Thursday, September 25, 2014

Jesus’ Miracles in Mark and God’s Numinous Presence

In a previous post I discussed how the Gospel of Mark portrays Jesus as the one sent from God. In doing so, Mark’s story sets Jesus in relation to God as the one who represents God on earth. As God’s envoy, who carries God’s authority, Jesus takes on the vocation that is only meant for God. Thus, what Jesus does on earth is to be viewed as God’s actions; actions done on behalf of God. The literary presentation of Jesus as miracle worker is a good example of this, particularly in the responses to Jesus’ miracles in Mark.

The motif of wonder in response to Jesus’ miracles is frequent in Mark, and is expressed through various terms relating to fear, astonishment, or amazement. Such responses to the miracles in Mark carry significance for the presentation of Jesus as personifying the numinous presence of God.

In the exorcism of 1:22-28, the crowd is not only said to be astonished at the teaching of Jesus, but in response to his casting out of the unclean spirit from the man in the synagogue, they are said to be amazed. While it is true that they see the teaching of Jesus as that which has authority, it is the act of exorcism that seems to cause their amazement in 1:27.

In 2:12, the crowd is said to be amazed at the healing and forgiving power of Jesus in healing the paralytic. Moreover, their acclamation of God’s power in the healing and forgiveness given by Jesus, and their claim to have never seen anything like this before, also serves to highlight their encounter with the divine.

In 4:41 the audience finds the first reference to the astonishment of the disciples. In a miracle in which they are the only witnesses, and indeed the ones whom Jesus saves, these disciples see for themselves the power Jesus possesses, power to calm the wind and the waves, something that God alone can do. The narrator tells the audience that in response to the calming of the storm the disciples "were filled with great awe", which demonstrates their great wonder at what has just happened.

The story of Jesus casting out the unclean spirits in 5:1-20 presents two different reactions that fall under a response of wonder. The response of 5:15 is from those who see the man who was possessed by Legion restored to his right mind. Their fear is over Jesus’ power to transform the man whom no one to this point could subdue. Thus what others could not do, Jesus, as the one filled with the power of God, acts to demonstrate the new revelation of God by doing what could not have been done. 

The second response in 5:20 is in response to the proclamation of the once possessed man. His instructions from Jesus are to go and tell all that the Lord has done for him, and he carries out this proclamation. On hearing the message, and seeing the man who was once possessed by the evil spirits, “everyone” was amazed. Clearly their amazement is a combination of seeing the man in a new state, and hearing how this was done. Thus, their wonder is directed at that which Jesus alone could do, and at the new revelation God was executing in Jesus.  

The healing of the woman who touches Jesus’ garment and the raising of the daughter of Jairus (5:21-43) are linked through a number of verbal and thematic similarities. There are also reactions of wonder found in both stories.

In the healing of the woman of her perpetual bleeding, she alone is the one who responds in fear (5:33). Her fear, however, is not as a result of what Jesus may do to her, seeing that she has transgressed the law as a result of her touching Jesus. Rather, her fear is in knowing that she had been healed of her disease, which doctors have failed to do for her, and that she had experienced an encounter with divine power. 

Likewise, the raising of Jairus’ daughter presents the onlookers with a sense of God’s new revelation. The audience is set up for the newness of the experience when Jairus is asked why he should bother the teacher any further. The people indeed understood that no one could raise the dead. But Jesus’ coming and his actions in raising the dead girl confront the witnesses with the presence of God’s power through Jesus’ miracle working. Thus, they were overcome with amazement (5:42).

Upon seeing Jesus open the ears and loosen the tongue of the deaf mute in 7:31-37, as well as hearing the man speak, the witnesses of the miracle are said to be astonished beyond measure. This is further presented to Mark’s audience by the choral response in verse 37. The response echoes what Isaiah spoke of when he prophesied that the ears of the deaf would be opened (Isa 35:5). Thus, in this miracle, like the others where a response of marvel is narrated, Jesus is presented as the one who brings the new revelation of God.

In using the miracles in this way, then, Mark narrates his presentation of Jesus as an aspect of his presentation of God. In Jesus’ miracles, he acts for God by being God’s numinous presence. 

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