37).


 Mark's subsitution of the name 'Jesus' for the name of the God of Israel, 'the Lord', is in keeping with Mark's implicit high Christology and should be considered a key text in the debates on how Mark views Jesus.

1 Another connection between the stilling of the storm and the encounter with the Gerasene demoniac is the manner in which the demoniac approaches Jesus. Mark narrates that after seeing Jesus in the distance, the demoniac approaches him and kneels before him (5:6) and cries out "with a loud voice"...(καὶ κράξας φωνῇ μεγάλῃ λέγει; 5:7). In the previous episode, the adjective "great" (μεγάλη) occurs three times (4:37,39,41). Also, the herd of swine is also referred to as "a great herd of pigs" (ἀγέλη χοίρων μεγάλη)feeding on the hillside (5:11).

2 "Begging"/"Pleading" (παρακαλέω) is a main theme of Mark 5 (5:10, 12, 17, 18, 23). Paradoxically, just as the demon possessed man begs for his demons to not be sent out of the region (5:10), Jesus is asked to leave the region by the townspeople after the exorcism takes place (5:17). 

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