marriage at cana readings

Jesus’ Miracle at Cana – extra ideas

“The Wedding at Cana (2:1-11) John 2:1-11 is the opening event in Jesus’ ministry. In 1:35-51, Jesus gathers his first disciples, and in 2:1-11 he attends a wedding with them (2:2). Jesus’ mother is also in attendance (2:1). This is the first mention of Jesus’ mother in John.

John 2:2 indicates that Jesus “was invited” to the wedding. He is not the host of the wedding feast but a guest like everyone else. Jesus’ ministry thus opens with Jesus as the recipient of a gesture of hospitality. The beginning of his ministry is played out in an intimate, personal, familial setting.

Jesus’ mother is the catalyst for the miracle in this story. When the wine at the wedding feast runs out, Jesus’ mother informs him of this lack.

The conversation between Jesus and his mother is important. When Jesus’ mother speaks to him in 2:3, she asks nothing explicit of him, but Jesus’ response in v. 4 makes clear that her words contain an implied request. She assumes that her son can remove the scarcity.

Jesus’ words to his mother in 2:4 seem harsh to the modern ear: “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His words are not an act of rudeness to his mother, however, but are an important assertion of Jesus’ freedom from all human control. Verse 4 insists that Jesus’ actions will not be dictated by anyone else’s time or will. Not even Jesus’ mother can control what he does or who he will be.

That one should not read 2:4 as rudeness is confirmed by Jesus’ mother’s response in v. 5. Despite Jesus’ seeming rebuff of her, his mother tells the servants with utter confidence that Jesus will do something. His mother is thus a model disciple: she trusts that Jesus will act and allows him to act in freedom.

The miracle that Jesus performs is appropriate to the personal setting of the wedding. Turning water into wine is an act of turning scarcity into abundance, of repaying the initial hospitality offered him. Jesus’ first miracle in John takes place in the presence of friends and family, not in the presence of powers and authorities.

This opening to Jesus’ ministry shows that the miraculous life-giving power of God is at work even (and perhaps, especially) in the intimate daily places of human lives.”
(Women’s Bible Commentary, Carol Newsom & Sharon Ringe eds., John Knox Press, 1992, p.383)

“It is noteworthy that on the general question of Jesus’ relationship with his family, John stands, as it were, between Matthew and Mark, on the one hand, and Luke on the other.

  • Matthew and Mark give the impression of a complete rift,
  • Luke of complete harmony between Jesus and his relatives.
  • John has a more complex picture: Jesus’ mother and brothers at first accompany him as disciples (211-2, 12); later his brothers do not believe in him (7:5); but finally his mother and his aunt are among the few who stand by him at the cross (19:25).

The probability is that, after an early breach, on which Mark and John agree, the relatives of Jesus -— his mother, his brothers, Clopas, and Mary — had by the end of Jesus’ ministry joined the circle of his disciples.

This is suggested not only by the agreement of Luke and John, but also by the tradition of the resurrection appearance to James (1 Cor. 15:7), which most probably presupposes that James was already a follower of his brother.”

‘Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels, Richard Bauckham, Wm.B.Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002, p.221′

“Khirbet Qana was located about fifteen kilometers from Nazareth. The closeness of the two villages explains the presence of Jesus, his mother, and his brothers. The wine failed, probably because there were more guests than had been expected.

There was standing there some jars each holding two or three measures; a measure was about forty litres, so that each jar held up to one hundred and twenty litres. Jesus had the servants fill the jars with water, but the water then became wine.

The capacity of the jars underscores the sheer size of the miracle. In the context of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the miracle “signified” that God had accredited Jesus as his emissary, just as he had formerly accredited Moses by the signs which he enabled him to accomplish in the sight of Israel. Jesus is the new Moses (Dt 18:18)….

…The words spoken by the steward of the feast are clearly symbolic. Jesus is the Bridegroom who brings a wine superior to that of Judaism. According to Origen, Cyril of Alexandria, and Ephrem the wine symbolizes the supreme revelation given by God to humanity, given by the Logos himself. The revelation communicated through the law, the prophets, and wisdom was undoubtedly good, but the revelation of Jesus is better still: “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn 1:17)….

There has been much juggling with the number three in v. 1, and many hypotheses have been offered to explain it. The most probable is that the evangelist wishes to remind the reader of the resurrection, which likewise took place “on the third day.” This first manifestation of glory, which attests to the mission of Jesus, anticipates the decisive manifestation of this glory, namely, his resurrection. The fleeting glory of Cana is an anticipation, in the form of a miracle, of the definitive glory that is slowly brightening like the dawn.”

The Miracles of Jesus and the Theology of Miracles, Rene Latourelle, Paulist Press New York, p.210-11.

The use of the term ‘woman’ (gunai) to refer to his mother sounds harsh, though it is to be remembered that nowhere in the Gospel does John identify her by name.

However, this word is used elsewhere in John (4.21; 8.10) in contexts where Jesus had initiated a relationship with the women concerned, as a result of which they had benefited. Also, it is used twice in conversations with his mother (19.26) and Mary Magdalene (20.13, 15) in very caring contexts.

It is possible that John here specifically identifies Mary, not by name but as Jesus’ mother, and on three occasions, to indicate her relationship with him. As his mother, she knew her son; she may not know what he will do, but she knows that he will do something.

The statement of Jesus, ‘My hour has not yet come’ is also worthy of consideration. It refers either to the miracle that occurs next or to something else, perhaps his death, in which he will be glorified.

However, a reference to his death seems out of place in this context. It is more likely that Jesus was unwilling to appear to respond to the situation as if his mother had offered him with guidance when, in reality, he always followed an agenda set by God.

The Miracles in the Gospels, Keith Warrington, Henderickson Publishers.

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jesus feeds 5000 extra ideas

Jesus feeds five thousand

What’s on this page?

  • Key ideas about the miracle of Jesus feeding five thousand, described in all four of the gospels. Extracts from popular books about Jesus.

The story shows no effort to exploit the extraordinary aspect of the miracle. In particular, it says nothing about how the miracle was worked. We know only that the guests ate and were filled…

The episode is calculated by its very nature to recall the miracle of the manna in the wilderness (Ex 16:1-18) and to elicit the question of the kingdom and the identity of Jesus. At the same time, however, it is important to observe that although Jesus is conscious of his messiahship, he dissociates himself from the idea of a political Messiah that was current in Israel.

To make clear his opposition to this idea he avoids the attempts of the crowd to make him king, and withdraws alone to the mountain to pray. He thus breaks with the ancient and current conception of the Messiah and the kingdom. The inability of the disciples to understand is likewise in contrast with the status of the apostles in the Church.

The points that call for explanation are these:

(a) Why was Jesus considered, after this event, to be a great prophet (Mk 8:29), and even as the prophet whom the entire nation was awaiting (John:14) and whom it wished to proclaim king (John 6:14-15)? Why this dangerous explosion of political messianism?

(b) Why did Jesus compel the disciples to embark immediately, while he was dismissing the crowd, as though forcing them to abandon something (a dream!) very dear to them (Mk 6:45)?

The Miracles of Jesus and the Theology of Miracles, Rene Latourelle, p.76

Today the attitude of the majority of men to Christ and His Church varies in different situations –

  • there are places where to be a Christian means the bearing of a real cross of suffering in contempt and isolation
  • but there are also other lands where the Church enjoys great prestige among eager crowds of people.

The testimony of many ministers for instance, in the new housing areas of our own land is that, where an approach is made to men and women in the name of the Gospel of Christ, the crowds will tend to gather with eagerness to be taught and led.

Such popularity may be as superficial as Jesus’ popularity was in His own day. It may be a danger and temptation to the Church. It certainly faces the Church with a real challenge, and in the midst of it, even more than in the midst of unpopularity, the Church needs guidance from Christ as to how to act and shape its policy.

Quoted from The Gospel Miracles, Studies in Matthew, Mark and Luke, Ronald S. Wallace, Oliver & Boyd, 1960, p.89

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jairus daughter jesus new ideas

Jesus cures the daughter of Jairus

‘And then at this critical time when his (the father’s) faith was beginning to wilt, there came the cry, “Why trouble to go on any further?” Some of his friends had been at the house. And their report was that the child was dead and it was too late and it seemed sensible to them to come and stop him from bringing this Teacher all the way now. “There came from the ruler’s house some who said, ‘Y our daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?”

These were wise sane men, full of common sense. This was their considered opinion, for they wanted to help him. And this considered opinion of these wise sane practical decent men was calculated to shatter his last shred of hope and faith, and to put him forever off the track he had started on with Jesus. And their advice was so sensible that he would now be holding himself up for ridicule if he did not take it.

Why continue stupidly to hope? Why not now face up to the finality of the world’s practical judgment, and the reality of death, when death is death?

If Jesus had not been with him this would have been the end of all hope for Jairus.

But now a wonderful thing happened. Jesus stepped in to interfere and rescue Jairus’s faith from being destroyed by the world’s common sense and sanity. A battle began, a battle for faith against sensible decent public opinion. “Ignoring what they said,Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.”

Jairus is told to ignore common sense, sanity, the wisdom of all his friends. “Do not fear, only believe.” Who is he to listen to? To which word has he to give place in his heart?’

Extract from The Gospel Miracles, Studies in Matthew, Mark & Luke, Ronald S. Wallace, Oliver & Boyd, 1960

In speaking of death Jesus uses a euphemism, as in the case of Lazarus: “She is sleeping.” In raising the child to life he uses only a gesture (“taking her hand”) and a command (“Arise”). Instead of looking for showy publicity, he imposes silence.

The evangelists, who are writing long after the event and are therefore not bound by any such command, nonetheless retain the simplicity. They are conscious that here more than elsewhere they are reporting something utterly extraordinary….

There is no doubt in the minds of the evangelists, the members of the ruler’s family, and Jesus himself that they are confronted with a real death.

  • In Matthew the ruler says: “My daughter has just died” (Mt 9:18);
  • in Mark the little girl, initially described as dying, is subsequently said by the messengers from the household to be “dead.”
  • Luke describes the situation in the same way.

Death is so certain that by the time Jesus arrives the ceremonial of weeping and lamentation is already in full swing. And when Jesus, according to all three evangelists, uses the euphemism: “The child is not dead but sleeping,” he is greeted with mocking laughter (Mk 5:40; Lk 8:53; Mt 9:24). Jesus and this man who is a ruler of his fellows are convinced that they are dealing with a real death.

If Jesus had played out a comedy by exploiting the everyday occurrence of a seeming death for his own ends, he would have discredited himself, and the tradition would not have dared to retain the story. When, then, he says: “The child is not dead but sleeping,” he does so in order to put a preventive damper on messianic excitement. In the case of Lazarus, who is not only dead but already decomposing, he will likewise say: “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep” (Jn 1=1:11). But the evangelist immediately explains: “Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep” (John 11:13). The language is the same in both stories, and each time there is a reason for the euphemism…

Anyone who makes the unsupported claim that what we have here is a simple story of healing which has been transformed in the course of tradition into a resurrection story, and who goes on to say that it is a fictive resurrection symbolizing the resurrection of Christ, must either be reading the Gospels backward or be ignoring the rudiments of historical criticism.

Bultmann claims that it is impossible for a modern mind to speak of the raising of the dead to life.

I, on the contrary, believe that if the Absolute breaks through into the history of the race in order to save it, it is completely intelligible that this extraordinary goodness should find expression in unparalleled saving gestures such as healings, exorcisms, and raisings from the dead. Miracles are simply the good news of grace and salvation made visible: humanity made new, the world made new. That is how the apostles thought who were witnesses to Jesus.

The Miracles of Jesus and the Theology of Miracles, Rene Latourelle, Paulist Press, New York, p.126-7

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gadarene demoniac extra ideas

Jesus & the Madman

What’s on this page?

  • Key ideas about Jesus & the Gerasene madman, from popular books on the gospels

The destruction of property, the pigs, not the healing of the two men, seems to be the crowd’s priority, and those in the region ask Jesus to leave. Jesus’ power over demons is observed but not appreciated. Other, material issues matter more.

Luke alone notes that the man was naked, adding a theme of shame.

Mark details the strength of the possessed man, who could not be bound in any kind of restraint. He continually injured himself on the stones. The scene paints a tragic picture of self-destruction.

Both accounts note that Jesus also extracted the name of the demons, ‘Legion,’ indicating that he was significantly outnumbered. On the surface it is an uneven fight, but Jesus’ authority is confirmed when they enter the swine, which Mark numbers at about two thousand. This helps us appreciate the extent of economic impact of what the demons did to the swine.

Unlike Matthew, Mark and Luke point out how part of what created the fear was seeing the man in a sane condition! 

Jesus according to Scripture, Darrell L. Bock, Baker Book House Co., Michigan, 2002, p.165

This is doubtless the most disconcerting and scandalizing of all the miracle stories. For centuries it has provided the enemies of the Church with a butt for sarcasm and ridicule. Just think: a story about a demon deceiving and then deceived, and ending up in the sea with the two thousand swine which he has chosen as a place of residence! Even Catholics are embarrassed at having to present the story as authentic and serious.

The difficulty is all the greater inasmuch as often it is only the peripheral aspects of the story that capture attention:

  1. Were there one or two possessed individuals?
  2. How to excuse the destruction of the two thousand swine?
  3. What place along the Lake of Gennesaret is steep enough for the animals to hurl themselves over it? The traces of such a mass self-destruction should still be discernible even today.

The most harebrained explanations abound and make the rounds: from those defending the strictest historicity to those indulging in the most grotesque fantasies.

Let me say straight off that readers looking for certainty on every detail will be disappointed. Our primary concern must be to know whether or not Jesus restored physical and psychic balance to an unfortunate lunatic. On other points we shall reach at best various degrees of probability. Historians do not ask for more than that, nor do sincere believers.

The Miracles of Jesus, Rene Latourelle, p.111

‘The people of the town undoubtedly felt that the man was mad, for his appearance and behavior conformed to the popular diagnosis of insanity. In accordance with the practice of the day they had attempted to bind him by chains to protect themselves from his violence.

The Gospel of Mark, Lane

When this proved to be futile, they had driven him off to wander restlessly in the wild hill country and to dwell in the subterranean caves which served as tombs and dwellings for the poorest people of the district.

At intervals during the night and the day he would be seen among the tombs or on the mountains, wildly shrieking, cutting his flesh with sharp stones, attempting to destroy himself and bring to an end the torment of an unbearable existence.’


‘According to the Talmud there were four characteristics of madness: walking abroad at night; spending the night on a grave; tearing one’s clothes; and destroying what one was given. This man demonstrated all four characteristics.’


‘Jesus now demands to know the demon’s name, and for the first time there is indicated the full degree of distortion to which the man was subjected: not one but a multitude of alien forces had taken possession of the volitional and active ego of the man (“My name is Legion, for we are many”). It is difficult to know what is meant by the term. The answer may express the man’s sense of being possessed by an aggregate of uncoordinated impulses and evil forces which have so impaired his ego that the spirits speak and act through him. If so, this response may be an appeal for compassion. It is a pathetic admission of the loss of all sense of identity.’

The Gospel According to Mark, William L. Lane, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Michigan, 1974, p.182-5.

The account (in Mark 5:1-20) is so vivid, immediate and unimaginable as to be true, presenting again a strong case that the story rests on the recollection of someone who was there (Peter, once more?)

A moment’s reflection prompts us to feel the suffering of all those involved in this tragic scene. The local townspeople were anxious for their welfare, as witnessed by their many unsuccessful attempts to capture this frightening man. We can readily imagine the sense of helplessness of the man’s immediate family too, forced to live with the tragedy of their deranged relative.

The unclean spirit gives his name as Legion, revealing something of the greatness of the man’s own inner pain and sense of dislocation. As the man advanced, he fell on his knees before Jesus, not in the menacing mock worship of an earlier occasion (see 3:11) but in a sincere, if confused, manner.


Mark concludes his story with starkly contrasting human responses. The owners of the pigs, and others from the neighboring region who had been told what had happened, converged on Jesus and the man who had been demon-possessed. They were afraid, sensing the presence of the supernatural, when they saw the previously deranged man sitting there, dressed and in his right mind.

Yet despite the astonishing change in the man they began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.

We might have expected a request for Jesus to come and bring his powers to bear on others similarly afflicted in the area. But they asked him to go away, a sad commentary on their distorted sense of priorities which preferred property to people.

Mark lets us not only see the dramatically changed man but also hear him beg to go with Jesus as one of his group Did he not owe him his life?

Mark, the Servant King, Paul Barnett, Aquila Press, 1991, p.83

‘In these days in Gadara a disordered spirit of lawlessness found its expression in the brutal and stupid behaviour of these demoniacs.

Today the same deep-rooted perversion of the human mind and heart and nature expresses itself in more apparently civilised and better dressed forms. It expresses itself sometimes in mass hysteria, sometimes in mob violence, sometimes in waves of juvenile delinquency or anti-semitism.

Sometimes it ultimately finds its expression in the determination of a nation, fascinated and led by disordered minds, to wage war and work havoc on the earth in pursuit of wild and senseless ambition.

The Gadarene demoniac who was such a problem “lived among the tombs; and no one could bind him anymore, even with a chain; for he had often been bound with fetters and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the fetter: he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him.”

The civil authorities of Gadara had done their best to maintain public order and decency by force. They reinforced the police, forged the strongest possible chains, issued the strictest instructions, but the situation was beyond their control. Each time new and stronger chains were tried they worked only for a very short time and the disorder broke out afresh.

The Gospel Miracles: Studies in Matthew, Mark and Luke, Oliver & Boyd, Edinburgh, 1960 p.65.

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temptation of Jesus readings

Satan tempts Jesus – extra ideas

What’s on this page?

  • Key points about the Temptation of Jesus, quoted from books about the Life of Jesus

Who’s in the gospel story of the Temptation of Jesus?

  • Jesus – a teacher from Galilee now facing a decisive moment in his life
  • the Devil – Evil

Jesus certainly took for granted the reality of Satan and spoke about him, sometimes in a poetic manner (Luke 10:18). It is, therefore, possible that he described his inward experience of temptation in dramatic form, as here…

Commentary on Luke

Jesus underwent temptation on other occasions, and that the temptations described here reflect the experience of one who was tempted to prove the reality of his calling by signs and to adjust his ideas of his calling to those of his contemporaries.

Throughout his ministry he was engaged in conflict with the forces of evil. It is by no means impossible that he communicated something of his inner experience to his disciples, and indeed highly likely that he did so.

It is also probable that at the outset of his work he had to face up to the question of the nature of his vocation. The theory that the account of the temptation rests on a historical experience of Jesus fits in with what we know otherwise of his ministry and remains the most satisfying explanation of it.

It has often been argued that the narrative shows Jesus being tempted to be a political Messiah. This interpretation does not do full justice to the narrative which is much more concerned with the personal relation of obedience between Jesus and his Father and thus reflects the attitude of Jesus himself rather than of the early church about him. Behind the story lies the experience of Jesus.

Commentary on Luke, I. Howard Marshall, New International Greek Testament Commentary, Paternoster Press, Michigan, 1978

Jesus is tempted (1:12—13)  This is no minor moral skirmish but Satan’s full-frontal attack on Jesus to capture his soul.  Jesus had been addressed first by God (1:11), now by Satan.

In the baptism, God had reassured Jesus and called him. But now Satan, the enemy of God and his Son, seeks to destroy Jesus before he can begin his assault on the demonic kingdom.

The struggle that begins here will rage throughout the Gospel, reaching its climax when Jesus is on the cross; the cosmic character of that final battle will be symbolized by the day becoming night (see 15:33 — ‘when darkness came over the whole land’). The presence of the wild animals here signals the grave danger facing Jesus in the loneliness of the desert. At Golgotha he will again be alone, abandoned by his friends and, so it will seem, even by God; then, instead of wild animals, ferocious men will bay at the crucified man (15:29—32; of Psalm 22:21-22).

Alongside Jesus’ temptation, however, is his triumph.  The angels attend Jesus in the desert, and he does not succumb to Satan or to the wild animals. Jesus is a new Adam. Like Adam, Jesus is Lord over the beasts (cf Genesis 1:26; 2:19-20) or, in the language of Daniel, a ‘son of man’ who prevails over the evil, beast-like kingdoms (Daniel 7:1-13; cf Revelation 13-14).

Unlike Adam, however, Jesus resists temptation, remaining obedient to God. Thus, implicit in Mark but explicit in Paul is the notion that Jesus is the first man of a new race, the leader of a new humanity (see Romans 5:12-21, Corinthians 15:21-24).

Extract from Paul Barnett’s The Servant King: Reading Mark Today, Aquila Press, 1991, p.23-24


The evil archangel approached a hungry, starving man. Jesus was thin and weak. His skin was blistered by the scorching wilderness sun. He probably looked as if He had not bathed in weeks.

Jesus, A Theography, by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola

Using the Lord’s hunger as a point of temptation, Satan said to Him, “If You really are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread and eat.”

Notice that the temptation was to lure Jesus into drawing on His Divine power. Consider Jesus’ response: “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that God speaks.””

Look at the dialogue carefully. Satan said,

“If You’re the Son of God . .”  Jesus responded with the word man, as if to say: “I am a man. I am the real human——the new Adam. And by being a real human, I will defeat you. For Adam, who was also a man, was defeated by you. I am God . . ”

As Paul put it, Jesus laid aside, or emptied, Himself, of His divine power, but took upon Himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.“

Jesus rejected being a Muscle Messiah. Instead, He truly became human and participated in the limitations and frailty of our humanity. Even to the point of death.

The temptations that Satan leveled against Jesus in the wilderness were targeted at obliterating His true humanity and His solidarity with humans.

If Jesus had taken the bait and drawn on His divine powers as the Son of God, He would have ceased living as a human being. And He would have ceased being the Second Adam, “Adam-gone-right.” Satan wanted Jesus to dedicate His ministry to changing the world, not saving the world.

  • Jesus could inhabit His divine self to save people from their hungers.
  • Or He could inhabit His human self to save people from their sins.

As Paul put it, Jesus laid aside, or emptied, Himself, of His divine power, but took upon Himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.

Jesus was living as man anointed by the Spirit of God and living by God’s words and God’s life. In these words, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,”79 Jesus gave us an insight He would repeat over and over again: that He was a man who was living by the indwelling life of His Father——the very thing Adam was called to do by eating from the Tree of Life in the Garden.

Extract from Commentary on Luke, I. Howard Marshall, Paternoster Press, 1978, p.165

A detail recorded only by Mark is that Jesus was with the wild beasts in the wilderness.

The Gospel of Mark, Lane

Jesus in the midst of the wild beasts signifies the victory of the New Adam over Satan and temptation so that paradise is restored in which man is at peace with the animals.

As soon as it is recognized that the dominant motif of the prologue is the wilderness, Mark’s distinctive reference to the wild beasts becomes intelligible. In the OT, blessing is associated with inhabited and cultivated land; the wilderness is the place of the curse. In the wilderness there is neither seed nor fruit, water nor growth. Man cannot live there. Only frightening and unwanted kinds of animals dwell there.

Significantly, when the wilderness is transformed into a paradise no ravenous beast will be in it (Isa. 35:9; Ezek. 34:23-28). Mark’s reference to the wild beasts in Ch. 1:13 serves to stress the character of the wilderness. Jesus confronts the horror, the loneliness and the danger with which the wilderness is fraught when he meets the wild beasts.

Their affinity in this context is not with paradise, but with the realm of Satan.

The Gospel according to Mark, William L. Lane, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974. p.61

Jesus according to Scripture, Darrell L. Bock

Each temptation challenges Jesus’ faithfulness.

  • Will he provide for himself independently of God’s direction and draw on his power in self-interest (bread)?
  • Will he insist that God protect him by putting God to the test of his protection of the Son (temple)?
  • Will the Son defect from the Father and worship someone else for his own gain (kingdoms)?

In each text Jesus stresses his loyalty to the Father as he cites Deuteronomy.

  • There is more to life than bread: obedience is more important than food (Deut. 8:3——bread; only Matthew’s version cites the whole verse; Luke leaves the note about obedience unexpressed but implied).
  • Testing God’s faithfulness implies a doubt of him and should not be done (Deut. 6:16—Temple).
  • Worship and service should be given only to God (Deut. 6:15—kingdoms).
  • Honoring God drives Jesus, not self-interest or self-benefit.

In this way Jesus succeeds against Satan where the previous representative of humanity (Adam) failed.

Jesus according to Scripture, Darrell L. Bock, Baker Academic, p.90, 2002

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Transfiguration. Is Jesus God or man?

Questions for Bible study groups

  1. Just before the Transfiguration, something important happens that unnerves the disciples of Jesus. What is it?
  2. What actually happens at the Transfiguration?
  3. What does the voice of God say at this crucial moment?
  4. What important idea about the nature of Jesus is locked into the story of the Transfiguration?

The Transfiguration is a key moment in Jesus’ public ministry in Galilee. Jesus has just predicted his suffering and death: doesn’t that mean failure, wonder the disciples? No. The Transfiguration shows them that Jesus is God’s agent of redemption.

Gold icon showing Jesus at the moment of his Transfiguration, 1300’s, Byzantine

Jesus transfigured on the mountain

Just before this story starts, Peter says that he believes Jesus is the Messiah. It is a momentous statement.

But then Jesus says something totally unexpected, something that leaves the disciples badly shaken. He predicts his impending suffering and death – not at all what the disciples are expecting. Until this moment they looked forward to a glorious future when Jesus announced his Messiah-ship. When that happened, they expected to take honoured places in the coming kingdom. Now Jesus demolished their hopes, and they were shaken and demoralized.

But something even more dramatic was about to happen, something that would confirm Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. It is so central to the story of Jesus that all three Synoptic gospels include it.

This is what happened

Jesus had taken three of his closest friends, the disciples Peter, John and James, up onto a lonely mountaintop. This isolated location, away from the ordinary setting of the Galilean and journey stories, gives it a special quality.

The three men were Jesus’ inner circle, the ones he trusted most. They had been present at the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and they would be present again with him in the garden of Gethsemane. Now they stood beside him at this seminal moment.

When they reached the summit Jesus prayed – probably standing up. As he prayed, the first of three extraordinary things happened. His face became as radiant as the sun, as if he were a source of light, dazzling to look at. Something of his true nature as God shone through. His clothes became uncannily bright, whiter than any ordinary cloth could be.

This visible alteration of Jesus demonstrated that he was more than merely human. It was the same Jesus, but now with a brightness ‘like the sun’ and ‘like light’.

See blue text in What the Gospels Say, at end of page

Moses and Elijah appear

Then, the second phenomenon. Suddenly two men appeared beside Jesus. The disciples recognized them as two of ancient Israel’s greatest figures, Moses and Elijah:

  • Moses who had lead the Hebrew tribes out of slavery in Egypt, and was the recipient of revelation from God
  • Elijah the great prophet of the Last Judgement.

Together, these two Old Testament figures represented the Law and the Prophets. Neither of them had a known grave, and both of them had spoken with God on a high mountain. Now they spoke to Jesus on a high mountain, both of them appearing ‘in glory’.

They were speaking to Jesus about his coming departure, in other words, about his coming death in Jerusalem. Their deference to Jesus showed clearly that he was the Messiah. In Exodus 34:29-35 we learnt that Moses’ face shone for a time with reflected glory after he had seen God; Jesus shone with his own glory.

Then Moses and Elijah appeared to move away. The disciples were dumb-founded, but frightened as he was Peter was the first to recover. Impetuous and well-meaning as ever, he offered to build three shelters/bowers, similar to the ones used to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. There would be one for each of the glorious figures before him.

It was a mistake. Impossible as it seemed to these 1st century Jews, Moses and Elijah were not on an equal par with Jesus. He far transcended them. Building three equal bowers was not appropriate.

See green text in What the Gospels Say

God speaks

Then the third phenomenon. As Peter was speaking, a cloud descended on to the mountain top, covering and enclosing them in a thick mist. In the Old Testament the presence of God is described as a cloud, one with fire and light. This cloud seemed to be God’s response to Peter’s offer to build the booths: they were not needed, since God had wrapped them all in his glory and his presence.

Understandably, the men were terrified. They sensed that this cloud was a sign of the Divine Presence. They were right. A voice coming from nowhere and everywhere said ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’

The only similar event in the gospels is at the baptism of Jesus, when the voice from heaven, speaking the same words as here, shows an other-worldly reality. Heaven has invaded earth.

See red text in What the Gospels Say

The aftermath

Then suddenly everything changed back to normal.

The cloud was gone, the Voice was silent, and Jesus looked as he normally did. Matthew makes a point of saying that Jesus touched them: this was the real Jesus whom they knew, not an illusion.

Together, he and the disciples wended their way down the mountain, back to the plain and to everyday life.

See black text in What the Gospels Say


Many Christians today favour an image of Jesus as a divine creature who was not fully human in the way that we are. Jesus has been so elevated that he is acknowledged to be God, but not truly man.

The Transfiguration shows that he was both: fully human, fully divine. On the one hand he appeared in glory; on the other, he touched the disciples, perhaps even shook them a little, to calm their terror – a very human act of reassurance.

What happened next? See Parable of the Good Samaritan

What the Gospels say

1. Jesus transfigured on the mountain. Read the blue text

2. Moses and Elijah appear. Read the green text

3. God speaks. Read the red text

4. Aftermath. Read the black text

Matthew 17:1-9

1 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light.

3 And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

5 He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe.

7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” 8 And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. 9 And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of man is raised from the dead.”

Mark 9:2-8

2 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves; and he was transfigured before them, 3 and his garments became glistening, intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them.

4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses; and they were talking to Jesus. 5 And Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 For he did not know what to say, for they were exceedingly afraid.

7 And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

8 And suddenly looking around they no longer saw any one with them but Jesus only.


Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became dazzling white.

30 And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, and when they wakened they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” –not knowing what he said.

34 As he said this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silence and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.

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Loaves & fishes

Jesus feeds five thousand people

Questions for Bible study groups

  1. Why was Jesus on a remote mountain?
  2. Did the food increase as Jesus handed it to the disciples, or did it increase as they distributed it?
  3. Is there a rational explanation for the miracle? Were the people inspired to share what they already had? 
  4. Why was Jesus in danger?

Jesus was followed by crowds of people who wanted to hear him speak and see his healing miracles. This was the setting for the miracle of the loaves and fishes, where Jesus fed some five thousand people.

The great crowd

This story is part of the build-up to the Transfiguration.

Few people realize it was a dangerous time for Jesus. John the Baptist, another prophet, had just been killed by Herod Antipas; Jesus himself had been rejected by the people of Nazareth; and the Pharisees were intensifying their disputes with him. Soon, Jesus would confound the disciples by predicting his own death – something they did not expect at all.

The incident of the loaves and fishes probably took place somewhere near Bethsaida, at the head of the Lake of Galilee.

This town was the home of Peter, Andrew and Philip, and was Jesus’ destination after the miracle occurred. The feeding of the five thousand must have happened in its vicinity.

Jesus wanted to get away from the crowds, so he could pray and think. His teaching and healing were a tremendous physical drain on him and he needed time to recuperate, but it was a constant battle to find privacy.

There was another reason why he wanted to escape them: the crowds made him an object of suspicion to the authorities. If Herod Antipas had executed John the Baptist, he might well do the same to Jesus. Galilee was notorious for sedition, and Jesus was very much a Galilean, not a Jerusalemite.

Suspicion of rebellion was enough to sentence a man to death, and the crowds that Jesus attracted might, as far as Herod Antipas knew, be looking for a leader. These were dangerous times, and the authorities would naturally wonder why crowds were gathering in an isolated place. What could it mean but a planned rebellion?

To make matters worse, it was somewhere near Passover – we know this because the gospel writers make a point of mentioning that the grass was green and luxuriant. The Messiah was expected to appear at Passover. So Jesus was wary; he did not want to be killed just because crowds followed him and the authorities saw him as a political danger.

Read the blue text at end of this page

The dilemma

But even when he withdrew to a remote place, the crowds followed. He healed them and taught them, and they refused to leave.

On this particular day, dusk was approaching. The people, and probably the disciples as well, were hungry and needed food.

The disciples were inclined to look at the problem from a practical point of view. They themselves could not feed all these people. They barely had enough for themselves. Even if they could find supplies of food in this remote place, it would be impossibly expensive – at least two hundred denarii, when one denarius was a day’s wage.

Jesus saw the situation and had compassion on this motley crowd: they were like ‘sheep without a shepherd’. He looked at what they had: five loaves of bread, probably barley bread, the normal food of working people, and two fish – smoked or pickled, as fresh fish would not keep in the warm weather.

Then he ordered the disciples to organise the crowd into manageable groups, about fifty to one hundred people in each, so as to avoid confusion.

Read the green text at end of this page

The miracle

What Jesus did seemed so simple: he took the bread and the fish and blessed and broke it, which was the normal thing to do at a Jewish meal. The Jewish prayer before eating was: Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the world, who brings forth bread from the earth. Jesus probably said the same words at the Last Supper.

He now told the disciples to feed the people, which they did. Astonishingly, there was more than enough to go around. Like the Creator, Jesus had the power to multiply bread and fish. The gospel writer John draws a parallel with the feeding of the Hebrew tribes with manna in the desert.

How this miracle happened, we do not know.

  • Did the food increase as Jesus handed it to the disciples, or did it increase as they distributed it?
  • Is there a rational explanation for the miracle? Were the people inspired to share what they already had? Were there far fewer than five thousand?

Arguments rage. But if there were an explanation for this event, why was this miracle described in detail by all four gospels, so that it became such a central story of Jesus’ ministry?

Read the black text at end of this page


Unlike the other gospels, John’s gospel sounds an ominous note. John notes that the people who witnessed the miracle suggested Jesus was the prophet mentioned in Deuteronomy 18:15, and they wished to proclaim him king.

No doubt they were well-meaning radicals, but their words placed Jesus in great danger, giving leverage for his enemies. There was nothing he could do but try to escape by withdrawing to the mountains.

Read the red text at end of page

What happened next? See Transfiguration of Jesus

What the Gospels say

1. The great crowd. Read the blue text

2. The dilemma. Read the green text

3. The miracle. Read the black text

4. Epilogue. Read the red text.

Matthew 14:13-21

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a lonely place apart. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 As he went ashore he saw a great throng; and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick.

15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a lonely place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.”

18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass; and taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Mark 6:31-44

31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a lonely place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going, and knew them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns, and got there ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore he saw a great throng, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

35 And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a lonely place, and the hour is now late; 36 send them away, to go into the country and villages round about and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.”

39 Then he commanded them all to sit down by companies upon the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41 And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.

Luke 9:10-17

10 On their return the apostles told him what they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a city called Beth-sa’ida. 11 When the crowds learned it, they followed him; and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God, and cured those who had need of healing.

12 Now the day began to wear away; and the twelve came and said to him, “Send the crowd away, to go into the villages and country round about, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a lonely place.” 13 But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish–unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” 14 For there were about five thousand men.

And he said to his disciples, “Make them sit down in companies, about fifty each.” 15 And they did so, and made them all sit down. 16 And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. 17 And all ate and were satisfied. And they took up what was left over, twelve baskets of broken pieces.

John 6:5-15

5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a multitude was coming to him, Jesus said to Philip, “How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” 6 This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?”

10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place; so the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten.

14 When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!” 15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

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Jairus’ daughter

Jesus restores a young girl to life

Questions for Bible study groups

  1. Who was the girl in this story, and what happened to her?
  2. What did her father do?
  3. What did Jesus do? What sensible suggestion did he make?
  4. How does this miracle story link to the story of Dorcas?

This miracle shows Jesus’ authority over death. It also illustrates later Christian teaching about death: it is a sleep from which we will one day awake, when we hear the Savior’s voice.

The daughter of Jairus is dying

Jairus was an important man in the community. He was the ‘ruler’ of the synagogue, and thus a man of learning (much valued by the Jewish people) and some organizational skill. Synagogues were a recent innovation in 1st century Palestine, and the men in charge of them were presumably the best and brightest.

But he had been hit by the worst tragedy a person can face: the death of a child, in this case a beloved young daughter on the threshold of womanhood. She was twelve years old, and had been struck down by some unnamed illness or disease.

Jesus, reputed as a great healer, was in the neighbourhood, and Jairus sought him out in a last-ditch attempt to save his daughter. In his anguish he cast aside his dignity and fell at Jesus’ feet. He begged Jesus to come and heal the girl. She was at the point of death, but even now it might not be too late.

Jesus responded immediately. He would come. Jairus was relieved, and they started the journey to his house, accompanied by a large crowd of curious people. Walking close to Jesus were Peter, James and John, the three core disciples who would be with him later, at the Transfiguration and in the garden of Gethsemane.

Read the blue text at bottom of this page

Jairus’ daughter dies

Before they reached the house the girl died. Her anguished father was overcome by grief, but Jesus reassured him. She was not dead, Jesus said, but merely sleeping.

People in the crowd around him were no doubt sceptical, but they kept going until they reached the house.

There they found the official mourning already underway. Among the throng were flute-players and professional mourners hired for the funeral. So we can assume that the journey to the house has taken some time (Jesus and the people with him were on foot). In the meantime the girl had died, been certified as such, and her body prepared for burial.

Jesus told the professional mourners to leave. There was no need to pay for services that were not required. The girl was not dead but sleeping – in a coma? All three gospels make a point of saying that the people at the house laughed out loud at his naiveté. They were quite capable, they thought, of telling when someone was dead.

This was fair enough. Family members, with the help of people with specialised skills, prepared a dead body for burial; they would certainly have seen and prepared other dead bodies before this day. Moreover, funeral rites took place quite quickly after death in the hot climate of the ancient East.

Read the green gospel texts at bottom of this page

Jesus lifts the girl up from death

But Jesus persisted. He called for silence, then he ejected the crowd of mourners, allowing only her parents and his three disciples to remain. The room became calm, silent. Into the stillness came Jesus’ voice. “Ta’litha cu’mi” he said – Get up, little girl.

As Luke, a practiser of medicine, notes, her ‘spirit’ returned. Life came back into her inert body. And not just life but strength. She got up from the bed and walked.

Read the red text at bottom of page

‘Give her something to eat’

Then Jesus showed he was not just a miracle-worker, but a practical and kindly man as well: he told her parents to give her something to eat. She had not eaten for some time and must be hungry. People often forget that Jesus was a peasant from an ordinary rural community. He healed people, but he also cared about their well-being.

The story has what seems like a strange addendum: Jesus told the people who were present not to talk about it with others – a faint hope in the circumstances. We wonder why, until we realise that at this stage Jesus was attracting more attention than he wanted. Attention meant crowds, and crowds could mean danger if the authorities saw Jesus as a potential rebel against authority, Jewish or Roman.

Read the black gospel text at bottom of page


There are echoes of this story in the raising of Dorcas in Acts 9:36-43Peter, who has been present at the raising of Jairus’ daughter, had enough faith in the power of Jesus to raise another woman out of death.

What happened next? See Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes

What the Gospels say

1. The young daughter of Jairus is dying. Read the blue text

2. Jairus’ daughter dies. Read the green text

3. Jesus lifts the girl up from death. Read the red text

4. ‘Give her something to eat…’ Read the black text

Matthew 9:18-19, 23-26

18 While he was thus speaking to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples….

23 And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house, and saw the flute players, and the crowd making a tumult, 24 he said, “Depart; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose.

26 And the report of this went through all that district.

Mark 5:22-24, 35-43

22 Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name; and seeing him, he fell at his feet, 23 and besought him, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24 And he went with him. And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him…

35 While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36 But ignoring what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James.

38 When they came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, he saw a tumult, and people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a tumult and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Tal’itha cu’mi”; which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42 And immediately the girl got up and walked (she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement.

43 And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Luke 8:40-42, 49-56

40 Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. 41 And there came a man named Jairus, who was a ruler of the synagogue; and falling at Jesus’ feet he besought him to come to his house, 42 for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying…

49 While he was still speaking, a man from the ruler’s house came and said, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more.” 50 But Jesus on hearing this answered him, “Do not fear; only believe, and she shall be well.” 51 And when he came to the house, he permitted no one to enter with him, except Peter and John and James, and the father and mother of the child.

52 And all were weeping and bewailing her; but he said, “Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping.” 53 And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54 But taking her by the hand he called, saying, “Child, arise.” 55 And her spirit returned, and she got up at once; and he directed that something should be given her to eat. 56 And her parents were amazed;

but he charged them to tell no one what had happened.

The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter, Vasiliy Polenov, 1871

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Gerasene Demoniac

Jesus confronts the Devil (Evil)

Questions for Bible study groups

  1. Who was this miserable, tormented man? Where did he live? What was his life like?
  2. What did Jesus do to help him?
  3. How did people react to the healing?

The man with an unclean spirit

The healing of the man possessed by a demon showed Jesus’ power over Nature. He transformed a man who could not function as a normal person into a rational, fully human man. But Jesus’ power over Nature frightened people, and they rejected him.

The man whose body housed the demons was suffering from what today would be called a manic-depressive psychosis associated with demonic possession.

At that time this sort of classification was unknown, and there was no treatment except physical restraint and expulsion from the community.

We are told this man ‘lived among the tombs‘. The dead could not be buried within the limits of a village or town; they had to be buried outside it. So there were spaces hollowed out of the ground on the edges of each village. Here the bodies of the dead were kept until all the flesh had rotted; then the bones were collected and placed in a box.

So we can guess that the place the demented man lived in was stinking and unfit for human habitation. For a Jew, the idea of living in such a place would have been even more horrifying, since it implied perpetual uncleanness.

The wretched man was kept tied up like an animal. Even so he could not be controlled. He must have been physically strong, his strength reinforced by his belief that he was possessed by 5,000 demons.

He must also have been terrifying to the villagers who knew him, or knew his family. There was little understanding of mental illness at that time. People struggled with this particular man the way they would struggle with an animal.

This miserable, tormented man was

  • unable to live a normal life
  • unable to rest or sleep
  • unable to control his own voice or what he said
  • unable to sleep
  • unable to control the urge to lacerate himself.

See blue text at end of this page

Jesus heals the man

Everyone was terrified of this man, and he was terrified of himself. Yet when he saw Jesus he immediately recognised someone who could him. If Jesus could cast out the demons, they would no longer control him.

He shouted out to Jesus, calling him the ‘Son of the Most High God’. This was a term used in Scripture by Gentiles; this man must have been Gentile or lived in a mixed community, since the villagers kept pigs, something forbidden to Jews.

Jesus called out a question to the man, or to the force that controlled him: ‘What is your name?’ People in the ancient world believed that knowing a person’s name gave you power over them. But more importantly, Jesus was reminding the man of who he was, that he had his own identity separate from the demons within him.

Jesus addressed the demons as ‘Legion’, a Latin word which people under Roman control would associate with power and oppression. Notice in the gospel passages below that when Jesus spoke to the man he used alternating singular and plural pronouns, as if he was addressing a divided personality.

Jesus told the demons to leave the man but they, through the man, asked Jesus to give them another ‘home’. Jesus agreed, allowing them to enter a herd of pigs grazing nearby. This seems a strange thing to do, but there was a reason: if the man believed the demons had entered the pigs, and the pigs were destroyed, then he would think himself safe from them. He would believe the demons had truly left him, and this would confirm and strengthen his belief that he was healed.

The poor pigs rushed over the nearby cliff to their destruction.

How? In the paroxysm/fit of his deliverance from the demons, the man may have panicked the animals into stampeding over the cliff. A Jewish audience would not have found this much of a loss since pigs were ritually unclean, but the owners of the pigs would not have welcomed it.

Why did the pigs meet this particular fate? In traditional lore, demons are destroyed by drowning.

See green text at end of this page

Reactions of different people

The man: when the demons left him, the healed man’s nature changed in three ways:

  • he was sitting, not restlessly roaming around
  • he was clothed, no longer naked – clothes are the sign of a civilised man
  • he was quiet and in his right mind, not distraught and shouting.

With Jesus’ help, he had returned to his better self, and was no longer dominated by the spirits of greed, anger, violence and selfishness.

The townspeople were filled with alarm at the power of Jesus and the transformation he wrought in the possessed man. They realised something supernatural had intruded into their daily lives, and they did not like it. Moreover, they sensed that if Jesus stayed, other things might have the go. They too might be transformed, and so they begged Jesus to go, which he did. Jesus will never stay where he is unwanted.

See red text at end of this page

What happened next? See Jairus’ Daughter lives

What the Gospels say

1. The man with an unclean spirit. Read the blue text

2. Jesus heals the man. Read the green text

3. Reactions of different people. Read the red text

Mark 5:1-20 1 They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.

2 And when he had come out of the boat, there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, 3 who lived among the tombs; and no one could bind him any more, even with a chain; 4 for he had often been bound with fetters and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the fetters he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out, and bruising himself with stones.

6 And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped him; 7 and crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” 8 For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9 And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10 And he begged him eagerly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now a great herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside; 12 and they begged him, “Send us to the swine, let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them leave. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea.

14 The herdsmen fled, and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 And they came to Jesus, and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. 16 And those who had seen it told what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine. 17 And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their neighbourhood. 18 And as he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 But he refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and all men marvelled.

Matthew 8:28-34

28 And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. 29 And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?”

30 Now a herd of many swine was feeding at some distance from them. 31 And the demons begged him, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of swine.” 32 And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the swine; and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and perished in the waters.

33 The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, and what had happened to the demoniacs. 34 And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighbourhood.

Luke 8:26-39

26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 And as he stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons; for a long time he had worn no clothes, and he lived not in a house but among the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him, and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beseech you, do not torment me.” 29 For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him; he was kept under guard, and bound with chains and fetters, but he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the desert.)

30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31 And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. 32 Now a large herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside; and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them leave. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

34 When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled, and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 36 And those who had seen it told them how he who had been possessed with demons was healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them; for they were seized with great fear; so he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but he sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.

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Prodigal Son

Unwise father, spendthrift son

Questions for Bible study groups

  1. Who are the three main people in this story?
  2. Each one is at fault in some way. Describe these three individuals. How are they different?
  3. What should each one have done?
  4. What’s this story really about?

In brief: Jesus told the story of an unwise father, an embittered older son and his impulsive and spendthrift young brother. None of the characters come out well. Notice that the message is not only about the father forgiving his son, but about each family member forgiving the others for their human failings.

The Prodigal Son in Modern Life: the Departure, James Tissot

The Prodigal Son in Modern Life: the Return, James Tissot

The spendthrift younger son

In the story of the Prodigal Son, the younger son demanded the portion, about one-third, of his father’s estate which he could expect to inherit in the normal course of events when his father died.

It was a slap in the face to his father, since by the standards of the time demanding the inheritance was virtually saying to his father ‘you are already dead to me’.

Traditional wisdom advised against doing this sort of thing, but the father ignored this advice, gave in to his younger son and handed over the inheritance.

The legal position is correctly depicted. Property could be disposed of either by a will or by a gift during one’s lifetime.

As soon as he received his share the younger son turned his share into cash and left to enjoy the proceeds away from home and parental control. Right away the reader is faced with two characters, father and son, who lack backbone (the father) and foresight (the younger son).

The elder son made no such demands and stayed dutifully by his father’s side, tending the estate which would one day be his.

Read the blue Gospel text at bottom of this page

The bitter older son

When extravagant and dissolute living had reduced the younger son to penury and his fair-weather friends had deserted him, he was forced to take the most menial form of employment, one that was particularly humiliating to a Jew: feeding pigs (pigs were regarded as unclean animals).

He was by this time destitute, and so hungry he would gladly have eaten the carob pods set aside for the pigs – you can see how unappetising these were from the picture below.

He began to realise how stupid, how short-sighted he had been. He had lived well in his father’s house, but now he was little better than a slave. He decided to return home and beg his father’s forgiveness.

But before he even reached home, his father saw him coming in the distance. The older man was filled with pity and relief.

Before the young man could say a word his father had welcomed him back into the family circle, forgiving everything, simply grateful that his son was back. What was important to the father was that his son, seemingly lost forever, had returned.

He offered him signs of honour and authority – including sandals: shoes were the prerogative of free men, not slaves. Property transactions might be ratified by the exchange of sandals – see the story of Ruth and Boaz.

One person refused to join in the celebration: the elder son. He resented the lavish welcome given his ne’er-do-well brother. He pointed out to his father that he had never been treated in the same joyful manner, but his complaints were dismissed, and he was dragged down by bitterness. He could not bring himself to say ‘my brother’ but spoke contemptuously of this son of yours.

The story leaves one question unanswered: did the elder brother eventually join in the celebration and accept his brother back as a member of the family? Or did resentment continue to fester in his mind?

Read the green text at bottom of page

What’s this story really about?

This parable is said to be about forgiveness, and so it is. But there is another aspect of the story that has been largely overlooked: the way your place in the family shapes the person you are.

Psychologists have been studying birth order for many years, and they report that first-borns are likely to be more responsible and achievement oriented than later-borns, who are in turn reported to be more socially successful than their older brothers and sisters. The story of the Prodigal Son shows that Jesus understood this long before modern psychological theory appeared.

There are three characters in the story: a father, an eldest son, and the younger son of the family. Each of them behaves in the way that modern psychologists would predict.

If you are a parent, you may see the main character as being the father himself, trying to navigate through family jealousies and make the best decisions you can. If you are the eldest in your family, you may identify with the frustration of the eldest son who has done all the right things but feels under-appreciated. If you are the baby of the family, used to being loved and pampered, you may not understand what all the fuss is about.

Your interpretation of this story may depend on the role you yourself have in your own family:

  • Are you a parent watching your children grow up?
  • Do you have brothers or sisters?
  • Where did you come in the family – eldest? Second or third?
  • Were you the baby of the family?
  • Are there people with similar characteristics in your own family?

By the way, where is the mother of these young men? One can’t help feeling that if there had been a Jewish mother in the background, this would never have happened. Or perhaps it might: see the story of Rebecca and Isaac.

Read the red text at bottom of page

The Return of the Prodigal Son, Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri)

What happened next? See Parable of the Rich Fool

What the Gospels say

1. What is this story really about?. Read the blue text

2. The spendthrift younger son. Read the green text

3. The bitterness of the older son. Read the red text

Luke 15:11-32

11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons; 12 and the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.’ And he divided his living between them. >/p>

13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. 15 So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘ 20 And he arose and came to his father.

But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; 23 and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; 24 for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to make merry. 25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”

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