The Gospel of Mark: What Does it Mean?
The Gospel of Mark is widely considered to be the oldest gospel, and is also is the shortest of the gospel narratives. Mark offers the narrative structure that will inspire and guide that of the other synoptic gospels. Mark is the gospel that “establishes... the life of Jesus as a story form. It develops a narrative from his early career, through ...the main points of his life and culminat[es] in his death” (White, 1998, par.2). The later synoptic gospel authors Matthew and Luke (and John as well) clearly read Mark’s work and used Mark as their inspiration, despite adding in other materials to flesh out his story, and in some instances, adding material that offers a very different perspective on the character and significance of Jesus (White, 1998).
Confession that Jesus is the Son of God
The emphasis in the Gospel of Mark is that Jesus’ identity is mysterious and is not something that can be understood by everyone. While this is not unusual in the gospel narratives, in that all of them depict being Jesus being rejected by the majority of his people, in Mark in particular, Jesus is depicted as being evasive about his identity. “At times, Jesus actually silences the demons who would announce his true identity. When he performs a miracle, he tells people, don’t say anything to anyone about what I have done” (White, 1998, par.5).
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is even portrayed as rejecting his own earthly mother and brother as uncomprehending of his true nature. When told his mother and brother outside, “Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother’” (NIV, Mark 3:34-35). The announcement of Jesus’s heritage highlights the dominant theme of the gospel of mystery, namely that the mystery of Jesus’s true nature is only known to those who do God’s will. Jesus is not revealing his true nature out of a desire for aggrandizement on earth.
This is made very clear in the incident of Caesarea Philippi, in which Peter is depicted as declaring Jesus the Messiah. It is noteworthy that Jesus not declare himself to be the Son of God. It is Peter, the disciple who, although a believer, is more interested in the opinion and feelings of the world, that is anxious to declare Jesus’s true nature. But “Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him” (Mark 8:30). While this might seem to be an attempt by Jesus to protect himself from danger, Jesus does not seem at any time to show a great deal of…giving charity to the poor, standing with people who were socially ostracized, healing the sick, and feeding the hungry. He was unafraid to speak truth to power, as evidenced in his cleaning of the Temple, and criticized both the religious and political leadership of his day. He put truth above his personal safety.
A fourth, final theme of Mark is Jesus’s compassion, even when it is not popular, as he praises the woman who anoints him, rather than tries to save money in the here and now. It is the kindness and the compassion behind the gesture that moves him, rather than his male disciples condemning the woman’s action and love.
The portrait which emerges of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark is not always a comfortable one which adheres to the popular conception of Jesus. There is no nativity narrative, Jesus is often disappointed and even confrontational of his disciples, and the only people who seem to understand and appreciate him are the most marginal figures of society. Even Jesus experiences despair when he is crucified. The resurrection narrative is present, but very spare and enigmatic, like Jesus’s teachings throughout. However, the Jesus which emerges is still a very important component of his full legacy (which must be understood in the context of the other gospels as well), and is essential to understand in a complete…
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