Over the past week I have been reading through the Gospel of Mark and more than ever I am impressed with the fragmentary nature of this book. The narrative is a loosely woven together collection of stories about Jesus filled with his essential teachings and punchlines.
While I’m not a big fan of the various theories that abound about the “Q” source with it’s store of pithy sayings, etc., I really do have the sense that Mark was interested in providing his readers with the crucial events of Jesus’ ministry in as little space as possible. It’s the abridged version of Jesus’ ministry.
Since there are always new things to notice every time you reread a book, here are some observations:
1. This is not propaganda for Christianity. If anything helps me believe in the authenticity and sincerity of this book, it’s the stories where the followers of Jesus look like faithless fools. If you remember that line from Jesus Christ superstar, the apostles say something about retiring and writing the Gospels so people will remember them when they die.
Let’s see, they can’t drive out a demon after Jesus is transfigured, they aren’t very nice to children, they don’t believe Jesus can multiply the bread and fish after he’d already done it once, two ask for power immediately after Jesus predicted his own death, one betrays Jesus, one denies Jesus, and the rest run for their lives when the chips are down. It’s not all bad for the apostles, but surely they could have done a better job of promoting themselves.
2. Jesus is one curious fellow. In order to heal some blind people, he spits in mud and rubs it on their eyes. Others just get spit in the eyes. Others just hear the word and they’re all set. Now if I’m the mud and spit guy, I’m following Jesus, and I meet another blind guy, I would seemingly know exactly what happens next. I’d go off looking for a bit of mud to spit in, point it out to Jesus, and let him at it.
Of course Jesus defies formulas, never allowing the power of the Holy Spirit to be confined. Perhaps he only does what the person requires in order to believe. Maybe one man’s faith required spit and mud, while one person had such faith that only a word was necessary.
3. Faith comes up over and over again. It’s easy to sometimes read the teachings of Paul back into the Gospels, if you know what I mean, but in this case faith jumps out of each story over and over again.
After so many spectacular displays of power, Jesus strikes down a fig tree without fruit and then uses it as a lesson about praying with faith. It’s almost an anti-climax, and yet it fits in with the flow of the story. Jesus is always teaching, always building up his followers so that they believe in him, the one who sent him, and the one who is being sent.