An Exposition Of The Gospels by The Most Rev. John Macevilly D.D.

In this chapter, St. Mark records our Lord’s visit to His own country, Nazareth—the admiration of His countrymen at His learning and miracles—their obstinate incredulity, on which account He performed very few miracles among them (1–6). The mission of the twelve Apostles; the instructions given them; their miracles and successes (7–13). The history and circumstances of the Baptist’s imprisonment and death, and the causes that led thereto (14–30). The miraculous multiplication of bread, after our Lord and His disciples had retired a little to rest from their labours (31–45). The stilling of a storm at sea (45–51), after which, on landing, our Lord performs several miraculous cures (53–56).

1. “From thence,” the house of the ruler, which was likely in Capharnaum (see c. 5:21).

His own country,” Nazareth, where He was brought up, and which He left about eleven months before (Calmet). Commentators infer, from a comparison of the Gospels, that the events recorded here between this verse and verse 16, occurred in the first month of the year 28 of our era (Patrizzi). This visit of our Lord to His native place is supposed to be the same as that which St. Luke records by anticipation (c. 4) He came there, although he foresaw that no fruit would result, in order to deprive them of all excuse and grounds of complaint, that if they were not converted, it was because, they were not favoured with His visits, who overlooking His own, preached everywhere else.

2. “In admiration.” The Greek—εξπλησσοντο—means, astounded.

How came this man by all these things?” (“All” is not in the Greek.) How did such talents fall to the lot of this man, and of what kind is this wisdom, which has been given Him from above?

And such mighty works are wrought by His hands.” The Greek in some versions is ὅτι και ἅκ δυναμεις τοιαῦται, &c., so as to mean, “so that such works of power also are wrought by His hands,” “also” conveying, that He did not merely teach them, but worked miracles too. Even in the Greek versions, which omit ὅτι—such as the Vatican—the meaning of και, may be “also,” and the sentence the same as in the other Greek reading.

Wisdom,” was employed by the Hebrews, to denote knowledge, prudence, skill, &c. Our Redeemer’s eloquence and power excited the envy of His countrymen.

3. (See Matt. 13:55–58).

5. “He could not do any mighty work,” &c. Not for want of power—for, He possessed sovereign power to perform all kinds of miracles when and where, He pleased—but for want of faith in the people, who, owing to their pride and jealousy, would not be the recipients of His heavenly favours—He would not (see Matt. 13:58).

Could not,” strongly expresses their unworthiness and unbelief, which, as it were, paralysed the powerful arm of God. It is also usual with men to say, we cannot do a thing, when they are averse to doing it.

6. “He wondered.” Although He knew all beforehand, still, He expressed wonder, to call attention to their obstinate incredulity, and to convey to us, that it was a subject of astonishment, that they should reject Him on such trivial grounds, considering all they heard of Him, and all they themselves witnessed.

Some commentators, among them Maldonatus, say, the words, “because of their unbelief,” should be connected, not with the words, “and He wondered;” but, with the preceding words, “and He could not do any mighty work there … because of their unbelief,” which would be very like what is stated by St. Matthew (13:58). These enclose, “and He wondered,” within a parenthesis (“and He therefore, wondered”). The Greek words, δια την απιστιαν, favours this; for, if the Evangelist meant to say, that He wondered at their unbelief, he would have omitted δια, and have written εθαυμασε την απιστιαν.

By some the account given here by St. Mark is reconciled with that given by St. Luke (4:22), “And all gave testimony to Him; and they wondered at the words of grace,” &c., by saying, that at first, after hearing Him, most of them—which “all” signifies—thought favourably of Him; and that the words, “Is not this the carpenter?” &c., were uttered by them in commendation of His wonderful gifts; but that some others thought differently, were scandalized at His humble origin; envied His wonderful attainments, and uttered the words, “Is not this the carpenter?” in a sneering, scornful spirit; and that these latter brought over the others to their way of thinking, and finally were filled with rage and indignation (Luke 4:28, 29).—Jansen. Gandav.

Maldonatus and others say, that the testimony they rendered to Him (as in St. Luke), regarded science, eloquence, learning, but not the testimony of faith in Him, as the promised Messiah.

Others, with Patrizzi (in hunc locum), say, the two Evangelists refer to different occurrences; that what St. Luke records, took place a year before that recorded here by St. Mark.

The villages round about,” within the confines of Galilee.

7. “He called the twelve,” whom He had before chosen out of the multitude of His disciples to be His Apostles (Matt. 10:1), &c. “And began to send them,” to preach the Gospel within the confines of Galilee, and to precede Himself in the places where He meant to preach.

12. Very likely, as they preached penance, so they also preached the near approach of “the kingdom of heaven,” the theme suggested to them by our Lord (Matt. 10:7). St. Luke (9:2) also informs us, that, “He sent them to preach the kingdom of God,” for which penance was a preparation. Similar was the theme of the Baptist’s preaching (Matt. 3:2).

13. “Anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.” Some commentators (Ven. Bede, Franciscus Lucas, Maldonatus), &c., are of opinion, that here mention is made of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, the same as in St. James (c. 5) But, the opinion generally adopted is, that, although this anointing clearly typified and prefigured the anointing with oil mentioned by St. James, still, it is not the same—1st. Because it does not appear that this anointing produced any other effect than bodily euros. 2ndly. It is not confined to the sick who were baptized, it refers to numerous sick—“many that were sick”—indiscriminately, many of whom, at this time, most likely, had not received Baptism, and only the baptized can receive Extreme Unction. 3rdly. The Apostles were not yet Priests, being ordained such only at the Last Supper (Council of Trent), and, unlike Baptism, which can be always validly, though not always licitly, conferred by a laic, the Sacrament of Extreme Unction can be conferred validly only by a Priest, “inducat Presbyteros Ecclesiæ.” Finally, the Council of Trent says (SS. xiv. c. 1), this “Sacrament was insinuated by St. Mark, but promulgated and commended to the faithful by James the Apostle.” The word, “insinuated,” conveys, that it was only obscurely signified and prefigured.

This anointing with oil, which miraculously cured every description of sick persons, through the supernatural powers given to the Apostles by our Lord, and not through the natural effect of the anointing, was a clear type and figure of that other anointing, which, by the same power and institution of God, was to confer spiritual strength on the soul, and to fortify and animate it to resist the redoubled assaults of the powers of hell at the decisive moment of our departure from this world. In the same way as the imposition of hands, the saliva, and other external ceremonies employed by our Lord Himself, in the miraculous cures He effected, were employed by the Church, under the guidance of God’s Spirit, in the administration of the Sacraments, was it meant by Him that she would employ, in the administration of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, this anointing with oil, which He wished His Apostles to employ in the supernatural cure of the sick, in a manner proportioned to their weakness. That the cures referred to in this verse (13) were supernatural, performed in virtue of the healing power supernaturally given by our Lord to His Apostles, and not the natural result of the healing properties of oil, is clear from the whole context, where there is question of miraculous powers given by our Lord to His Apostles, such as casting out demons, &c., in order to prove their Divine mission, and confirm the truth of their doctrines. Another Evangelist (St. Matthew 11) says, “He gave them power to cure all manner of diseases and infirmities.” And, although they might have cured by the sole Word of God, as they often did, still here He wishes them to use oil, as an emblem of that “oil of gladness with which He was anointed above His fellows,” and which was to be plenteously bestowed in another rite, Extreme Unction, whereof this ceremony mentioned here was a type and figure, “apud Marcum quidem insinuatum,” i.e., signified by Mark (Con. Trid. xiv. 1).

14–30. (See Matt. 14:1–12).

18. “It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife.” (Lev. 18:16). Although this Herodias was niece of Philip, her husband, as well as of Herod Antipas, with whom she lived in adultery, this relationship was not an impediment to her marriage with Philip, nor is it anywhere reckoned among marriage impediments in the Jewish law. Hence, she is called by John the Baptist, “thy brother’s wife.”

20. “Feared,” is interpreted by many to mean, revered, stood in reverential awe of him, on being apprised of his virtues. Although, in the first instance, he may have been animated with feelings quite different, when he cast him into prison.

And kept him,” guarded him against the violence and snares of Herodias.

And did many things,” conformably to the counsels given by John.

21. “A convenient day,” i.e., a festal day, convenient for Herodias’ wicked designs against the Baptist—a convenient day to work on the feelings of Herod.

22–29. (See Matthew 14:4–12).

30. “Coming together unto Jesus.” They had been with Him before they went out to preach and perform miracles. Probably, our Lord fixed a time for them to return and give Him an account of their mission. He, probably, thus wisely ordained it, for the instruction of all future ministers of the Gospel, who, in all their successes, should give all the glory to God, and lay their labours at the feet of Jesus, from whom alone all success and increase can come, either in the order of nature or of grace.

31. Our Redeemer, knowing the weakness of His Apostles, before the Spirit of truth and strength had descended on them in His fulness—like “the eagle, who hovers over his young, and provokes them to fly” (Deut. 32:11), and, until they can fly, retains them in the nest—wishes in retirement to teach them how to comport themselves in their missionary labours, and fly upwards to Him to obtain fortitude and heavenly strength, and to learn how far they fell short of the perfection and purity of intention required in the discharge of their exalted functions. Such is the model set before all ministers of the Gospel, when they periodically devote some time to spiritual retreat, to refresh their souls and resuscitate the first fervour and grace of their vocation.

32, 33. (See Matt. 14:13, 14).

34. “Going out.” From what place? Most likely, from the boat. The people, who probably crossed the Jordan, or forded it, while He went round one of the promontories at the upper or northern end of the lake, where Bethsaida of Gaulonitis was situated “were there before them,” v. 33 (see Matt. 14:14; also, Luke 9:10–12).

36–44. (See Matt. 14:15–21).

45–51. (See Matt. 14:22–32).

52. “For they understood not concerning the loaves.” Had the Apostles reflected on the miracle lately performed, of the miraculous multiplication of the loaves, which was a greater miracle than that connected with the appeasing of the storm, and contained an undoubted proof of our Lord’s Divine power, they would not have been in the least astonished at the one they just witnessed. Likely, they were more affected by the latter miracle, which rescued them from a watery grave; because, men are more apt to be affected by adversity than by prosperity, and more affected by what concerns themselves, as in the latter case, than what regards others, as in the case of the former miracle.

Because their heart was blinded.” The constant intercourse with our Lord, clad in human flesh, prevented them often from raising their minds to the consideration of His Divinity. We ourselves, who witness far greater wonders performed by our Divine Lord, not in His mortal, infirm state, but “now sitting in glory at the right hand of the Father,” in sustaining His Church with the bread of life miraculously multiplied throughout the earth; in quelling the storms which, at all periods, furiously assailed the bark of Peter, are far from having a vivid feeling of gratitude for these wonders, which are greater than those which struck the eyes of the Apostles, and this owing to our “blindness of heart,” the same with which Moses of old menaced the Israelites (Deut. 28:28, 29; see Matt. 14:33).

53–56. (See Matt. 14:34–36).

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