“Stay Close to Jesus”
“Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news[i] of God,[j]and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:14-15)
This year we are reading a great deal from the Gospel of Mark together. Our 3-year pattern of Scripture readings, known as the Revised Common Lectionary, ensures we encounter large portions of the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—on Sundays, through Years A, B, and C, before starting again with a new “Year A.”
This year –“Year B” – readings are anchored in the Gospel of Mark. And there are a few points that are important to note about Mark’s Gospel, as we continue to encounter Jesus through it’s lens.
First, chronology. We read Mark in Year B because of its order of appearance in the Christian Scriptures—it comes second, after Matthew. But scholars are in wide agreement that the Gospel of Mark was the first to be written, possibly as early as 50 C.E. This is evidenced by the brevity of the text, by the large portions of writing shared across the other Gospel writings (indicating Mark as likely a “source” for the other Gospels), and by the structure of the narrative itself.
The structure of the narrative of Mark is the second aspect I note as significant. Mark writes directly and succinctly. Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark doesn’t begin with a story about Jesus’ birth, but with his baptism instead. This means Mark jumps right into Jesus’ adult life and ministry, and the world in which he spoke and acted. Mark does not take great pains to over-theologize or explain Jesus’ activity, teachings, or parables. He often lets Jesus stand on his own, or simply in contrast to the response or reaction of those around him in the moment. These are some of the factors that contribute to the brevity of the Markan text.
Finally, Mark’s Jesus is portrayed as downplaying—at times, even outright concealing--his divine nature and Messianic vocation as he teaches, inspires, and heals (like in Mark 8, when Peter confesses Jesus as Christ and Jesus responds with an injunction against saying that to anyone else; or in Mark 7, when Jesus heals a deaf man and then tells him to tell no one). In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus seems up to something that could be undermined or thwarted were folks to jump too fast to the “he-is-God” or “Of-course-because-Messiah” kinds of explanations.
I love the Gospel of Mark! As a text, as a basis for my life of faith, it is my favorite of the four. I love how wide open the text is, allowing my often-ambiguous and open-ended experiences of faith and doubt to linger in Mark’s own refusal to settle for easy explanations. I love how the narrative style zeros right in on the stark words and strong acts of Jesus, without forcing me to go straight to predetermined narratives that could undercut my own questions and observations prematurely. And, I love how clearly political (but not partisan!) Jesus is in the Gospel of Mark. He so very plainly shares a vision of a way of life, a set of values, a hope for the future, and a willingness to oppose and receive a brunt of opposition for the sake of The Kingdom.
Friends, as we move through this summer, come what may (and there is a lot coming at us, each and every day!), I pray that we might find in the Gospel of Mark inspiration and hope to continue pursuing the better way we find in Jesus, to cling to the values of God’s Kingdom (even when they are opposed to the words and actions of others who would demand our allegiance), that we would not lose hope in the future God is bringing (even when we cannot readily see that it is happening), and that we would share in Christ’s willingness to oppose and be opposed for the good of the world God loves.
Keep the faith. Stay close to one another. Stay close to Jesus. The Kingdom of God has come near.