I offered a suggestion on Sunday that you set aside a large enough block of time one day this week to sit down and read the whole Gospel of Mark in one sitting — even ignoring chapter and verse markings. To do this, you get a sense of the whole story Mark is trying to tell. In our Bible reading, sermons, and Bible study, we have a tendency to read blocks of text. While we can glean much meaning from these blocks, reading the whole offers a different perspective on the whole story of Jesus that Mark offers.
Mark is generally considered the first gospel written. It is the shortest of the four gospels in our New Testament. One of the key features of Mark is quick transitions between events. Mark’s favorite word, it seems, is “immediately.” Even when he doesn’t say it, your eyes want to see it in the text as you go from one episode to the next. There is very little “fluff” in the Gospel of Mark. He uses a very few words to tell us about Jesus and the people he encounters along the way. However, there is a constant play of Jesus revealing himself as the Messiah and concealing who he is. We know how the story ends. We know who Jesus is and can read this gospel knowing all of these things. Yet, we still get caught in the paradox being revealed/concealed in Mark.
According to biblical scholars David Rhoads and Donald Michie, the Gospel of Mark deals with the great issues — life and death, good and evil, human triumph and human failure. This is not a simple story in which virtue easily triumphs, evil easily fails, nor is it a collection of moralizations on life. If we give this gospel a cursory reading, we might miss the very difficult pronouncements that are fraught with irony and paradox: to be most important, one must be least; to enter the rule of God, one must become like a little child; nothing is hidden except to become known; whoever wants to save one’s life must lose it.
In addition, Rhoads and Michie continue to say that many characters think they have an understanding of their situations only to discover that what they had expected is suddenly overturned: the disciples follow Jesus expecting glory and recognition only to find servitude and death confronting them; the authorities kill Jesus in order to preserve their traditions and authority, but they doom themselves by their action; the women come to anoint the dead Jesus, but discover he is among the living.
Sometimes I think I have everything figured out and a clear path is set before me, but as I walk along that path the clarity blurs but a new reality emerges. I wonder, does that ever happen to you? How might looking at the same thing from a completely opposite point of view cause you to act differently, embrace different priorities, and/or see the whole thing in a different way. As Christians, we sometimes have it all worked out in our heads that we, the Church, will be glorified, celebrated, and everyone will want to be a part of our group. But, as the disciples of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark find out, we don’t understand at all what it means to follow Jesus.
I hope you find this week’s reading to be insightful as a way to help us understand who we are as Christians is consistent with and contradictory to being a disciple of Jesus. We live in the irony and the paradox every day. Are we willing to open our eyes to see it clearly — in its simplicity and complexity — and together discern a new way of living to closer resembles the rule of God on earth?