I apologize for the slow post ratio. Finals have been keeping me busy.

Speaking of which, this semester, one of the classes I took was NT 6221:  Synoptic Gospels & Johannine Literature, with Grant Osborne. Studying the synoptic gospels largely meant studying Mark and how Matthew and Luke differ from Mark, so I got to spend a lot more time with Mark than I previously had. We were given three questions to prepare for the final, two of which dealt with the Gospel of Mark: trace the Messianic Secret in Mark, and trace discipleship through Mark. It was the latter that appeared on the test, but I thoroughly prepared for all of them in advance.

My guilty secret: Mark has always been my least favorite gospel. Maybe Christians shouldn’t have “favorite” gospels and “least favorite” gospels, and maybe this is an indicator of spiritual immaturity on my part, but I freely admit that I’ve long had favorite and least favorite gospels. In order from most favorite to least favorite, mine were John, Luke, Matthew and Mark. What did I dislike about Mark?

  1. Mark has the “angry Jesus.” The Jesus of Mark always seems to be getting mad at his disciples. Believe me, you wouldn’t like Jesus when he’s angry . . . *rimshot*
  2. Mark has the “stupid disciples,” meaning that Mark’s portrayal of the disciples is consistently negative. They regularly misunderstand Jesus’ mission, his warnings about his own death, and the significance of his miracles. They even try to rebuke Jesus sometimes (!), with disastrous results.
  3. Mark’s gospel is the shortest. Gospel is something I’d generally like to have more of.
  4. Mark has the least unique material, since Mark was likely the basis for Luke and Matthew and much of his material was repeated in those books—only with a less-angry Jesus and less-stupid disciples.
  5. Mark has those goofy major textual problems with its ending.

So, all of that left me liking Mark the least.

The good news is, my study of discipleship and the Messianic Secret motif in Mark has given me a new found admiration and respect for Mark. I understand better why Mark so often portrayed the disciples as failures, often in contrast to the positive examples of minor characters. I’m wide awake to how Mark even uses numerous women—the woman with the issue of blood, the Syrophoenician woman, the woman who anointed Jesus, and the widow who gave all she had—as positive types for faith and discipleship, something that I immensely appreciate.

Furthermore, I’m no longer weirded out by those passages where Jesus commands people to be silent about what he has done for them or tells demons to stop telling everyone who he is, and I’m even open to the possibility that Mark 16:8 is the original ending of the gospel. I can see a sense of brilliant irony to it, given the Messianic Secret motif.

I think of what my new denominational home has been teaching me, that “no one part of the Bible is the Word of God; it’s all the Word of God.” What that means is that we do not apply any teaching in the Bible to our lives when taken in a vacuum; only when teachings are properly contextualized with the rest of what the Bible says can we proceed to apply it in our lives. We feel that too often, people have abused the text by taking pet passages on their own and creating entire teachings out of them that contradict other parts of God’s Word.

I now understand that there’s room in my walk with God for me to learn from “angry Jesus” and “stupid disciples” every bit as much as I learn from the more loving portrayal of Jesus in other gospels. And I certainly hope that “stupid disciples” have something to teach us, because many days, I am one.

3 comments on “Bonding with Mark”

  1. Mark is definitely the weirdest gospel for the modern reader. Matthew is probably the most familiar because of its heavy liturgical use (beatitudes, Lord’s prayer, the great commission, etc.) John is the most theologically heavy one and is easily the favorite among Christian theologians. So much so that when most people think of Jesus in a theological sense they are almost certainly thinking of the Jesus in John. Luke is comfortable because he is so much more “modern” than the rest with his focus on social justice, open table fellowship, his treatment of women, and of course his wonderful parables.

    Mark has weird miracles, stupid disciples, and is easily the most apocalyptic of the four gospels. It’s the most distant gospel for the modern reader. But, it’s precisely the most distant books in the Bible that tend to reward the most when one finally comes to terms with them. They also are the ones that most challenge out preconceived notions. So often, reading a sacred text becomes an exercise in seeing what you want to see and above all else seeing your own preconceived notions reflected in the text. Bible reading thus becomes cheerleading. And of course, being the first gospel written, Mark is closest to the actual person of Jesus. So to come to know Jesus, one has to comes to terms with the Jesus as presented in Mark.

    I had a similar experience with the Old Testament. Leviticus is easily the weirdest and seems to be the least applicable to a modern Christian reader. So much so that most Christians probably never even read it. I think that’s a shame because coming to terms with the Old Testament is to a large degree coming to terms with Leviticus. If someone can read and appreciate Leviticus, then that person is going to have a much easier time reading and appreciating the rest of the Old Testament.

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