Miracles, Parables, and the Kingdom of God

Miracles, Parables, and the Kingdom of God

 

In the Gospel according to Mark, the first words of Christ are, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (1:15). The following chapters of Mark lay out the initiation and preaching of this kingdom that is being ushered in through Christ and His work. In their commentary on Mark in the Sacra Pagina series, Donahue and Harrington bring forth the important observation that when speaking of the Kingdom of God, there is a difference between rule or reign vs. mere geographical region.  They rightly note that the connotation present in “Kingdom of God” is one not of stasis and location, but one “that is more active and dynamic, with the nuance of the ‘reigning’ of God as well.”[1] Morna Hooker agrees, noting that this puts an “emphasis on kingship of God”[2] (emphasis mine), not just the Kingdom of God. Therefore, we may take it to mean that Mark gives “Kingdom of God” a particular meaning that is marked not by a region or locality, but the aspect of the sovereignty of God.

Following this proclamation that “the Kingdom of God is at hand,” miracles, then, serve to establish the initiation of the Kingdom of God among men, revealing the authority and power of God over the present occupants: the demons and their lord (1:23-27; cf. Mk. 3:23-27). In an excellent article that reviews much of the history of scholarship regarding Jesus and his miracles and identity, Andrew Kelley sees miracles as being deeply connected to the Kingdom of God as well as being closely linked to Jesus’ identity, saying, “The miracles of Jesus reveal his identity as God himself at work.”[3] Twelftree, he says, “builds a cumulative case that the primary use of miracles in Mark is to reveal the identity of Jesus” largely through the fact that “Jesus seems to act with his own power and in his own authority.”[4] This idea of the identity of Jesus, as well as the relationship of this identity with His authority, will be a theme that we explore often in the coming months here.

This ‘power and authority’ that Twelftree speaks of was both the power and the authority to usher in the Kingdom of God, and it is boldly displayed in the first three chapters of Mark in particular. There we see four pointed displays of authority over demons, sickness, leprosy, paralysis and sin (1:21-27, 29-31, 40-44, 2:1-12), all along accompanied by a constant mention and display of His authority over demonic forces (1:32, 34, 39, 3:15) who might be characterized as the ‘present occupants’ (Mk. 3:23-27) of the ‘current kingdom’ that is soon to be bound and overthrown. Miracles emphasize and establish this new rule, showing the authority of God, the sovereignty of God, the kingship of God in their present situation. Thus miracles both reveal the identity and the authority of Christ as representative of God while giving pronouncement and initiation of rule to the Kingdom of God on earth.

After these four miracle stories display Christ’s power to usher in the new Kingdom (and, one might say, begin the process), the description of the extent and the nature of the Kingdom of God is revealed through Jesus’ response to four questions, followed by Jesus’ teaching in four parables. The questions asked reveal that the extent of the kingdom extends beyond the physical to the spiritual (2:7, 10-11), that this Kingdom is open to even sinners and tax collectors (2:16-17), that it is something new, outside of the current restrictive tradition (18-22), and that it offers a flexibility that used to be present but has since been abandoned (24-27). Then in one final, additional question asked by Jesus Himself, we see how this new kingdom was unlike their rigid interpretation of the law regarding the Sabbath observance which had become restrictive to the point that it prevented them from caring for others and doing God’s good work on the Sabbath (3:1-5). Jesus was introducing a gospel of grace that offered the flexibility of new wineskins for situations that needed flexibility to accommodate ‘new wine.’

This is then followed by four parables (4:1-34) which are Jesus’ teaching concerning the Kingdom of God, its program, and its nature. The Kingdom is grown through the sowing and receiving of the word of God (4:1-8, 14-20), it is meant to be shared and revealed by those who are a part of it (21-25), it is ultimately a work of God who causes the growth (26-29), and it will be successful, grow, sprout, and become a haven for many more than anticipated (30-32). So we see that while miracles pertain largely to the initiation of the Kingdom, the parables that Mark records (primarily in 4:1-34) are the teaching concerning the Kingdom of God, its program, and its nature. Both worked together as complements, as a display and as teaching concerning the Kingdom of God.

 

______________________

 

[1] John R. Donahue and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2002), 71.

[2] Morna D. Hooker, The Gospel According to Saint Mark (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 55.

[3] Andrew J. Kelly, “Miracles, Jesus, and Identity: A History of Research regarding Jesus and Miracles with Special Attention to the Gospel of Mark.” Currents in Biblical Research, 13 (2014): 82-106. 97. He follows and cites Witmer, the Galilean Exorcist: His Exorcism in Social and Political Context (JHJS, 459; London:T&T Clark, 2012), 2-5.

[4] Kelley, 97, citing Graham Twelftree, Jesus the Miracle Worker (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 343.

Advertisements