[See Part One – Mark’s Gospel – Coping With a New Normal]
Mark knew ordinary Christians in Rome were trying to make sense of the crisis they never expected to be in as followers of Jesus. They were hunted and even put to death.
In an effort to encourage them, Mark organized the Jesus stories he knew that could help them keep faith in their time of crisis.
The tension in Mark’s portrait of Jesus
Mark clearly presents Jesus as The Christ (8:29) and The Son of God (15:39).
Yet at the same time, Jesus is human, even weak: he gets angry (3:5), shows ignorance (5:30), and is ‘without honor in his own country’ (6:4). As Son of Man, ‘he must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again’ (8:31).
The contrast in Mark’s portrayal of disciples
Those in his inner circle are usually presented as examples to the reader. Yet their behavior at other times reveals cause for disappointment and alarm.
They argue among themselves who is the greater. They refuse to believe Jesus when he tells them he must suffer and die. They panicked during the storm (4:38); and again when he came to them walking on the water (6:50); and yet again when they failed to grasp his warning about the leaven of the Pharisees (8:21).
They fall asleep in the garden. They are nowhere to be found during his suffering and hours on the cross.
They are ambiguous and unreliable role models.
In contrast to those whom we may call the ‘official disciples’ of Jesus, in Mark’s story, we also hear of ordinary people, bit players. These come on to the gospel stage but once. They do or say something that can be admired and imitated by the reader.
To each of them, we may apply the words that Jesus spoke about the woman of Bethany who anointed his feet: ‘Wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her’ (14:9).
We remember the lively and courageous faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman (7:28) and the astonishing prayer of the father of the epileptic boy who prayed, ‘I believe, help my unbelief’ (9:24). Soon after, we read of the widow in the temple whose trust in God allowed her to put both her coins in the collection box (12:44).
We can admire the three-fold prayer for sight of Bartimaeus who eagerly followed Jesus on the way (10:51). Jesus had warned that those who wanted to be his followers must take up the cross; A stranger, Simon of Cyrene did this literally on Jesus’s road to Calvary (15:21).
We meet two more of these ‘little people’ after the death of Jesus in the persons of the pagan centurion who had supervised the execution and the respected member of the council that had condemned Jesus. The first confessed Jesus as ‘The Son of God’ (15:39) and the second took courage to ask Pilate for the body of Jesus and buried him (15:43-46).
”Ordinary people” in Mark
There are many such ‘little people’ we tend to skip over. But they are there for a reason.
Mark subtly proposes them as signs of encouragement to the ordinary Christians under attack in Rome.
It was dangerous to be a Christian in those days. Mark was writing for such people. Be inspired by the people we skip over.
Listening to Mark
- During the coming season of Mark pay attention to the bit players.
- See yourself in their shoes.
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