The chapter begins with Jesus returning to his home country (KJV); the NLT identifies this as Nazareth. There’s not a lot (if any) archaeological evidence for the town of Nazareth around that time. Next point of interpretation comes in v 3 – was Jesus a carpenter, or the son of a carpenter? Manuscripts vary.
Following that, we’re told he has 4 brothers and at least 2 sisters – so why does the church make such a big deal out of claiming Mary was a virgin? Mark never makes this claim; his Jesus was a human being. His own family and community dismiss his claims – how interesting is that? I’ve heard v 4 quoted but I didn’t realize it came from the bible; I thought it was just an old adage.
Next comes a directive to the disciples to go out on their mission without fanfare, and an admonition that if any place does not welcome them, its fate will be worse than that of Sodom and Gomorrah (KJV). However, the reference to Sodom and Gomorrah has been removed in the modern translations – I wonder why?
V 14-29 relate a sicko story about John the Baptist being beheaded because of a boast made at a party. What kind of morality is that? These kind of stories were never read in my church. Note that the event takes place at a birthday party. Apparently there are only 2 birthdays parties mentioned in the bible, and neither of them turned out well; this is one of the reasons given for the refusal of JW’s to celebrate birthdays.
The next 2 stories, about Jesus feeding the 5000 and then calming the sea and walking on water, are so familiar from my childhood, I could have just recited them. Another example of cherry-picking – why else choose them over the one about John the Baptist? Reading these stories with adult eyes reveals how far-fetched they are – no more believable than Paul Bunyan with his big ox Babe, or Santa and his reindeer. Or, for that matter, the OT stories on which some scholars believe that they are based (the manna in the desert and the crossing of the Red Sea).
This chapter is just yucky; not at all the kind of “Jesus loves me” stuff we’re all familiar with. It starts out with Jesus getting a visit from the religious police, questioning why he does not observe all the required rituals and dietary laws. He tells them they are hypocrites. So far, so good – score one for Jesus – he’s got backbone. But why does he dispense with hand-washing? You’d think that if Jesus really wanted to save lives, he would have reinforced the importance of sanitation, not abandoned it. Perhaps that’s because he was just as ignorant of science as any other human being in the Bronze Age.
Then Jesus turns nasty, citing Mosaic the law that requires disobedient children to be put to death as an example of one that the elders do not follow. So what the heck, he thinks they should? And then the ‘punchline’ – the one that Christians love to quote, and which could explain a lot of their judgmental behavior: “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.” (v 20-23) Here come the thought police?
V 24-30 is a story that I have heard before and never understood. The NLT interpretation turns it into something that makes sense, but if that interpretation is correct, then it doesn’t show Jesus in a very positive light. The part I could never understand was the line about the dogs; what he is apparently saying is that he wouldn’t waste his powers on someone outside his own cultural group. In the end he gives in though, and helps the woman – but is that because he feels genuine compassion, or because she gave a witty answer, or because he just wanted to get rid of her?
The last story of the chapter is another abracadabra magic trick – Jesus heals a deaf man by sticking his fingers in the guy’s ears, and cures his speech impediment by dabbing spittle on his tongue. Besides being wacky, that’s disgusting.