Tag Archives: crowd size

How Big was that Crowd?: Mark 5:21

This morning, I found myself wondering about crowd sizes. When Jesus got out of that boat, how big was that crowd?

Horsham, 27th June 2024

‘When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake.’

Mark 5:21

On this occasion, Jesus is returning from an eventful overnight trip across the lake. The trip started at the end of what had been a busy day, teaching and healing a crowd of people. At first, this looks like Jesus taking an opportunity to escape the crowds to get some rest and downtime. We know that he was very tired, and doubtless his disciples were too. In fact, he was fulfilling a divine appointment with a man on the far side of the Lake who believed himself possessed by a legion of spirits. After this encounter, the exhausted group came back across the Lake, heading for Capernaum. The disciples must have been looking forward to getting home and some well deserved rest. Might it not be discouraging to see a noisy and excited crowd on the shore waiting for their return.

In these days of social media and mass communication, in a culture where people can travel long distances relatively easily, politicians and event organisers are notoriously good at exaggerating the size of the crowd. For them, the high numbers in a crowd indicate success and status.

At this point, Mark says the crowd is large(i)This crowd is unlikely to number thousands of people. Some would have travelled a great distance to be there, but at a time when the entire population of Capernaum was probably about 1500 people, we might imagine this crowd to number at the most tens or hundreds, rather than thousands. Some are curious and interested in following Jesus and to hear his teaching. Some are intrigued by his unusual teachings. Some have heard of this young celebrity rabbi who has the power to heal. They come looking for healing, for themselves and for their friends and relatives. For many of them, the need is great and urgent, which means they will press towards Jesus. A group of even 100 such people would make a noisy and boisterous group, all trying to grab his attention. All, that is, except the few who are watching every move, hiding in the crowd, ready to pass information to the Roman or Temple authorities.

If our assumption about the number of people is right, it occurs to me as I imagine the scene that contact with this crowd is entirely avoidable. Jesus, and his by now surely exhausted group of disciples, could have quietly returned to a different part of the shore out of sight of people. Several of the disciples are, after all, local fishermen with an intimate knowledge of the coast. But he didn’t. Jesus knew that the people were there, and he went straight to them. He recognised their wide raging needs and expectations and he chose to meet them. When Jesus sees a crowd of people, he sees people in need, and his heart is moved by compassion (Mark 6:34). For Jesus and his disciples, this is not a time to rest. There are people here who Jesus needs to meet. Avoiding them is not an option. There is work to be done. Here is a lesson for the disciples, and as followers of Jesus, for us.

In this crowd there is a tall, well dressed man. He has a strong presence, and many of the crowd know who he is. People make way for him, giving him access to the front of the crowd as the boat approaches the shore. This is the leader of the Synagogue. He is such a well known and respected man in the town that we know his name, Jairus. Close by there is a poor woman who is very unwell, suffering from an issue of blood, rendering her unclean, unemployable and outcast to the Jewish community. It’s probable that these two would know each other and would have every reason to avoid being in the same place. Yet this morning, they have something in common. They both have a divine appointment with Jesus.

‘When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.’ (NIV)

Matthew 9:36

Richard Jackson, West Sussex: LifePictureUK

(i) The Greek word polys is generally translated as much or many, in this case implying a crowd of many people.