Gospel according to St. Mark from a Reader’s Point of View: Few Questions, Devices and Reflections

Posted: November 26, 2011 in General

Mark 1: (1) An ‘action-packed’, ‘fast-paced’, and ‘quickly-moving’ drama. The conjunctions ‘kai’ (vv. 9, 12, 16, 21, 29, 35, 40), ‘meta de’ (v. 14), and ‘euthus’ (tran. ‘Immediately’; vv. 12, 18, 20, 42) make the events faster. (2) Voice from heaven (“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”) and Demonic confession (“I know who you are, the Holy One of God”) support Jesus’ universal significance as Saviour. (3) Need to figure out the following: (a) Quoting Exodus 23:20, Mal. 3:1, and Is. 40:3 together in Mark 1:2-3; but acknowledges only one source (Isaiah 40:3); and (b) two varied readings of 1:41: ‘moved with pity/compassion’ (splagnistheis) and ‘moved with anger’ (orgistheis).

Mark 1 and 2: (1) Peoples’ ‘awe’ is narrated in three places: (a) “They were astounded at his teaching” (1:22a); (b) “They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this?'” (1:27); and (c) “…they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!'” (2:12). Markan Jesus started to astound/amaze people at the very beginning itself! (2) Mark chapter 1 begins by saying that Jesus is the “Son of God”; Mark 2 ends by saying that he is the “Son of Man”. Seems like a good ‘inclusio’.

Contrary to John’s Gospel, Mark has exorcisms and demonic confessions: (1) Man with an unclean spirit cries out about Jesus, “Jesus of Nazareth… the Holy One of God” (1:24); many demon possessed were brought to Jesus (1:32); “whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, ‘You are the Son of God'”. “He (Jesus) would not permit the demons to speak because they knew him” (1:34b); “he (Jesus) sternly ordered them not to make him known” (3:12). (2) The usual sequence of exorcism narratives is: (a) demons/unclean spirits confess about Jesus (i.e., “Jesus of Nazareth”, “the Holy One of God”, “Son of God”, etc.); (b) Jesus heals them; (c) Jesus orders or warns them not to make him known; (d) they go and proclaim about him; and (e) hearing the proclamation about Jesus multitude of people come to Jesus. Almost all the exorcisms follow this five-fold pattern.

Mark 3: (1) Mark and John share ‘Sabbath Controversy’ narratives. (2) John never speaks about ‘Scribes’ specifically within his narratives (with an exception in the “Textus Adulterae”, 7:53-8:11), but in Mark they are active from the beginning onward. (3) A conspiracy between Pharisees and Herodians is found only in Mark (3:6), never in John.

Mark 4: For ‘insiders’, the secrets of the Kingdom of God are given; but for ‘outsiders’, everything comes in parables (v. 11). He (Jesus) did not speak to them (crowd) except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples (v. 34). Why Jesus kept this outsider-insider bifurcation while he was talking? Why concerns about the Kingdom of God are ‘secret’, ‘hidden’, and ‘mysterious’ for the ‘outsiders’?

Mark 5: Again different methods of Jesus: (1) In one occasion, Jesus says: “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you” (v. 19). In another occasion, he strictly ordered them that no one should know this (v. 43). (2) In one occasion, it was in the non-Jewish provinces (on the opposite side of the lake). In another occasion, it was in the Jewish provinces (on the one side of the lake).

Mark 6: (1) Jesus comes to the hometown, but he is amazed at the unbelief of the people, kin, and his own house; he goes about among the villages teaching, many believed; goes to a deserted place, but thousands gathered and miracle occurred; goes up to the mountain to pray, converses with the upward world; walks on the lake, but his own disciples unrecognized him; and landed in Gennesaret, but many recognized him. In Jesus’ ministry, people inside the circle are often marked with their ‘unbelief’ and ‘unrecognition’. (2) Two questions: (a) we know much about the perspectives of James and Judas, brothers of Jesus, through their epistles (Epistle of James and Epistle of Jude). Also we read about James in Acts 15. But, what happened for Jesus’ brothers, Joses and Simon, and sisters? (b) Was John the Baptist’s body laid in a tomb without his head?

Mark 7: (1) Pharisees and scribes were observing the traditions of the elders: “do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands” (v. 3a); “do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it” (v. 4a); and “observe the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles” (v. 4b). While Pharisaic/scribal observances and spirituality remained on the peripheral and imbalanced level, Jesus directs them toward an “outward-inward” and “horizontal-vertical” holistic spirituality. (2) How do you respond to Markan narratorial note at v. 19b: “Thus he (Jesus) declared all foods clean”? Do you think that Jesus was telling “all foods clean” in vv. 18-19a? I think, v. 19b (appears in bracket; NRSV) is a narratorial addition by Mark himself or a later textual/redactional interpolation. WH, RSV, TEV, FC, NIV, VP, Lu, NJB, TOB, REB and other texts and translations support this view.

Mark 1-8: First 8 chapters of Mark portray Jesus as an itinerant mission performer. Jesus is powerful; heals many, performs miracles, drives the evil spirits/demons, and utters words of power. He is ‘among the people’, travels between ‘this side’ and the ‘other side’ of the lake, and distinguishes between the ‘insiders’ and the ‘outsiders’. A ‘Theology of Power’ is, thus, at view. Mark 8 ends with a hint about Jesus’ passion (vv. 31-33).

Mark 9: When Jesus was saying “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the Kingdom of God has come with power”, was it a hint about the miracles, transfiguration, and the “rising from the dead”? Can we think that the miracles/transfiguration/resurrection are/were the manifestations of the Kingdom of God? If not, what Jesus meant by saying “Truly I tell you… will not taste death… Kingdom of God has come with power”? Jesus takes initiative to teach profound truths to the disciples. Disciples are arguing among themselves about “what this rising from the dead?” (v. 10) and “who was the greatest?” (v. 34). Crowd is arguing with the disciples due to their inability to perform miracles (v. 16). All the occasions of arguments were cashed in on by Jesus as he was a “contextual pedagogue”. Vv. 42-50 is similar to the materials in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain. In Mark this section is part of Jesus’ Capernaum “pedagogy”.

Mark 10: A great teacher and a lot of events: Jesus is an advocate of marital life and family (vv. 2-12); an advocate of children and their concerns (vv. 13-16); he is concerned about the poor (v. 21); entry of rich people into the Kingdom of God (vv. 23-27); first will be last… last will be first; a journey toward Jerusalem; again about passion, crucifixion, and resurrection; James and John wanted to sit at the right and at the left, in his glory; Bartimaeus utters and calls Jesus “Son of David”… In the first half of the Gospel (chapters 1-8), Jesus is “mostly among the people”, “praxis-oriented”, and “in a hurry to perform a lot of miracles”. In the second half of the Gospel (chapter 9 onward), Jesus is “more didache-centric”, “in a hurry to develop a nucleus”, and “more conscious of the coming passion, crucifixion, and resurrection”.

Mark 11: (1) Jesus is becoming very popular among the masses: The response of the disciples “the Lord needs it” was enough for the strangers to allow the disciples to take their colt with them. A paradigm shift is narrated from Jewish particularism of “our temple” to Jesus’ universalism of “a house of prayer for all the nations”. (2) Lord’s prayer is abbreviated in a single verse (v. 25) and v. 26 is given as a textual note: “Other ancient authorities add v. 26, ‘but if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses'”. (3) Jesus’ shrewdness is evident in vv. 27-33: The chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came with a question in order to trap Jesus. But Jesus raises a counter-question ‘out-of-the-context’ in order to deal the current context! He ‘shuts the mouth’ of the Jewish authorities and then strategically escapes himself from answering their question. Highly rhetoric and dialogic!

Mark 12: (1) The violent nature of the Jews is narrated in a parabolic language (vv. 1-12): (a) to the first slave: seized him, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed (v. 3); (b) to the second slave: beat over the head and insulted (v. 4); (c) to the third slave: killed him (v. 5a); (d) to many others: some they beat, and others they killed (v. 5b); (e) to the beloved son: conspired against him, seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. Rhetoric: “What then will the owner of the vineyard do?” (2) Jesus’ interlocutors raise few questions: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” (v. 15a); “In the resurrection whose wife will she be?” (v. 23); and “Which commandment is the first of all?” (v. 28b). The questions prompt Jesus to answer them one after another dialogically. But, narrator reports that “And they were utterly amazed at him” (v. 17b) and “After that no one dared to ask him any question”. Were they asking questions for the sake of questions?

Mark 13: (1) “The Little Apocalypse”, one of the ‘interlocking’ chapters of the Gospel. (2) The continuous uses of the expressions “beware” (vv. 5, 9, 32), “alert” (v. 23), “keep alert” (v. 23), and “keep awake” (vv. 35, 37) grip the readers to the text in order to have greater consciousness. (3) One question: “‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (v. 32). As in John’s Gospel, Mark too emphasizes the factor of Father’s control over the time/hour. Father controls the time/hour; but Son is the one who actualizes the time/hour. What do you think? I think that Markan metaphorical language is at its peak in chapter 13.

Mark 14: (1) The longest chapter of the Gospel. Jews said: “… this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor”. Jesus responded: “For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me”. I think: a disciple can also be a charity-oriented person; but, “charity” and “discipleship” are two different entities. How do you respond to it? (2) How do you interpret these expressions and verses?: (a) Jesus began to be distressed and agitated (v. 33); (b) He said to the disciples, “I am deeply grieved” (v. 34a); (c) He threw himself on the ground and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from him (v. 35); and (d) He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want” (v. 36).

Mark 15: Markan characterization is great: (a) Pilate, on the one hand attempts to escape Jesus and on the other wishes to satisfy the crowd; (b) Barabbas, a murderer as a substitute for Jesus the life-giver; (c) Simon of Cyrene, a passer-by who gets an excellent opportunity to carry the literal cross; (d) Two bandits, who taunt Jesus; (e) Centurian, who utters about Jesus: “Truly this man was God’s Son!”; (f) Joseph of Arimathea, one who buries the body of Jesus; (g) Also, chief priests, elders, scribes, Sanhedrin members, soldiers, women characters, and the crowd.

Mark 16: (1) Authentic manuscripts of Mark end abruptly at v. 8 by referring about the fearfulness of the women (“…for they were afraid”); (2) “The Shorter Ending” (one between v. 8 and v. 9) introduces the expression “East and West” in connection with the Gospel proclamation; (3) “The Longer Ending” (vv. 9-20): Disciples’ unbelief, Jesus brings them back to belief, Great Commission is given to them, Jesus’ ascension, the mission begins; and (4) “The Interpolation” (one between v. 14 and v. 15): “…the term of years of Satan’s power has been fulfilled…”.

By Johnson Thomaskutty, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India

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