Summary: Jesus' ministry, though popular, was mostly misunderstood. Indeed, he was popular with the crowd precisely because he was misunderstood.
Mark takes a break from confrontation stories between Jesus and his critics to give us an overview of Jesus’ ministry. It can be easy to lose sight of what actually is going on around Jesus. Mark reminds us that Jesus has become a superstar, and with that he has inherited the “crowd-management” problems that go with stardom.
The Crowds 7-12
Jesus is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus carried on an itinerant ministry. In plain words, he traveled around. Most of his travels were in the territory of Galilee, which included this lake. Jesus traveled around the territory, teaching and ministering in the countryside, the towns, and along stretches of the shore.
Mark conveys two pieces of information about the crowd following Jesus. First, it’s a big crowd. Again and again he impresses on us the “crush of humanity” following Jesus. Verse 7: a large crowd…followed; verse 8: many people came to him; verse 9: because of the crowd…to keep the people from crowding him; verse 10: he had healed many. There are a lot of people. The other item he wants you to note is that the crowd is made of people from all over the Palestinian area, not just Galilee. Judea, Jerusalem and Idumea are areas at the southern end of Palestine territory, far from Galilee. The regions across the Jordan actually cover area outside of Palestine, though next to Galilee. Tyre and Sidon indicate the northernmost areas. Though Jesus’ ministry is largely confined to Galilee, his fame and appeal has reached long distances.
So, there are a lot of people following Jesus. What further image does Mark give us? If we were in the Goodyear Blimp – maybe on our way to the chariot races in Caesarea – and looked down, we would see a little boat in the water near a crowd-filled shore. We grab our binoculars for a closer look, and we spot the crowd pressing around a single man. A handful of men are trying to push them back, but some of the people are getting through. They are falling before the man, and some of them seem to be grabbing at him.
What’s happening of course is that these are the sick, who are trying to touch Jesus so they can be healed. Do you remember how I described the first time Jesus healed a crowd of the sick who came to him? It was at Capernaum, during the evening after he had cast out the demon in the synagogue and healed Simon’s mother-in-law. I may have been wrong, but it seemed to me that the healing would have been an orderly affair. One by one the people would come, and Jesus would heal them. That definitely is not what’s taking place here. The crowd is close to becoming a mob. Jesus orders a boat to be ready because of the crush of the crowd against him.
Look at their aggressiveness. They are pushing forward to touch him. This is the first time Mark reports the sick reaching out to touch Jesus. Until this time, it has been Jesus doing the touching, if any touching is done at all. The people cannot wait for Jesus to even give them attention. He is not so much a healer anymore as he is a healing power to activate. Later on we will read about the woman who touches his garment unaware. It is evident she does so out of shyness or modesty. The people here are not being bashful. They are just being impatient.
So Jesus has become a superstar. I had mentioned before how the disciples were disappointed when Jesus wanted to slip away from the crowd in Capernaum who wanted to be healed. I wouldn’t be surprised if they wished Jesus would give the order to slip away on that boat. The ministry is getting difficult to manage.
Jesus is popular, but not for the reason he should be. Let’s go back to Capernaum the morning after Jesus had done his first healing stint. Beginning in 1:36 we read:
Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”
Why did Jesus travel? To preach. Why are the people crowding around him? To be healed. Jesus had not intended for his ministry to focus on healing the sick. It was a good thing to do, but it was not the thing he had come for. What he had come to do was preach – to turn the hearts of the people to the kingdom of God. He did the healing out of compassion and as a sign to give himself and his words credibility. What had happened instead was that the healings took center stage.