Talking Points on the Gospel of Mark

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I absolutely love the beginning of Mark’s Gospel. No theological poem or mythological birth, rather Jesus immediately begins calling people to repent. One interesting exchange is this: Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.” Ehrman talks about how the word compassion is not actually correct. The correct translation is hatred. Why is Jesus angry? I cannot say for sure. But, one gets the feeling throughout Mark’s Gospel that Jesus is serious about his message.

One aspect I really enjoyed is how real Jesus seems. He deals with real sicknesses. He does not indulge himself with these wonderful, mellifluous soliloquies like in John’s Gospel. Rather he is succinct and human. He constantly heals, feeds, and exorcises demons from people. The Kingdom of God is not within man, as John would have us think. On the contrary, Jesus is enacting and creating a community that will ready itself for the in-coming reign of God.

Jesus performs a number of exorcisms. I feel as if Christianity has really cheated itself out of fertile theological material by more or less forsaking the notion of demons, or Satan. Don’t get me wrong; I’m more or less a materialist. And I agree with the analysis of many thinkers like Yoder or Stringfellow who demythologize the demons into the evil of the powers and principalities that pervade modern society. However, I wonder if we shortchange ourselves with this token Bultmannian gesture.

Does anyone understand the story with the woman with the hemorrhage? A constant theme in the healings Jesus performs is that all that it requires is faith. I suppose we’re to assume that this woman had so much faith in Jesus that she literally extracted power from him by mere touch.

The Messianic secret is front and center in Mark’s Gospel. I know many historians conjecture that this aspect was retrojected into the stories because during his life people did not suspect Jesus to be the Christ. I also think Messianic secret aligns well with Jesus’ message: the proclamation of the Kingdom trumps everything, which means even his identity is subordinated to his ultimate task or announcing the coming reign of God.

This exchange further supports my argument that Jesus does not look like the Prince of Peace, but rather looks like this eccentric, dangerous prophet:

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered.”It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
” ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Also, the fact that the disciples couldn’t exorcise this demon piqued my interest. Apparently it could only come out by prayer?

After the Last Supper, Mark writes, “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives”. Any guess on what hymn they sang? I cast my vote for “Lean on Me”.

When the disciples flee the Garden after the arrest Mark includes this interesting detail, “A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind” What in the hell?

The cry of dereliction is in Mark. One of the reasons I distrust the end of Luke’s Gospel is that his account of the cross deviates significantly from Mark’s. I also have a hard time stomaching Matthew’s obsession with Scripture being fulfilled. If this was the case, then why did Jesus feel abandoned? What didn’t go according to plan? Maybe Jesus and God miscommunicated. Maybe Judas did not make good on his promise. I’m inclined to believe Jesus thought himself truly lost at the end. The Kingdom had not arrived, and his disciples abandoned him. We have to resist the temptation to read this as merely Jesus’ human frailty. There is no divine or human part of Jesus. His humanity is his divinity.

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