The Mes-Sigh-ah : Studies in Mark, Pt. 26

In back-to-back stories in Mark’s Gospel, it is recorded that Jesus “sighs deeply” (from στεναζω). Mark 7.34 reads: “…and Jesus looked up to heaven, sighed deeply and said…” Mark 8.11-12 says: “And the Pharisees came forth and began to question Him, seeking a sign from heaven from Him, trying Him and He sighed deeply in His spirit and said…” When studying these two passages, I could not help but notice the similarities between them. Both are prefaced with a remark about heaven, both include Jesus sighing deeply and both have Jesus saying something immediately after the deep sigh. For my part, I do not think this is mere coincidence, not least because these two stories are side-by-side. So, what is the point?

Actually, I think that in locating these stories in such close proximity and by telling them in such similar ways, Mark was trying to be humorous. I’m not sure that many people would agree with this and it may seem rather simplistic but it does make sense. Besides, can’t the Gospels be comical? The comedy or better yet, irony, I think lies in the fact that Mark was juxtaposing these two scenes. In one, Jesus looks to heaven, sighs deeply and speaks a healing word. In the other, the Pharisees want Jesus to look to heaven but He doesn’t, He sighs deeply and in speaks an exhortative word. In other words, what Mark has done here is set the reader up for a laugh.

It would be expected that, as in the first instance, once Jesus sighed (an ancient mannerism that was typical of healers or miracle-workers just before they did their thing; there are other accounts of other persons doing this), the crowd expected Him to do something miraculous. However, Jesus sighs and does nothing except offer a rebuke. In short, Jesus sets the people up for thinking that He’s going to do something amazing but He doesn’t. To be rather colloquial, it’s as if Jesus was just messing with these guys. They thought He was going to do something but He didn’t. Why He didn’t, well, that is an answer for another post on another day—perhaps some day quite soon.

Anyways, I couldn’t help but laugh once I realized what was going on here. Sadly, I know of no other commentator who makes such a suggestion—perhaps I’m just way off base—but either way, I had a good laugh with this. And I'm not too bothered if some of you think that I’m crazy and you are just sitting there, well, sighing!


  1. So, to use a modern image, it's like Jesus pulled up on shore and the Pharisees demanded a sign, so Jesus very deliberately rolls up his sleeves, cracks his knuckles, pregnant pause... "Nope. sorry." hops in the boat and leaves the crowd in stunned silence. Ha!

  2. Yes, I think that's the gist of it.  It was a sort of set up...He used the same mannerisms as He did before, but this time it was not a healing but rather a punchline that was pulled.  Once again, we see the "irony" inherent in Mk's Gospel.