Over the last few weeks, I have been working hard to give you a glimpse into what I see when I read scripture. Specifically, I have just finished with the first 5 chapters of the Gospel of Mark.
I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about patterns that I have noticed about what Mark has written. First, as has been discussed in some of my previous blogs, Mark seems obsessed with Jesus’ authority. So far there have been three distinct sections of text, two of which revolve around Jesus’ authority to perform various actions, the last of which is a list of teachings as an example of how Jesus exercised that authority.
Chapters 1-3 include the beginning of Jesus’ authority with the voice from heaven, the testing in the wilderness, and the calling of the disciples. It also directly establishes Jesus’ authority to interpret the OT Law without previous resources, heal, and exorcise without ritual. Each of these three things was an action that occurred in Jewish culture but relied solely on the authority of tradition and doctrine. They were the purview of the respected, well learned, and powerful. At this point, though, Mark isn’t focusing on how Jesus’ upbringing offends those in power, he is focusing on their amazement and deference toward Jesus’ apparent and inherent authority and its source.
All but the end of Chapter 4 is a list of Jesus’ teachings. Of all of the possible teachings Mark could have used here, he sticks primarily to those discussing Jesus’ purpose on earth. The dissemination of the word, which appears to be directly related to the Kingdom of God on earth, as that is the subject of every parable. Mark explains a single parable so that the reader might better understand the meaning of those parables that follow. However, Mark, at this point, has never revealed to us what the word actually is. It seems clear that Mark’s purpose is not to reveal what Jesus revealed as much as it is to show who Jesus was, how he taught, and again, with what authority.
The end of chapter 4, and all of chapter 5 are similarly focused on Jesus’ authority, although the level of authority has shifted from the authority to perform ritualistic human feats, to the authority to disregard uncleanliness. First, Mark shows that Jesus had the authority of the wind and waves, giving us a glimpse of whose authority he wields, i.e. God’s. Then, and seemingly systematically, Mark relays three stories involving traditional Jewish uncleanliness. That is the uncleanliness of contact with graves and unclean animals. The uncleanliness of contact with female blood. And finally, contact with a corpse. This seems very purposeful to show that Jesus had the authority to do the unclean without becoming unclean. This also seems confirmed in Jesus’ declaration that he has come to cure the sick and not the healthy.
While I find these patterns fascinating in themselves, the reason I wanted to show these patterns is to show how human the form and flow of this story of Jesus is. This is the work of a human who is trying to tell a specific story to a Greek-speaking, Gentile audience in Rome or Syria. He has an agenda, a message, an idea of where to start and where to end. This is not a linear, historical account, but an explanation of the nature of a brilliant man. Mark is trying to explain Jesus’ authority first before he goes any further. Apparently, it’s the most important starting place for Mark. Something to keep in mind as we continue.
Grace and Peace to you all.