HANDBOOK TO THE GOSPELS
MARK'S NARRATIVE RESUMED
From here until Mark 10:2, Matthew 19:2, and Luke 9:52 (which is
the beginning of document P as Luke inserted it into his gospel),
the order of events in Matthew and Luke is nearly the same as it's
found in Mark, with only a few variations. Where Luke reports a different
order, Matthew reports the same order; and where Matthew reports a
different order, Luke reports the same order. Here are Mark's next
44. His friends say he's crazy
45. He is called a madman
46. He redefines his family
47. Discourse on the kingdom of God
48b.Parables from document M
HIS FRIENDS SAY HE IS CRAZY
The first of these paragraphs report that his friends came to
take him home and said he was crazy. Nothing else is reported.
This brief episode (Mark 3:19b-21) is omitted by Matthew and Luke.
It seems to be a precursor to the later report about his family
coming to see him, and Matthew and Luke didn't want to report that
his family made this pejorative statement about him.
HE IS CALLED A MADMAN
The previous paragraph in Mark flows into the next paragraph,
where the scribes are reported as also saying that he has a devil,
that being the way of saying he was insane. Jesus responds with
another of his most famous epigrams, as below. Luke reports this
event later in his gospel as part of document P.
(Mark 3:22-26;Luke 11:17-18;Matt.12:31-32)
How can Satan cast out Satan?
Think, if a kingdom be divided against itself,
how shall that kingdom stand? Or if a house be divided
against itself, then that house cannot stand. And if
Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, then
he cannot stand either, but he will come to an end.
And if I cast out devils by
Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? But
if I by the finger of God cast out devils, then
surely the kingdom of has come to you.
(Mark 3:27;Matt.12:29;Luke 11:21-22)
But no one can enter
into the house of the strong man, and
despoil his house, unless he first bind
the strong man, and then he will spoil
He that is not with me is against me;
and he that gathers not with me only
The house divided is a famous quotation, and probably from Jesus;
but the sayings about the strong man are not so clear; what is he
comparing to the strong man, or to stealing his goods? The saying
about being with him or against him seems to violate his earlier
precept about not judging others. That sentiment also contradicts
what Mark and Luke report later at Mark 9:40 and Luke 9:50: For he
that is not against us is for us. We can't be sure which way Jesus
said it. Jesus continues:
Listen to me,
all of you: All their sins shall be forgiven
unto the sons of men, and their blasphemies
whatsoever they may utter; but whosoever shall
blaspheme against the spirit of God shall not
be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin.
And whosoever shall speak a word
against the son of man, it shall be
forgiven him; but whosoever shall
blaspheme against the spirit of God,
it shall not be forgiven him,|
neither in this world, nor in that
which is to come.
The last clause, which speaks about a world which is to come,
must be from Matthew and not from Jesus, since Luke doesn't have
it. So this passage cannot be cited as evidence that Jesus
believed in a future life. Matthew adds two more verses which are
not found in any other gospel, about what we say to each other:
I tell you all, that every idle
word that men shall speak, they will
have to give account of it in the last
days. For by your words you shall be
shall be judged, either to be justified
or to be condemned.
But this too seems to be counter to the teaching about judging not,
although Jesus may have said something about how what you say can
affect other people positively or negatively.
Matthew inserts some more sayings at this point which are found
elsewhere in Mark and in document P as transmitted by Luke. We
shall consider them in the order in which they are found in Mark
HE REDEFINES HIS FAMILY
His friends have said he was crazy and tried to take him home;
the scribes tried to say he was possessed of a devil but he refuted
them neatly. Now his mother and his brothers came, while he is
speaking in a house, and they called for him. And when he was told
that they were waiting, he looked around at his listeners, and said:
(Mark 3:31-35;Matt.12:46-50;Luke 8:19-21)
Who is my mother, and who are my
brethren? Behold, you all: whosoever does the will of God,
those are my brothers, and sisters, and mother.
None of the gospels reports what his family did; did they just
leave? Were they upset? Anyway, Jesus' meaning is clear; the
concern over living according to what he means by the will of God
is greater than even the relation to his family.
THE DISCOURSE ON THE KINGDOM OF GOD
In this next section, Jesus apparently tries to define what he
means by the kingdom of God. Mark says that "he entered into a boat,
and taught them, sitting in the boat". Mark also says that he taught
them in parables. A parable is a brief story or telling of an event
which is allegorical: it refers to something else other than the
things mentioned in the story, and his hearers are supposed to figure
out what that something else is. Matthew reports some parables which
are not found in the others; presumably these were found in Matthew's
document M. The first one is known as the parable of the farmer
sowing grain, or the sower:
(Mark 4:1-9;Matt.13:3-9;Luke 8:5-8)
Listen, everybody: There was a farmer
sowing grain in his field; and some of it
fell by the wayside; and the birds came
and ate all those seeds. And other grain
fell on rocky ground, and it sprouted,
and it tried to grow, but there was no
soil to grow in; and when the sun arose,
it was scorched, and it dried up, because
it had no root. And other seed fell among
the thorns; and the thorns grew up, and
choked it, so that it could not live. And
other seed fell upon good soil, moist and
well tilled; and it grew up and increased,
and brought forth grain, thirtyfold, and
sixtyfold, and an hundredfold.
Who has ears to hear, let him hear!
This parable is also found in the gospel of Thomas, so we can
regard it as certainly from Jesus. But what is it that he is
referring to by telling it as a "parable"? Certainly not about how
they should sow grain in their fields! We may conjecture that he
is talking about spreading the teaching of the kingdom of God, that
some will listen but be battered by other teachings, some will
forget it, some will fail to practice it because of the trials and
tribulations of the world, but some will hear it, understand it,
practice it, and try to teach it to others.
The disciples ask why he is speaking in parables, and he tells
them it is for them only to understand, and those that cannot
understand, will not understand. He is credited with giving an
interpretation of the parable to them, but we cannot be sure that
it is from him, and not from some later follower who tried to
explain it to others.
We might conjecture that he is saying that the kingdom of God
will grow slowly, like grain in the fields, year after year; and
that it is not like a sudden event, like a messiah arising and
leading them to fight against the Romans and drive them out. But
this is an important distinction, and some of his other parables
seem to make the same point:
So then, the kingdom of God is like a
man casting seed upon the earth, and the
days would pass, and the seed will spring
up and grow, he does not know how. The
earth itself causes the grain to grow, not
man: first the blade, then the ear, and
then the full grain in the ear. But when
the grain is ripe, then he gets his sickle
and begins the harvest.
(Mark 4:30-32;Matt.13:31-32;Luke 13:18-19)
The kingdom of God is like a grain of
mustard seed, which is the smallest of all
seeds, yet when it is sown, it grows up,
until it's greater than all the herbs of
the field, and puts out great branches, so
that the birds of the sky can come and
perch in its branches.
To what else can I liken the
kingdom of God? It is like leaven,
which a woman took, and worked into
three measures of meal, until it
was all leavened.
The last two parables are also found in the gospel of Thomas; and
we can take that as confirmation that they were spoken by Jesus.
So we have three more parables emphasizing on slowness of growth,
rather than a sudden or cataclysmic event.
PARABLES FROM DOCUMENT M
Matthew reports several parables which are not found in either
Mark or Luke. These, we may assume, he found in document M, or
from some other source. The first one is the parable of the Wheat
and the Tares, or the Wheat and the Weeds. It is also found in
the gospel of Thomas.
The kingdom of God is like a man
that planted good seed in his field;
but while he slept, his enemy came and
planted weeds among the wheat, and went
away. And when the wheat sprouted and
grew, then the weeds grew also.
And the servants of the man came
to him and said, Sir, didn't you plant
good seed in your field? then whence
came these weeds?
And the man said, Some vandal has
done this. And the servants asked,
Then shall we go and pull them all up?
But the man said, No; for while you
are pulling up the weeds some of the
wheat may be rooted up also. Let both
This is how the parable probably was when Jesus finished it. But
Matthew must have been puzzled about the meaning of it, and so he
must have extended the last sentence:
.....until the harvest; and
in the time of harvest I will tell the
reapers, First gather up the weeds, and
bind them in bundles to burn them; but
gather the wheat into my barn.
Matthew's conclusion seems to express a belief in a final judgment,
when the good grain will be gathered in one place while the bad
weeds will be destroyed. We find many places in the gospel of
Matthew where this outlook on the future, which is called
"eschatalogical", or about the End of the World, shows in the
editing he has made on Mark's writing or the language of
documents G or P.
Matthew offers a few verses later his full interpretation of the
parable, putting his words in Jesus' mouth, identifying the farmer
as the "son of man", the field as the world, the good seed as
the disciples and other followers of Jesus and their successors
(whom he calls "sons of the kingdom"), the weeds as the
"sons of the evil one", the harvest as the end of the world,
and the reapers as the angels. All of these interpretations are
clearly the result of later theologizing about Jesus, and present
concepts which Jesus has not yet uttered at any time, and represent
ideas about a coming end of the world about which Jesus has never
Jesus' conclusion seems to be rather, Do not worry about
evil; just keep working to build the kingdom of God; the weeds
can be destroyed when harvest time comes. And the reference to
"harvest" is to something which happens every year, not a
cataclysmic end of the world.
The other parables which Matthew apparently got from his own
document M are:
The kingdom of God is like a treasure
hidden in a field; which a man found, and
and hid; and joyfully he goes and sells
all that he has, and buys that field.
Again, the kingdom of God is like a
merchant seeking goodly pearls; and having
found one pearl of great price, he sold all
that he had, and bought it.
Again, the kingdom of God is like a net
that was cast into the sea, and gathered of
every kind; and when it was filled, the
fishermen pulled it out, and sat down, and
picked out the good fish and put them into
pots, but the bad fish they discarded.
All three of these parables also appear in the gospel of Thomas.
The first two of them appear to describe the inestimable worth of
living in the kingdom of God; the third appears to describe the
fact that in the crowds that listen to his preaching and of theirs,
some will be naturally open to those teachings, and others will
be naturally not so open, but just let them go. Then Jesus asks
the disciples, Have you understand all these things? and when they
all said Yes, he went on:
Therefore every scribe who has been
made a disciple to the kingdom of God is like
a householder, who brings forth things both new and old
out of his treasure.
After this, the narrator says that when Jesus had finished telling
these parables, he departed from that place.
Some people found Jesus and his teachings hard to take; some
said he was crazy or a madman; even his family seemed not to catch
on, and Jesus clearly stated that it was more important to follow
the will of God than to maintain relations with his family. His
visit to his home town comes later, however; so we do not know if
these events are told in the right order.
At one point in his career, Jesus made an attempt to describe
to the disciples his conception of the kingdom of God, but in
parables or allegories, so that the meaning would not be evident
on the surface. So we may ponder, what do these parables really
mean, and what do they really tell us to do? Should I sell all
that I have, and then, buy what? When I see weeds growing in my
garden, should I let them alone? Should I spread the seeds for
my garden just anywhere, without regard to where they land? Should
I just tell people what my beliefs are, or what Jesus' teachings
are, and just go away while the leaven rises? or the grain grows
out of sight? In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus appears to be
teaching us to be non-judgmental, sincere, and universal in our
love; perhaps that's the best we can do.