Friday, June 25, 2010

Living Mark

There are several key markers that will guide you on your journey through the story of Mark and the narrator does everything possible to help unfold the meaning so that you recognize the significance of performing that meaning as followers of the crucified and risen One.

One of the most remarkable traits in Mark’s gospel is urgency – and this may be connected to Jesus’ pronouncement in 1:15 ‘the time is fulfilled.’ The narrator uses – immediately, at once, quickly, over forty times. Have a look at a few examples. In chapter 1 alone we find this feature in: 1:12, 18, 20, 21, 23, 28, 29, 30. The narrative moves at breakneck speed – little development and always rushing onto the next scene. Time is marked by urgency – another dimension of time is days – not months or years – the narrator uses this chronological configuration to heighten the imminence of what is taking place. A last feature of time is the framing of beginning (1:1) and end (13:13) – the narrator wants to show readers that time is not indefinite and that there is an urgency before the end to decide and act upon who Jesus is in the light of the arrival of the Kingdom of God. This world of time, for the narrator, is a battleground between good and evil, God and Satan, humans and demons, Jesus and the religious authorities, and Jesus and the disciples. In such a world time is crucial – time is ‘now’ time – this is salvific time and people need to be vigorously awakened to the tremendous significance of God’s saving actions, make a decision about following Jesus, and live a radically changed and transformed life.

Another feature that marks this gospel is conflict. We’ll find the narrator often presents Jesus in conflict in a number of different scenarios: with Satan in 1:13, unclean spirits in 1:24, teachers of the law in 2:7, Pharisees in 2:24, family in 3:20-35, nature in 4:48, demons in 5:15, disciples in 8:14-21. What is important for us to understand here is the origin, increase or diminishing, climax, resolution or lack of it, in these conflict contexts and what they tell us about Jesus and those who oppose him and the Kingdom of God.

One further feature to touch on is what can be referred to as interpolation. Our narrator repeatedly inserts one story within another to enhance meaning and create an echo effect that reverberates through the narrative. There are many examples: 3:20-35 (22-30), 4:1-20 (10-13), 5:21-43 (25-34) and so on throughout the story. Seems likely that the narrator uses this narrative strategy of two scenes interpolated for the reader to see how they interpret each other. Let’s briefly look at chapter 3:20-35.

We may query whether it is an accident that the narrator brings in Jesus’ family, who readers have heard nothing about until now, just after appointing the twelve in the previous scene. The interpolated story in verses 22-30 is a response to Jesus’ family that seriously believes he may be out of his mind. In fact, Jesus eloquently argues against the accusation of the teachers of the law that he is possessed by the prince of demons.

Now notice the family, in verse 31, arrives – the narrator plays on reversal – they are outside twice ,while others are inside twice, close to Jesus. He is portrayed as the forerunner of a new family of the people of God who are connected not by flesh and blood, but by doing the will of God.

Permit me to point out a final feature. The narrator frequently surprises readers by reversing roles. Those who think they see and hear are blind and deaf and those who are blind and deaf see and hear.

A life of following Jesus is not about possessing people and things, but about dispossession; being willing to let go, to take risks, to be courageous and not fear – to break with rather than embrace oppressive cultural practices – to be de-powered from un-faith and empowered to faith in God – to be great you have to be least – the first will be last and the last first – those who want to save their lives will have to lose them for the sake of Jesus and the gospel. In perhaps the most striking reversal of all it is unclean spirits and demons who know Jesus, while the disciples do not.

Being aware of those four features of the gospel of Mark – time, conflict, interpolation, and role reversal – will help us better understand the story. Time is urgent – salvific time – follow Jesus – hear, read and perform the good news of the Kingdom of God – shall we be in conflict with Jesus or seek to identify ourselves with him and in so doing be changed and transformed as one story is woven into another. What’s at risk? Jesus out of his mind – possessed – the inaugurator of a new family and a new world rooted in and based on the values of God’s rule in the face of accusation, opposition, and eventually death. Startling, even breathtaking.

And finally, in consideration of role reversal, which role will you play in the story?


Living Spiritual Rhythms For Today


Delane Ramey said...

Thank you so much for this "Living Mark" today! Touched my heart significantly and admonished me to the core. May the Lord bless you as you write "Living Spirituality"--Keep sending them!!!! D.R.

Greg said...

Thanks for your encouraging comments. And a warm welcome to LS.

Joshua said...

The unexpected surprise role reversal seems to have left an indelible mark on Christian culture, with the annoying habit of many always on the look out or those so weary of it they just shrug and say "Who cares who's the pharisee and who's the sinner?" They either tend to become immersed in the mystery while ignoring how the gospels solve it or refuse to acknowledge an imposition of the Biblical categorical roles in their assessment.

What role do I play? Without playing into your interpolation question, just realize that I'm the guy that's got my eye on you. I personally seem trapped in a cycle of discern/judge; that judging taking more of the form of the empty-headed zealot I guess than the pharisee. So while "breaking from oppressive cultural practices" sound great and all, the zealot in the story unpacks and develops that very differently from the gospel storyteller who's re-narrating the theodrama.

Great post.

Greg said...

Thanks. Role reversals permeate Mark, and I agree with you that in our day this goes almost un-noticed as roles are so embedded in who we are. We therefore are in great need of a dialogue between a hermeneutics of suspicion and trust, outfitted by Word and Spirit, that will begin to highlight where we are situated, and then lead us in the direction of following in the footsteps of the crucified and rise One.

I'm not sure this is pertinent to your second paragraph, but here goes. Discern/judge is an important role, but it is not the end of the story, which culminates in neither being the zealot, nor the Pharisee, but in a re-narrating of the theodrama for ourselves through a critical commitment to the One who was, is, and will be.

Joshua said...

I meant discern/judge as a critique. The judging being part of that MAD policy as by extension that self and others destructiveness being highly oppressive, which in term the gospel commands to break from and liberate.

Greg said...

Ok. Got it. Judging may be critiqueable (is that a word? I guess so) but finding its place with a fuller head may be appropriate to helping break through that which distances us from the gospel.