In the introduction in the book, “The Gospel According To Mark“, the author not only covers the historical information about the book, he also covers the distinctive themes found in Mark. I will provide what I thought to be some of the highlights:
Discipleship is often tied with proximity to Jesus. “The simple but all-important act of hearing and following Jesus precedes and is more important than disciples’ complete understanding of him.” While the disciples are often found having a difficult time understanding and believing who Jesus is, it does not seem to have a negative effect on their discipleship. “What Jesus has to teach can only be taught in an apprentice relationship, which necessitates the disciples’ being with him more than their full understanding of him.”
There are two distinctive faith responses displayed in Mark. The first is more of a long process, gained slowly by spending time with Jesus and constantly hearing his teachings and seeing what he does. The second seems more like an instant ability to have faith. Jesus encounters many of these folks along his way, and he makes a point to comment on their faith. Interestingly, many of these people are Gentiles or women outside of those who are closest to Jesus.
Insiders and Outsiders
“Speaking to the inner circle, Jesus says, ‘The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside, everything is said in parables.'” Jesus speaks parables to many, but only gives the meaning to his disciples. Surprisingly, Jesus’ family is on the outside, while the twelve disciples – men whom Jesus did not know and picked up along the way – were on the inside. This inside and outside thing though is not understood the way we might remember from perhaps high school, where there were the cool kids, and the outsiders. Jesus himself actually often portrayed as an outsider. The Jews often viewed Jesus as unclean. “He fits none of the prevailing social categories, and throughout his ministry he faces misunderstanding, hardness, and rejection.”
Mark’s Gospel was written for Gentiles. Throughout, Jesus is found not only teaching Jews, but is also found going to Gentile regions “demonstrating the same power among Gentiles that he earlier demonstrated among the Jews.” There among the Gentiles, Jesus is often better received than among the Jews. “Mark’s two great christological confessions are related to Gentiles: in Caesarea Philippi Jesus is declared to be the Christ, and by the Gentile centurion at the cross Jesus is declared the Son of God.”
Command to Silence
This topic has always been a mystery to me, namely, how Jesus commands people he interacts with and heals to not tell anyone about what had happened. The author of this book suggests three reasons: The first was “to protect himself from false messianic expectations.” To many, the idea of the messiah was one who was a military hero, which Jesus was not. Second is “that he knew that faith could not be coerced by a spectacle.” It isn’t about just seeing something Jesus can do, but rather it is understanding who Jesus is and what he was going to accomplish. And third, “in order to teach that until the cross Jesus cannot be rightly know for who he is.”
In the first half of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus and his disciples journey all over the place, going back and forth by sea to different locations. There is no evident focus to these journeys. In chapter 8, we see a focus take place after Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah. From then on, Jesus makes his way to the cross, and shows his disciples “the way” they must follow as well.