MARK page 7

Chapter 7: Jesus and the Gentile Woman

W. ROBERT CONNOR   1/10/13
Backtracking to Mark 7, more Holy Man Speak. In 7:26 ff a Canaanite woman, a Greek, beseeches Jesus to exorcise her daughter. Now, for the first time, we hear him almost surely speaking Greek. And what does he do? Calls the poor woman a bitch, more or less: “Let the children [of Israel] be fed first, for it’s not right [kalon] to give their bread to the [Gentile] dogs.” And she gives it right back to him: “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that the children leave under the table.” And he loves it: “Because of what you’ve said, the demon has left your daughter.” A nice bit of M-F relationship talk, perhaps, but not “nice” the way people always want to make Christianity and its namesake nice.

She forces Jesus to confront a core question in his effort to figure out just who he is — if we agree that this is not cut-and-dried foreknowledge he brought down from heaven. He has already argued that it’s sinners who need saving, not the (self-)righteous. But what about us Greeks? Is his teaching only for the chosen ones or can the rest of us gather some crumbs, too? Matthew doesn’t worry about that. The Magi are in on the act from day twelve. And in Luke 2:29 ff, Symeon sings right off that this child will be a light to all people, not just the glory of Israel. But Mark makes it a progression — Jesus has to figure that out, and he seems to figure things out through confrontations.

rick pacific crop 3RICHARD McKIM
So: “[You want me to help you, a Greek?] Look (ἄφες), feed the children of Israel first, not you dogs, [is my attitude].” Love thy neighbor except if she’s a Gentile?? Jesus needs this poor woman to open his heart on that score? I find it disconcerting that he’s this contemptuous of those outside the tribe. The dark side of my theory that he knows not who he is!

bill berg photo crop 1WILLIAM BERG   1/11/13
Rick, Matthew’s parallel account (15:22) makes it clear that the tekna are indeed the children of Israel, to whom Jesus declares he was first and foremost sent, while the “dogs” are a perennial impolite metaphor for “unbelievers” (cf. Hollywood’s “ayee, arghhh, infidel dogs, take that and that,” etc.).

But I think we can let Jesus off the hook this way: Think of this Syro-Phoenician woman as a shill. With the woman at his feet, Jesus loudly proclaims the communis opinio, that salvation should be for the Jews alone (with maybe a barely perceptible wink to us in the audience). Right on cue, the woman delivers that killer line about how even the dogs get to lick up a crumb or two from the floor. Dramatic gesture by Jesus, as if thunderstruck. Then a knowing smile of approval, followed by complete surrender to the shill, who exits toward the bursar’s office. The mob (ourselves by now included) has learned a great lesson. Cut.

In other words, couldn’t we assume that the “bitch” statement is for the benefit of the crowd, catering to their tradition, and that the woman’s (divinely inspired) answer is exactly what he expects, his cue to widen the crowd’s horizons and make the encounter a learning experience for them and us?

Jesus and the Canaanite woman, Jean Colombe illumination, Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 15thC

Jesus and the Canaanite woman, Jean Colombe illumination, Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 15thC

McKIM   1/12/13
Nice try, Bill, but don’t you catch a whiff of special pleading in the stage-iness of your script? The natural way to take the exchange seems to be that the woman has to grovel to get him to help her — “Lord, even we dogs eat the children’s crumbs.” And Jesus says in effect, Fine, now that you’ve admitted I’m your Lord and you’re a dog (διὰ τοῦτον τὸν λόγον), I’ll stoop to healing your dog-like daughter. Matthew’s addition “Woman, your faith is great” puts a bit of a saving shine on this response (or tries to), but the upshot is the same. She has to grant that, compared to the members of J’s tribe (per Bob’s instinctive reaction), she’s merely a bitch.

Maybe it’s unfair to project our “everyone’s equal” ideology back onto the first century — when next to no one could even conceive of it, much less live by it — and to pass judgment on Jesus for being “prejudiced”. Still, it’s hard not to expect better of him. Has anyone ever tracked a learning curve for Jesus in the gospels whereby he starts off thinking his mission is tribal but gradually comes to see that it’s universal? That might help save this scene for me.

I suspect the fact that she is culturally Greek is important, especially in the  setting of a town with a big cult of Pan — and you know what THAT means. Frolics in the wild, not to mention men naked in the gymnasium, uncircumcised, eating pork, who knows what else. These Greeks could appear to a strict Jew as filthy as their (mistreated) flea-bitten, garbage-eating hounds. Now J is going to help THEM?! When there are plenty of pious Jews who could use his cures? What will he do next? Once you say that the Law was made for (any) man, anything can happen. Nip humanism in the bud, dammit.

McKIM   1/13/13
All right, I’ve come around a bit to giving Jesus a break on this episode — provided we see it as a learning experience for him. I’m still uncomfortable with Bill’s wink-and-a-nod scenario, and Bob’s otherwise illuminating remarks seem to me to underestimate the signs that Jesus is genuinely disinclined to help her.

Especially in Matthew, where his initial response is to totally ignore her plea (15.23) despite her respectful address to him as “son of David” with its implicit & striking deference of Greek to Jew. It’s only when the disciples complain — “Make her go away, she’s annoying us” — that he deigns to explain to her that his mission is strictly to the Jews, a glimmer of pity perhaps in face of their hardheartedness, but a genuine belief of his at this point, not some coy pretense. Then her rather wrenching “Lord, help me”, prompting the dogs line from J, perhaps with a softening hint of “this is what we Jews have always been told” but still dragging his heels.

Her answer in Matthew is even more self-abasing than in Mark — the dogs eat their masters’ crumbs, not the children’s. It’s this radical humility that seems to break through his defenses –- the Gentile acknowledging that her master/savior is, of all things, a Jew. Archetypal for the humility required of all Gentiles to become Christian? Woman, your faith is great!

By the way, is it significant that, as Bill points out, Matthew has Jesus explain that the tekna are the lost sheep of Israel, while Mark assumes his audience knows that? If it’s Mark that was written for Gentiles, shouldn’t it be the other way around? At any rate, now I’m really interested in the possibility of a trackable learning curve for J about the scope of his mission.

Chapters 9 and 10

You two are on the point of tipping me over into the belief that Mark’s Jesus hasn’t figured out who he is — at least until I run into a passage like Mark 9:2-9 (the Transfiguration), where it’s perfectly clear that he knows exactly who he is and where he’s going.

Transfiguration: Theophanes the Greek, 15thC

Transfiguration: Theophanes the Greek, 15thC

McKIM   1/14/13
Yikes, Bill, he does sound like a know-it-all here. Must I mourn the death of my theory? Can it be resurrected? I suppose I could discount the transfiguration as a subjective vision of the three disciples, and J’s predictions of his death & resurrection as retrojected onto him ex post facto, but that’s a pretty desperate salvage operation. Peter’s declaration in 8:29 that Jesus is the Christ seems like a turning point, triggering both J’s first prediction and the transfig. Might it still be that his “true” messianic nature has been dawning on Jesus gradually, the exchange with Peter snapping it into focus?

Maybe the germ of a new & improved theory lies in the fact that Jesus speaks of himself in two modes, first-person and third. The third is his “son of man” mode, the one he uses in his three (!) prophecies of his Easter weekend exploits. It’s as if he’s predicting that this will all happen to someone else. “The son of man will be executed” etc. Why not “I”? It’s enough to make me reconsider the old heretical two-natures theory, Jesus’ human self half-feeling that the suffering & glory are the fate of some quasi-divine cohabitant of his body.

Nativity & Transfiguration, Cologne, 11thC

Nativity & Transfiguration, Cologne, 11thC

On to the Transfiguration! In 9:9–27 Jesus comes down from the mountain and further perplexes his disciples by talking about anastasis from the dead. Why are they puzzled? This idea seems well represented in OT thinking about the Messiah. The three who go up to the mountain with him “question among themselves” what this “rising from the dead” means (9:10). That leads them to think about Elijah, whose reappearance should be a precondition for the arrival of the Messiah. If Elijah hasn’t come, then Jesus isn’t the Messiah, just a world-class faith healer or minor prophet, and resurrection talk is just a new entry in the lexicon of Holy Man Speak.

Then comes an interruption, another demand for faith healing. A tough case, a severely autistic kid. The inquiry into resurrection gets dropped while Jesus does what the disciples cannot and cures him. This involves the kid going into a catatonic state, as if he were dead.  But, no, Jesus takes his hand and “wakes” him and makes him arise (καί ἀνέστη). Not just ”and he arose” (RSV) — it’s a resurrection verb. The boy rises from (apparent) death.

So the healing episode is a partial answer to the disciples’ puzzlement about resurrection. It happens. What seems death may not be death. Surprises happen when faith (πίστις) is affirmed. We are led to think about prayer for what needs to be done for human suffering here and now, not exegetical quandaries or theological speculation.

Here’s some fascinating OT & Talmudic background on resurrection. Yeah, I’m puzzled by their puzzlement in 9:10, since resurrection was such a notorious belief of the Pharisees, and a perennial source of controversy on the Sanhedrin (cf. Acts 23:6ff.).  But maybe such talk hadn’t penetrated to humble Galilean fishermen. And yet they’re familiar with scriptural details on Elijah as Messianic precursor. Strange.

Jesus exorcises demon, Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 15thC

Jesus exorcises demon, Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 15thC

The kid’s problem looks more like grand mal epileptic seizures than like autism.  People really do look dead when the seizure finally stops. I saw it happen once in the Cornell bookstore. But your final point is a telling one, Bob!

CONNOR   1/15/13
Apparent irrelevance; seems to wander. Case study Mark 9:33 ff. The disciples have been quarreling over who among them is the “greater” — μείζων. That potentially opens up big questions about leadership, power, even virtue. For example, whether the emphasis on greatness (e.g. μεγαλοψυχία) in the ancient world is on the right track.

Jesus’ response is to talk not about great and small, but about first and last. Then he puts a little kid in the midst of them. The lesson is obvious, or so it seems: You must be like a child to receive the kingdom of heaven, so don’t worry about being an alpha male. So J in Matthew’s version of the episode (18:3): “Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children (ὡς τὰ παιδία), you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (RSV)

Query: Παιδίον certainly can mean child but it can also mean slave. And slaves learn how to act humble.  Are we missing a discourse about slavery in these passages?

In Mark, however, Jesus omits talk of “becoming” and talks instead about “receiving” one of these children (παιδίων). What is this “receiving” message? A bit later (Mark 9:42) he goes on to denounce child abusers and recommends that they self-mutilate instead — it’s better than gehenna with its fire and brimstone.

We’re a long way in a short span from the original subject of greatness. We’re left suspecting something has gone wrong with Mark’s sources — that’s the way we’ve been trained to think when we detect incoherence or rambling.

Jesus and his disciples move on (Mark 10). The Truth Squad of the Pharisees enters with yet another trick question about the Law. Sure enough, it produces an extreme pronouncement from Jesus about divorce. Perhaps their question has done just what the Pharisees intended — sowing doubt about this man’s good  sense. What about us ordinary folks with marriages that can be difficult at times? And what about us readers, confronted once again with the not-so-nice side of Jesus?

But (10:13-16) the kids have not gone away. “They” (unspecified) bring children [or slaves?] to him and the disciples shoo them off. Obviously, the disciples haven’t got the message about “receiving” παιδία, so he repeats it: “Let them come to me, don’t prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these (τῶν γὰρ τοιούτων ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ).” Then back to “receiving” language to say that we should receive (δέξηται) the kingdom “like a child [slave?]” or else we won’t get in. Implicitly, there’s a question for  the disciples, and for us readers. Are we really ready to receive the  kingdom, even if it has piano-wire strung around the edges?

So finally we get what a conventional, coherent, philologicaly trained Jesus (or Mark) should have sad at the outset. “Should”, that is, if he thought and talked like us, and if the gospel were not about metanoia — meaning not “repentance” but transforming the way your mind (νοῦς) works.

BERG   1/16/13
We’re left suspecting something has gone wrong with Mark’s sources.”
Yes, Bob, so much context in 9 & 10 seems to have been left on the cutting-room floor. Our director seems in a hurry to cut to the chase, which is going to begin right away with chapter 11. Maybe he’s realized that he doesn’t have that much time or space to do justice to the plot; maybe he’s seen that Matthew’s 28 chapters just won’t suit the public’s attention span. Get it finished in 15 (or 16?) chapters, that’s the goal.

So we cut in some heavily edited scenes. Right off the bat (9:1) our (first-century) attention is caught by the surprise long-range prediction: “I swear to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the arrival in power of the kingdom of God.” From then on, things start to get more and more frenetic. First the transfiguration, then the epileptic seizure, then cut in the explicit prediction that “The Son of Man is about to be handed over into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and after three days he will be raised up” (9:31). Of course, the disciples don’t get it, any more than they do when he repeats it in 10:32-34. But we get it, twice. Then cut in the admonition about receiving kids the way you’d receive me (9:37), don’t forget to reiterate that at 10:13-16, where you emphasize, as Bob points out, the need to receive the kingdom as kids would receive it. (But Bob, I could be wrong, but I don’t think people would bring Jesus their slaves for him to lay his hands on.)

Sparagmos of Pentheus by Bacchantes, wall painting, Pompeii, 1stC

Sparagmos of Pentheus by Bacchantes, wall painting, Pompeii, 1stC

Finish ch. 9 with a wild rhythmic sparagmos, the cutting off of body parts, with the twice-repeated refrain from Isaiah (undying worm & fire) as a background drone, and suddenly the gruesome dance is over, and quiet advice given: “Keep yourselves well salted, and live in peace with each other!”  Culinary metaphor?

Splice in the rich man who keeps the commandments but can’t give up his wealth.  And be sure to call the disciples “children” (tekna) when you point out what an obstacle wealth is to the kingdom (10:17-27). They’ll need to remember that.

Nevertheless, from then on, it’s a question of dealing with their squabbles over rank and hierarchy. Now’s the time, not a moment too soon, to secure their devotion by promising the disciples a payoff, and more than that, both in the immediate future and in the coming eon (10:28-31). But there are conditions (10:32-45).

Cut to a final miracle for good measure. Bar-Timaeus recovers his sight and goes dancing down the road after Jesus. Fade and bring on the sets for the final scenes.

McKIM   1/17/13
Just caught up with you two, reading fast, not worrying about comparisons with Matthew, just going with the flow. In that mode, I don’t feel the incoherence Bob does. Jesus responds (9:33-40) to the disciples’ sniping over who’s the greatest by turning the whole earthly pecking order upside down, presents a child as a role model, then says non-disciples are just as worthy as disciples (anyone who does good work in my name — a lesson he learned from the Greek woman?). Then the thought of leading a faithful child astray, as opposed to good works in my name, triggers his moral blood-and-thunder.

Bob refers to “the not-so-nice side of Jesus”. But J’s bad cop routine isn’t a sideshow, it’s central to his mission! Impossible moral demands, impossible self-inflicted punishments for failing to meet them, leaving us only with a terrifying God’s grace to save us from Hell for our inevitable, un-self-punished sins. (Justification by faith alone, courtesy of my old pal Luther.)

Note: he doesn’t say somebody else should cut off your offending appendages or pluck out your eyes. He says you should do it to yourself. (He’s no Taliban.) But of course you won’t — that’s the point.

Gold wedding ring, Byzantine, 6thC

Gold wedding ring, Byzantine, 6thC

Then divorce (10:1-12). It strikes me that tradition misreads this passage, and I think Bob may too. Jesus does not say you’re not allowed to get divorced. (He’s no Catholic Church.) He says if you do it’s adultery. He says the only reason Moses lets you get divorced is that your hearts are hard, but he doesn’t overrule Mosaic law. Sure, “What God has joined no man should put asunder” — but Jesus’ point is not that divorce should be illegal, but that just because it’s legal doesn’t make it not a sin. The sixth commandment forbids adultery, and by Jesus’ lights divorce is therefore sinful. But aren’t the Ten Commandments God’s precepts, delivered directly by him, as opposed to Leviticus-like legalities? That is, don’t they forbid sins rather than outlawing crimes? Then Jesus would be saying that divorce is legal by human (Mosaic) standards but still a sin in God’s eyes.

And I think he’s on to something we today are loath to admit — a psychological or emotional truth that holds independently of theism. I’ve divorced & remarried. Divorce does involve what can meaningfully be called sin — a broken vow, a transgression of faith — and there’s a long-term price to pay. To try as we do to deny that, to pretend that we’re just correcting an unfortunate mistake, that people grow apart & what can you do, that it’s all for the best etc etc  … well, J to me stands against all that feel-good morality and rightly so, without trying to legislate behavior.

Bottom line for Jesus: you’re going to sin, you’re not going to hold yourself sufficiently accountable, so all you can do is humble yourself like a child before God & ask for grace in exchange for metanoia, “after-thought” — which, yes Bob, I think does mean repentance. Thus the whole sequence from 9:33 to 10:16 seems coherent enough to me.

Still, Bob makes a powerful point in saying what about “us ordinary folks with marriages that can be difficult at times. Does Jesus simply condemn us to the fire with no feeling for our weaknesses or our failures or our honest efforts to do the best we can?

The Jesus I’m seeing is not hardhearted about this — the blood-and-thunder J who proclaims divorce a sin is the same J who has a soft spot for children, who gets really upset at the thought of leading them astray, who’s full of compasson for us sinners, our infirmities & our troubles. The compassionate J & the cut-off-your-whatever J, the nice side & the not–so-nice side, coexist in a Heraclitean harmony of opposites.

What I’m bucking against, I guess, is the tendency to skate over the not-so-nice as if it were some kind of recurring aberration or regrettable tic, as if only the comforting side is the essence of J (or of God). As sage Heraclitus said, the Logos is day/night, war/peace, not just one or the other.

BERG   1/18/13
I’m divorced & remarried, too, Rick, and I’m really hearing what you say about the burden on one’s conscience. Even though my ex & I, who still have friendly contacts from time to time, are infinitely happier than we would have been had we stayed together, and even though there were no kids to be harmed, still the feeling of failure of commitment is keen and lasting. A broken vow, as you so aptly put it, is a broken vow. I try to accept it as I accept all the other painful twinges that go along with my being who I am, a person with a history (not that I’m going to let it drive me back to religion, but wouldn’t the scientologists have a field day here?). And of course I’m also a person in history, heir to the guilt standards that western civ imposes or tries to impose on its members, some of them richly deserved, some of them grossly misplaced, all of them unavoidable. Our birthright, as it were.

Much of traditional guilt derives from the church and its teachings, which in turn derive, to an appreciable extent, from the teachings of Jesus about the nuclear family.  Ancient Jewish marriage was, I assume, much like marriage always has been throughout the non-Christian world: a joining, mostly prearranged by interested parties, of two bank accounts. There were prescribed ways into this primarily economic arrangement, and there were prescribed ways out of it.

Marriage or betrothal of Virgin Mary, Michael Pacher, Austria, 15thC

Marriage or betrothal of Virgin Mary, Michael Pacher, Austria, 15thC

Throughout the gospels, however, Jesus does seem inordinately preoccupied (for his culture, that is) with divorce, and to some extent with child abuse. Everyone nowadays accepts his attitudes as “gospel,” and nobody ever seems tempted to snoop into his own family situation. Black sheep Bill, however, can’t help wondering where the almost legendary (Matthew) Joseph is or has been all the time since we last saw him in the Jerusalem caravan asking fellow travelers if they’d seen his wayward son. Dead? or (gasp) a deserter, someone who found a legal (or otherwise) way out of the bargain? How much pain did he cause the child by his presence, or by his absence? Can his son really look him in the eye and say “I must be about my father’s business”? Or will he only look down and mumble it so only the mother can hear?

Mark 9:36: “He took a child, put it into their midst, and put his arms around it.”  Receive this child and you receive me. Receive me and you receive my real father. He brushes off the distraction concerning the guy who’s been horning in on their exorcism business, and gets back to his point about kids: no reprieve for the child molester!  And then the incantatory refrain about the kingdom.

When he embraces the child, is he embracing “his own child”?

McKIM   1/19/13
There was a child in my case, Bill, my daughter, two years old when her parents split long ago. My daughter & I have always been very close, and her mother & I weathered the strains of divorce and remain good friends despite limited contact. I can’t say whether there’s a calculus by which we’re “happier” than we would have been if we’d toughed it out, but all would appear to have worked out more or less OK. And yet …

Strange how Mark, this ancient, somewhat incompetent Jewish movie-maker, still has the power to turn a discussion about him into one about ourselves! Could his movie’s star have something to do with that?

I agree that Jesus gets remarkably worked up about divorce, given that marriage is supposed to have been primarily a financial arrangement even in our culture till relatively recently. “What God has joined together” must mean more than two bank accounts. Either he’s forging a new concept of marriage, or there was more to marriage back then than we’ve been taught. Sexual fidelity must be part of what he’s obsessing about, but I can’t tell whether, for him, that has anything to do with what we’d recognize as emotional commitment.

Joseph, Mérode altarpiece, Master of Flémalle, 15thC

Joseph, Mérode altarpiece, Master of Flémalle, 15thC

I’m also taken, Bill, by your speculations about Jesus & his earthly dad, though I think “child abuse” (a phrase Bob also used) overreaches a bit & feels somewhat anachronistic. To me, Jesus’ focus is on a child as the archetype of a believer, and on the heinousness of exploiting that child-like state (in anyone) by leading believers astray. Still, Joseph’s absence is notable as you say — unless it’s just because the evangelists weren’t interested in him — and you provide an attractive “human” explanation for why J takes children so to heart.

There’s also a theological explanation for why the son of God would do that. Perhaps both explanations can be equally true, but even if he’s the son of God, it’s the kind of human family feelings you invoke that would motivate him, since for now he has become fully human. In any case, embracing the child is an iconic emotional act, but if Mark has any film editing competence at all, it’s no accident that the embrace stands in Heraclitean light/dark juxtaposition with J’s equally iconic & emotional fire-and-brimstone diatribe against sin.

Children or Slaves?

CONNOR   1/21/13
I’m still thinking about Jesus and the paidiachildren or slaves? There are two paidia-in-the-middle episodes. In the second, Mark 10, parents (I suppose) bring their kids to the Holy Man and ask for a blessing. The disciples go ballistic. Jesus brings them back to earth with a discussion about how kids’ spontaneity counts. He lays hands on them in blessing.

But the first episode, in Mark 9, is making a different point if we take paidion there to mean “slave”. It comes about in response to the squabble about greatness (9:33ff). Jesus takes the initiative here, has a slave (paidion) brought in, and makes the point that service is the route to leadership. Note πάντων διάκονος in 9:35, “servant of all”. Kids aren’t διάκονοι (servants). No laying on of hands, no threats about millstones are appropriate here. But “receiving” may be — you “receive” a slave by inheritance or purchase. You take him/her into your home, at the  bottom of the domestic pecking order. THOSE are the people who are greater than others. Learn from them!

It’s very tempting to conflate these two stories.  But I think they can be untangled.

Now I’m tending to go along with you, Bob, on paidion = slave in 9, and I appreciate your pondering that possibility. I guess one of the things that throws us off is the fact that the epileptic boy in the preceding miracle is called both a υἱός and a παιδίον, so we’re unprepared for the “servant” sense. But you’re right about children not being διάκονοι, and I might note additionally that the μικροί (common term for servants, at least today) in the following diatribe are called πιστεύοντες (9:42), which should imply at least an age when willing conversion is possible — not childhood!

Curious how John’s contentious report comes up (9:38, about the fellow using Jesus’ name to exorcise demons). It hinges on Jesus’ having just said in 37 that anyone who receives paidia in his name receives him too (Ὃς ἂν ἓν τῶν τοιούτων παιδίων δέξηται ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματί μου). So John thinks of someone else acting, not  receiving, ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί σου. This way of making a connection in a dialogue is reminiscent of the traditional Jewish legal discourse based on gezerah shavah, in which equivalences are asserted based not on content but on the use of an identical phrase in two otherwise disconnected contexts.  I can’t think of any other way to explain the relevance of “accept the slave in my name” to “casting out demons in your name.”  Can either of you?

Jesus & children: Lucas Cranach, 16thC

Jesus & children: Lucas Cranach, 16thC

McKIM   1/22/13
Bob’s “slave” reading is attractive, and a fitting way to honor MLK Day. But there’s a problem in that right nearby (9:24) paidion clearly means child, referring to the epileptic boy. Bill, doesn’t it beg the question to say this “throws us off”?

As for diakonos (servant) that doesn’t refer to the paidion but is part of the general point J makes that the last shall be first — before he presents the child, whom he then uses to make the related but distinct point that embracing children is embracing him. As if to say, This is what matters, not being “great”. He “embraces” a bunch of paidia soon after in 10:16 — right after his screed against divorce — and in light of Bill’s persuasive back-story explaining J’s passion for children, it’s surely a strain to suppose he’s completely changing the subject by embracing a bunch of slaves.

Bill writes “the μικροί (common term for servants, at least today) in the following diatribe are called πιστεύοντες (9:42), which should imply at least an age when willing conversion is possible — not childhood!” I don’t get the force of this. Jesus’ point is that a believer should be child-like, not that children should be made into believers. Even if he means literally “little believers”, why should we suppose he’d share modern secular reservations about raising children in the faith of their parents? And whatever μικροί means today, do we really think it plausible that in 9:42 J threatens a fate worse than death for anyone who “misleads one of these slaves”?

Actually, Jesus’ point in 9:42 is that anyone “who causes one of these little believers (πιστεύοντες) to stumble, it’s best for him that an ass’s millstone be tied around his neck” etc. Πιστεύω is an active verb — “faithful” would be πιστοί — and the activity is not, IMHO, for children. Unless of course you’re in the deep south (witness this wonderful documentary about a child preacher:

In Greece today, μικρός can refer to someone who serves you, esp. in a restaurant.  I’m digging among papyri to find evidence for a similar use in antiquity (though I think the LSJ entry is enough to show that it designated a lower status). I really think Bob is on to something, and it’s kind of exciting because no one’s suggested it before, as far as I can tell.

McKIM   1/23/13
Faithful ones or believers — I’m not seeing a big difference from what I take to be Jesus’ point of view. I’m not sure, Bill, whether your objection is that children are incapable of active belief, or that it’s wrong for adults to try to turn them into believers, or both, but in any case I don’t imagine Jesus would share your scruples.

More importantly, I take him (in general) to be saying that the state of belief (in adults) is child-like, not that we should be going around converting children. When he says “of such as these is the kingdom of God” (10:15) he doesn’t mean that the kingdom is populated by children (or slaves), but that the population has a child-like (not slavish) relationship to God. Despite Bob’s characteristically provocative speculation that paidion might mean slave in chapter 10, the paidia there must be children, right after Jesus’ condemnation of divorce when switching to slaves would be a non sequitur. So I stand by my sense that the paidion introduced in 9 — presented by our moviemaker as part of the same scene — is therefore probably a child too. If J is embracing children in 10:16, I think he must be embracing a child in 9:36.

Granted, I don’t think the paidia of chapter 10 are anything other than children. The “slave” suggestion relates only to 9. One attraction of this reading is that the two passages turn out not to be an awkward doubling of child references but are meant to be different, esp. with regard to who is “receiving” and what is being “received” —  us receiving slaves/Jesus/God (in Jesus’ name) in the first instance (9), and children/us receiving the kingdom of heaven in the second instance (10). Anyhow, as far as 9 is concerned, who wouldn’t be willing to receive their own, or anyone’s, children in Jesus’ name? Doesn’t that sort of preaching sound unnecessary or redundant?  But if it’s a question of receiving the lowly slave, the servant of all … now that might take a little urging, Jesus-style!

McKIM   1/24/13
Having read your message & re-read Bob’s original one, I’m half-inclined to convert, except:

(1) On my traditional “child” reading of 9, it’s not an awkward doubling of 10 but flows into it smoothly, 10 segueing from one child to many & making a quite different tho’ related point.

(2) Isn’t there a philological difficulty? Of course nobody cites paidion=slave for this passage or for its dupes in Matt & Luke, but there doesn’t seem to be any occurrence anywhere else in the NT either, whereas doulos for “slave” is all over the place. Even LSJ is skimpy on this usage of paidion, citing only a classical inscription & Aristophanes. It’s a long haul to the NT from there. I’m no scholar on this issue, but … Isn’t it inordinately confusing, even for Mark, to deploy the unusual paidion for slave so close to its banner use as “child” in 10? Why not doulos?

(3) “Receiving” seems a bit puzzling either way. If Bob’s right that you receive a slave “by inheritance or purchase”, as a piece of  property, why is it a virtue to do that “in my name”? He’d have to mean receiving not as property but in my name instead, say, as a fellow human being, whom you are to serve as a diakonos to boot. My instinct is that that’s interpretive overload. Admittedly, as Bill says, receiving a child seems easy enough to do anyway — but not, perhaps, if you’re so busy arguing about who’s greatest that you neglect your duty to be a diakonos to the most innocent & vulnerable among us.

“Isn’t there a philological difficulty?” There you do give me pause, Rick, along with the cogency of your other arguments. I come up with παῖς = slave/servant in Luke 1:54, 1:69, 7:7, 12:45, 15:26, Acts 4:25, and παιδίσκη = maidservant in Matthew 26:69, Mark 14:66, 14:69, Luke 12:45, 22:56. But no paidion = slave, which would, as you say, make Mark 9 and its dupes unique.

And reading the parallel passages in Matthew & Luke I see your point more clearly.  Luke has Jesus ἐπιλαβόμενος παιδίου, “having taken hold of a paidion“, which may be easier to do with a child than with a servant.

CONNOR   1/25/13
Children, some of the time to be sure, have a big role in all this. Juvenile delinquents too — not in Mark but in Matthew 21:15 it’s paides who provoke the Establishment, shouting in effect “He’s the Messiah”: “Praised be the arrival of the kingdom of our father David.” That lays it on the line. This guy is not another pompous rabbi or prophet; he’s the king we have been waiting for. Romans go home! Collaborators to the guillotine. No more quisling priests and professors.

Maybe what Jesus meant when he received the “children” (teenagers?) was that unless ye have a good dose of anomie you won’t get into my kingdom. Smash windows; slash tires; proclaim justice! No Hallmark platitudes about cute kiddies here. Clench fists! The revolution is at hand.

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