A Reflection On The Gospel of Mark
There is a trend in Biblical studies of using literary analysis tools to study Scripture. By this I mean using those tools we learned in school, like analyzing how an author structures the story and develops the characters. This form of analysis is having an interesting impact on our understanding of the Gospel.
For instance, there are those who see Mark as using the first seven chapters of the Gospel to create a human image of the Christ. Jesus is out doing things like healing the sick, casting out demons, and multiplying food to feed the hungry. Basically, we find ourselves in the shoes of Samuel, who, when meeting David’s brothers thought each one of the older brothers would be a great king. Then, he finds out that God’s ways are not always our ways. God has something different in mind. Let us see how Mark accomplishes this.
As I already mentioned, Mark uses the first part of the Gospel to paint a particular image of the Christ. Then, in chapter 8, we find Jesus and the twelve disciples at Caesarea Philippi. Jesus asks them them, “who do the people say that I am?” They respond that others are saying he is John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the other prophets. Jesus then asks, “who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, “you are the Christ.” How did Peter make the leap from the view of the people to the correct answer? I would suggest that his answer was founded on his understanding of Old Testament prophecies viewed through the lens of Jesus’ miraculous actions.
Immediately following this, Jesus makes the first of his passion predictions, which is the first time Jesus takes a verbal baseball bat to the human understanding of messiahship. In response to this prediction, Peter immediately drags Jesus aside, and tries to put the shattered pieces back together by rejecting Jesus’ prediction. In effect, Peter tells Jesus, “No! That is not what is going to happen!” Jesus rebukes him, and then says, “Peter, you are thinking like a human, not like God.” He then turns to the others, picks up his verbal baseball bat and and this time he takes a swing at their image of discipleship by telling them that discipleship means renouncing self, carrying a cross, and otherwise following Jesus’ example of obedience to God’s will.
Further down the road to Jerusalem, we again find Jesus predicting his death and resurrection. This time, no one speaks out. Instead, they resort to grumbling amongst themselves. Likely, no one wants to be rebuked, so they just grumble about Jesus’ process of shattering their ideals about what is to come. Mark then tells us that mumbling turns into a debate about who among them is the greatest. Jesus, seeing an opportunity to further shatter their images of what is important in life, picks up his verbal bat and takes another swing by explaining that greatest must be the least. He attempts to help them understand that life is not about seeking fame and glory, but about servant leadership.
As we continue down the road to Jerusalem, we hear Jesus predict his death and resurrection for the third and final time. This time, he gives them a more graphic description of what is about to happen when he tells them that he will be spat upon, mocked, scourged, and put to death, but on the third day, he will rise. In effect, he is telling them that this messiah that they choose to follow will be humiliated; not glorified in Jerusalem. How do they respond? This time, Mark doesn’t tell us, but what he does tell us shows us that they still do not “get it” because in the very next story, James and John approach Jesus to ask if they might sit at his right and at his left when he enters into his glory. I give them credit. In response to the second passion prediction, they were seeking glory based on their own self worth, and here, we see that they are beginning to understand glory in relation to Jesus. However, they are still not thinking as God thinks. Jesus reinterprets glory in light of his passion by asking, “can you drink of the cup from which I am about to drink?” Without asking him what he means by this, they very eagerly say yes. They basically say that for glory and honor, they will do just about anything. Jesus assures them that they will drink of his cup, but that it won’t necessarily get them what they currently think they want.
When we look at this story through this structure of shattering images, we are encouraged to have a greater appreciation of how God’s ways are different than our own. The disciples would have Jesus march into Jerusalem in glory, and remain in glory with them in various positions of authority. However, without his death and resurrection, there would be no glory. If they had had their way, they would have been deprived of the very thing that they wanted – salvation.
We are surrounded by ideals that are not rooted in the Good News, and maybe some of these ideals have taken up residence within us. Spend some time with the Spirit of Truth in prayer. Ask him to show you where you are living within a human understanding of the world. Look for images, words, memories, and thoughts to come to the surface. You might see ideas of grandeur. It could be your desire for creature comforts over self-renunciation. It might be along the lines of asking, “how can a good and loving God allow this to happen?” Ask him to bring any false beliefs to the surface, to shatter them, and to restructure them in light of the fullness of Truth.