The Power of Point of View

Further Comment on Mark 6:49-52 – ROBERT TANNEHILL

I agree with Gary Yamasaki (Responding to How Seaman Would Craft a Performance of Mark 6:49-52) that it is a mistake to present the disciples in Mark 6:49-52 from an external (“objective”) perspective, because, as he pointed out, there is a cluster of inside views of the disciples in this passage. Furthermore, this passage shows clearly that it is a mistake to assume that inside views necessarily lead to a positive view of a character and a simple “merging” of the reader’s perspective with that of the character. (This caution applies also to other point-of-view dynamics that lead readers to focus on a particular character and, in some respects, share his/her experience.)

The inside views present the disciples’ experience vividly and encourage empathy with them. Readers are led to make their experience a shared experience. At the same time, the disciples are presented as flawed characters. They are lacking on the informational plane (they think Jesus is a ghost), they respond inappropriately, and they are judged negatively on the ideological plane (6:52). It is this combination of empathy and negative characteristics that gives the passage its power.

Readers are led to share the experience of flawed characters. The disciples of Jesus have been called by him as his companions and sent out to share his mission. Their calling carries positive expectations. But in Mark their failures are progressively emphasized. When readers are led to share the disciples’ experience, as they are in Mark 6:49-52, readers vividly encounter discipleship failure. In so far as they identify with the disciples in this scene (and earlier in Mark), the scene may trigger awareness of the difficulty of discipleship and the possibility of discipleship failure in their own lives.

I addressed these issues many years ago, but not with a focus on point of view. See Robert Tannehill, “The Disciples in Mark: The Function of a Narrative Role,” Journal of Religion 57 (1977) 386-405. Republished in my collection of essays, The Shape of the Gospel (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2007) 135-159.


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