In storytelling, one foundational rule is “show, don’t tell”. It means that, in a scene, don’t tell the reader about the setting, a character, or an action. You show the scene, what would the reader see? You show the character demonstrating their…well, character. You describe the action as it happens rather than simply stating that it happened. Of course, you have to know when to break the rules.
The idea of writing this way is that you draw the reader into the story. They should be able to imagine being there and seeing it, smelling it, feeling the wind on their skin. The more senses involved, the more vibrant the engagement of the reader. Which is great when the scene is important, the character central, and the place meaningful to the plot. Sometimes, the writer simply doesn’t have the time for all that.
This entry is being written during COVID-19 restrictions. So, the scene about to be described has a whole new feeling about it. But, remember back to large sporting events, tens of thousands of people, food vendors, crowds? You remember those? Well, this is like that, only with more stink. You see, like those events, people came from all over. Like those events, people moved in massive “herds”.
But unlike those, these people included many sick and “demon possessed”. There was a smell of the diseased on top of already pungent smell of sweat, the heightened stress of mentally and emotionally unstable people and caretakers trying to manage moving their charges in such conditions. It was chaos, all centered on Jesus.
Then Jesus went away with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him. And from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan River, and around Tyre and Sidon a great multitude came to him when they heard about the things he had done. Because of the crowd, he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him so the crowd would not press toward him. For he had healed many, so that all who were afflicted with diseases pressed toward him in order to touch him. And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.Mark 3:7-12 NET
There’s a lot going on here, but not a lot of detail is given. But let’s see if we can unpack some of it. Mark says that the disciples and Jesus traveled to “the sea”, which might imply the Mediterranean, except for the instructions “to have a small boat ready”. Now we know the “sea” is the Sea of Galilee.
The crowd is next. It’s HUGE! And it’s made up people, literally, from all over. Look a the map below. These people came from the north, south, east and west. They came because they heard Jesus about the things Jesus was doing. In order to manage His ability to minister to the crowd, Jesus tells His disciples to have a boat ready so He can teach, possibly heal, from just off shore. But it is basically, an escape plan.
The sick pressed toward Him to touch Him and be healed. It is pandemonium around Jesus, and the noise had to be deafening. Normal business along the shore was probably disrupted, which means normal “tax collecting” was probably interrupted, which tends to bring the attention of the authorities. And yet, with all this going on, it seems that the region simply rolls with it. Perhaps this isn’t the first time, Jesus isn’t the first “messiah” to roll through town, or they’re not actually in town, but along the shore outside of a city.
And then there are those possessed by demons. Why are they even there? Don’t the demons know what will happen when they get close to Jesus? They cry out who He is, and He silences them. Obviously, Jesus does not what that sort of advertising, but it only adds to the mayhem around Him.
Imagine it. See Jesus along the shore, the crowd, the arms, the shouts, Jesus’ disciples trying, in vain, to make space around Him. Is Jesus at peace amidst the chaos? Do you hear His voice yelling in frustration or calmly commanding the unclean spirits? What do you smell among the sick? What are they sick with, the sniffles or a retching, wasting disease? What are those with unclean spirits like? Can you see them?
Jesus gives instructions to His disciples to commandeer a small boat just in case. So, are they walking along the shore, or is Jesus still, standing beside a boat as the mass crowds around Him? Is it a clear day, or cloudy with rain? Is it windy and hot, made more hot and smelly by the mass of humanity?
How do you feel to be among the crowd? How do you feel seeing Jesus? What emotions does His voice invoke in you?
This is simply a passage linking Jesus’ work and teaching about one thing to another set of teachings. Mark mentions it in passing. Yet, so much is packed into it, that when you allow yourself to wander into it through your imagination it can be an overwhelming experience. If you are an introvert, it’s terrifying. If you are an extrovert, it’s exhilarating. For both, Jesus may bring peace amidst the chaos.
Jesus entered into this intentionally. He wades into the mass of humanity doing exactly what they came to see, healing physically and spiritually. What do you learn by seeing Him beside the sea? What do you learn by following His example?