Sunset - Larnaca

Sunset - Larnaca

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Mark's Gospel

I begin this new series of blog posts, with the Gospel according to Mark. I will begin with a few short paragraphs that summarise the historicity, and context of this Gospel and its writer; and then will go through the chapters pointing out significant passages and themes. My following piece of writing, which will be posted tomorrow, will be on the Gospel according to Luke and Matthew.

When was Mark written ?
Certainly, the Gospel of Mark was written after the death and Resurrection of Christ, in the 1st Century.

It is clear that Mark’s Gospel had been moved around orally, and was written later, post 30’s (Period of oral transmission ). Mark 13 does seems to reflect the Jewish war - 66 - 70. Either it was written before the fall of the temple ( 70 CE ) , or just after.  Most scholars nowadays say it is more likely that it was after this event.

Who was Mark?
Papias (cited by Eusebius 3.29.15)
‘When Mark had become Peter’s interpreter, he wrote down accurately, though not in order , all that he remembered of the things said or done by the Lord. For he had neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but later, as I said, followed Peter
‘My son Mark’ (1 Peter 5.13)
Very few mainstream commentators would argue for as close a communication with Peter as Papias implies, but not impossible that the evangelist Mark had come in contact with Petrine traditions.
Mark writes in Greek ( although probably not his native language ). 

For whom was the Gospel written?
Old Testament Quotations suggest that Mark's community were familiar with the Jewish scriptures. Probably originally belonged to Jewish synagogue , though it is clear from the Gospel that disputes with Jewish leaders have left their mark on the community.

There is an openness to non Jews ( Gentile mission ) ,  and the community itself was perhaps predominantly Gentile. Jesus tells us in the Temple, that this is the House of prayer ‘for all nations’ Therefore the faith is for everyone.

The Gospel is certainly meant to be read out. The Chapters speed along ( use of ‘ευθύς’ , meaning immediately ) until the beginning of the Passion story in chapter 14 where events finally slow down (to almost hour by hour accounts ). This shows that the Gospel is leading up to the death-resurrection of Jesus, which is the climax of Mark's Gospel.

The Messianic Secret is very interesting - the fact that Jesus tells everyone to keep His messianic truth quiet; even after healing many people, He asks them not to tell anyone. Perhaps this is due to Christ's humility, which would be something  contrary to the Jewish idea of a Messiah; a Glorious King of power. 

The Son of God Who fulfils Scripture: ( Ehrman)

One of the first things that strikes the reader of Mark's Gospel is how thoroughly its traditions are rooted in a Jewish worldview. Mark uses the Jewish word 'messiah', which in his historical context meant the future King of Israel who would deliver God's people from their oppressors, or more importantly a cosmic deliverer from heaven, who would engage in supernatural warfare with the enemies of the Jews, and bring divine victory over their oppressors. There are many parts of the Gospel that are fulfilment's of Old Testament Prophecies.

Jesus Christ - the Authoritative Son of God : (Ehrman)

Christ sees fisherman plying their trade, and calls them. Without further ado they immediately leave their boats, family and co-workers, to follow Him. When Christ enters the synagogue to teach, He astonishes those who hear Him, and when He gives instruction people hang onto His every word. When Jesus encounters a man possessed with an unclean spirit, the man immediately recognises that He is 'the Holy one of God' (1:24). Christ drives out the unclean spirit, and also makes it clear that any evil spirits and powers that are in opposition to God, He will cast them out and defeat them. This somewhat authoritative portrayal of Christ sets the scene for the rest of the Gospel. 

Mark's Gospel : 

The Calling of the Twelve: Mk 3.13-19
Theological significance of 'the mountain' - Exodus 3, 1 Kings, Exodus 19-20. The symbolism of the 12 is the 12 tribes of Israel, and the twelve are appointed as representatives in a way of the new restored Israel, and world in general.

Parables ( Παραβολή - Greek ) ( Masal - Hebrew ) :

The parables are comparisons, and metaphors. They can be long stories, as well as short sayings. Parables bring us double meanings, and can challenge the reader. In Mark's Gospel they tend to be about the Kingdom of God, and are drawn from everyday lives of first century Galilean peasants.

Parable of the Sower:
Meaning : Despite early setbacks, the Kingdom of God will flourish. The word of God will challenge hearers; some will fail to respond to His calling, however others will respond and will be rewarded. This parable interestingly assumes long periods where the Christian faith will be tested, and this is certainly seen through history , and in our present day society. It also reflects the experiences of Mark's own community , and probably other early Christian communities. 

Understanding of the Parables:
Parables can be enigmatic, and they relate to the experience of the readers - the parable of the sower is a prime example of this. The Person of Christ is greatly revered within Mark's parables, even through the original rural context, they are very much relevant to all societies and followers. They show that the Lord is behind everything, offering hope and reassurance to the reader.

Miracles: Mk 5.21-43; 6.30-56
The miracles show Christ's authority over the whole of the natural world - not only can He heal diseases, but also can calm storms. This also emphasises that Jesus is indeed the Theanthropos, as He is seen in such parables as the 'Pantocrator' , the Almighty Creator and Lord.There is a strong sense of Him putting the world right. The miracles and exorcisms tie with the central theme , which is the Kingdom of God - the manifestation of the Kingdom on earth. In Christ, the Kingdom is at work, and it beautifully includes people who would normally at that time, have been marginalised and excluded from Jewish Society. 

The Feeding of the 5,000: Mk 6.30-44
There is Old Testament imagery, which shows Jesus acting with the power and authority of God. If we look back at Elisha in 2 Kings 4.42-44, as well as Exodus 16 and Numbers 11 we see the links regarding the wilderness. There is also Eucharistic imagery in the bread. The abundance of food left, stresses the idea of the 'messianic banquet', the time at the close of the age when followers of Christ will enter into a special relationship with God in His Kingdom, an age characterised by feasting and abundance. This is a point when the followers perhaps realise that He is not only acting as Moses and the other Prophets did, but He is indeed God Himself incarnate. It appears to be a rather high point of the Gospel -  showing the people of Israel flocking to Jesus, but things are about to change as the Gospel begins to be taken to the Gentiles.

The Gentile Cycle: Mk 6.30 - 8.21

Clean/Unclean :
The Pharisees and Scribes ask why the disciples do not live according to their tradition, regarding cleanliness and uncleanliness. This particular ritual of washing hands, was only practiced by Pharisees, and not all Jews in Jesus' day. This originated in priestly circles, and the principle was adopted by Pharisees on the assumption that all food should be treated as if it had been offered in the Temple. So the great question being asked is whether to eat unclean food. Christ replies to them by saying 'whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters, not his heart but his stomach.' Christ therefore declares all food clean and acceptable to eat, as He highlights 'what comes out of a man is what defiles a man', and the Lord gives examples of what truly makes a human being unclean and sinful; ' come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander,pride, foolishness.' So these simple traditions of uncleanliness are not as important as the state of a human beings heart. We must not worry about these issues, but be concerned about our personal issues that really affect our spiritual lives - our actions and thoughts that affect the relationship with God, and our neighbours.

The Syro-Phenician Woman's Daughter: Mk 7.24-30
Jesus heals a gentile child. There is an important connection between this story and the earlier discussion, regarding true cleanliness. Mark wants us to see the connection between declaring all foods clean, and the healing of a gentile. This is where he perhaps wants to highlight that Christ's mission and ministry is broadened out from Israel alone, to the gentile world too. Even though the Lord's words seem harsh at this point in the area of Tyre and Sidon, we must not forget that at the same time He does still heal the daughter, and solves the woman's problem; even though He was trying to escape notice.

* Note : Fr Lawrence Farley has written a very interesting reflection on whether or not Christ is calling the gentile woman a dog, and why he uses this phrase in the context. It is a striking passage, and it is key that we understand the whole context, that is clarified in Matthew's Gospel ( Matthew 15:21-28)

Healing of a Deaf Man: Mk 7.31-37
Again the Lord heals a gentile, this time in the area of Decapolis. Christ looks up into Heaven and says 'Eph'ahatha'( be opened ), and from this moment the man was healed. 

The feeding of the 4000: Mk 8.1-10
Firstly, the similarities with the feeding of the 5000 is striking, however Mark is probably showing the importance of Christ giving life to every group of people, including the Gentiles. The giving of bread is a symbol of Jesus giving life and hope to Gentiles, as He does with all people of the world.

Jesus' Identity and the Journey to Jerusalem: Mk 8.27-10.52

Who do people say that I am?
The Disciples recognise that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, but they still do not understand the full significance of this, especially the necessity of suffering. We see the first passion prediction, and from here on, the death of Christ becomes a dominant theme in the Gospel.
Son of Man - Aramaic, 'bar nasa', is used by Jesus exclusively in Mark's Gospel. It is used particularly in contexts describing future suffering and vindication.

Discipleship involves suffering: Mk 8.34-38
There seems to be three general commandments that Christ gives to His disciples; He tells them to 1) deny themselves 2) take up their cross 3) follow Him.
Mark's community may have experienced some kind of persecution, just as all Christians do - so the Gospel writer may want to show that suffering because of faith, is all foreseen by God.

Transfiguration: 9.2-8
'He was transfigured before them, and His garments became glistening, intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them.'
The radiant figure of Christ shows His Divinity, and that the passion that was yet to come was voluntary. He truly is the Saviour of the world, and the 'Theanthropos' - and this highlights the possibility of our own theosis. 
Troparion of the Feast of the Transfiguration : 
'You were Transfigured on the Mount, O Christ God,
Revealing Your Glory to Your disciples as far as they could bear it.
Let Your everlasting Light shine upon us sinners!
Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Giver of Light, Glory to You!'

The scene as a whole underlines Jesus' identity, and confirms His messianic status.

Journey to Jerusalem:

Christ begins the journey from Caesarea Philippi in the north to Jerusalem. Attention is drawn to the question of discipleship, and the Lord says 'if any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.' Disciples should therefore show concern for the weakest and most humble members of their community. Jesus emphasises how we should do everything in His name. ' Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward.'
There is then a discussion on Deuteronomy 24.1 ( divorce ) and the Lord says that adultery is not only an offence against a man, but also against a woman. 
'They were bringing children to Him, that He might touch them; and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it he was indignant, and said to them, 'Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the Kingdom of God.' This is where the Lord tells us we must look to children as an example, of purity, innocence and goodness. 'Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.' During the journey, a man runs up to Christ, and asks Him 'what must I do to inherit eternal life?' Jesus then tells him various commandments that he should keep, and the man replies 'teacher, all these things I have observed from my youth.' 'Jesus looking upon him loved him,  and said to him, 'You lack one thing; go sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven; and come , follow me.' This is the very definition of sacrificial and selfless love. The man simply thinks that by observing the 'rules and regulations' of the commandments, that He will achieve salvation. It is not so much the laws, but acting out of true love that brings us close to Christ. This also brings us back to what it means to be a disciple of the Lord, and to follow Him. We must be prepared to put absolutely everything down, and leave all our possessions for Him. This whole passage is concluded by an emphatic line that reiterates the general meaning and message : ' first will be last and the last first.' 

The following passages introduce questions regarding statuses, and honour. Disciples are not to behave like others, and the path of following Christ will involve suffering and going against the 'norms' of society. This journey narrative continues the theme of discipleship, which for Mark is clearly linked to suffering, and being prepared to die with Christ. The normal expectations of society are subverted - people must give up their families and possessions, and the leaders of the community are ones who serve and behave as servants to the people. 

Trial and Crucifixion (Mk 14.53-15.41)

Jewish Trial:
Held before the Jewish Council Sanhedrin, Christ confronts His adversaries and this adds to the negative presentation of the Jewish leadership. 2 Charges are given :
1) Temple Charge - Jesus is silent 
2) Are you the Christ ? Jesus affirms the truth  'I Am'

Roman Trial:
Pontius Pilate asks Him
1)  'Are you the King of the Jews?' - 'You said so' Christ replies
2) Numerous charges are then put forward by the chief priests - Jesus remains silent 

Crucifixion: 15.23-39
There are Old Testament Parallels, from Psalms, Isaiah and Deuteronomy - this shows that the Crucifixion is very much a fulfilment of the Old Testament.
Christ's Cry : Mark shows that Jesus goes to His death alone, abandoned, even by the Father it seems. 
His death is then followed by two incidents : 
1) Tearing of the Temple Veil - probably shows a divine judgement on the Temple and Jewish leadership, which rejected Jesus. Furthermore, it may highlight the breaking down of the barrier between clean and unclean, holy and profane.
2) Centurion's confession - significant that he is a gentile.

Crucifixion usually did not involve burial, however this was all probably part of the humiliation process. Pilate is surprised at Jesus' early death, and the centurion confirms and is a witness that He is really dead.

Empty Tomb:

Χριστός Ανέστη - Christ Is Risen

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