Monday, December 15, 2008

The Other Mark

I've been reading again. This time from Living By the Book: The Art and Science of Reading the Bible by Howard Hendricks. I'm reading it with a men's group from church, and it's been very insightful and has helped me enormously with picking out observations in the text.

This morning I read a section called "Getting the Big Picture" and worked with chapters 4 & 5 of Mark (the gospel - not me). At the beginning of Hendrick's book we'd look at just one verse, then we did just a paragraph, and now we're here.

So I whipped out my hip Extreme Teen Bible (NCV) since it was the first thing I found after moving back home for Christmas. I opened to Mark 4 and read the two chapters straight through.

Verses 1-34 of chapter 4 cover Jesus' teaching on the kingdom of God. And from what I can tell, this is really the only part of Mark that really hammers out kingdom teaching. The topic comes up again, but not this extensively.

Then the end of ch. 4 and all of 5 cover 4 miracles: the calming of the storm, the man with demons, the bleeding woman, and Jairus' daughter.

After my brief read-through, I decided to get some background, so I went back to Mark 1 and sort of skimmed through to gain some context. I made some interesting finds.

Mark seems to write in a very specific way. He moves forward chronologically, but covers only one particular aspect of Jesus' life at a time. He starts with Jesus preparing for ministry from the call of John the Baptist, through the baptism, and then to the desert with fasting and temptation. Mark spends hardly any time on these details which would lead the reader to believe that this is not what he wants to talk about.

Then Jesus picks some followers.

Then he begins healing people.

Now both the followers and the healings are reoccurring events in this gospel. Over and over, Mark will describe how Jesus separates his followers from the crowds that follow him around (4:11). The followers were told that they could "know the secret about the kingdom of God." Mark also makes a distinction between Jesus' first few followers and when he officially picks his twelve apostles (3:14). I think this attention to Jesus' disciples is very important. But I want to focus more on what happens at the healings. Or the first several at least.

Before even the first chapter is finished, Mark records Jesus forcing out an evil spirit. The text says that the spirit knows who Jesus is - "God's Holy One." Jesus immediately responds, "Be quiet!"

The next subheading in my Bible is "Jesus Heals Many People." And 1:34 says Jesus "would not allow the demons to speak, because they knew who he was." And the next morning when Jesus finds out people are looking for him, he tells his disciples that they should go to other towns.

Verse 44: "Don't tell anyone about this," Jesus says after healing a sick man.

Then Mark moves his focus to people criticizing Jesus and his followers, the section which will end with the Pharisees plotting to kill Jesus for the first time.

Like you probably are beginning to notice, I observed that Jesus was developing a habit of telling people to keep quiet about what he was doing.

Why in the world would Jesus do this? I feel like this was a question raised in Sunday School a couple times. We'd read just the one little passage ending with this statement, and then were asked why Jesus would do this. But I've never noticed before that Jesus did this all the time.

Could it be because once the wrong people caught wind of this, Jesus knew he was going to be in trouble? Possibly. Could it simply be because Jesus was humble? Possibly.

Maybe Jesus was just worried that these people just would not understand. After all he told his followers that if they couldn't even understand the parable stories, then how could they understand the actual kingdom of God?

Fast forward to the demoniac. He was crazy with a lot of demons (5,000 if his name was literal). Jesus healed him, and then told him, "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you." The text says people were amazed at the story.

So why was Jesus not okay with people talking about his healings, but then it was okay for this guy?

To be honest, I don't know. Maybe an in-depth study on Mark as a whole would help us find out.

In the very next story, Jesus tells Jairus not to tell anyone about him bringing his daughter back to life.

It makes sense that Jesus did not want to be killed yet. It makes sense that he still had work to do. But why is it ok to just give one guy permission?

Maybe it was just geography. Maybe the place this guy was from (Decapolis) had no other way of hearing or witnessing news like this.

I think the point I'm trying to make is that Jesus kept his work a secret. And it's important that we find out why. If we don't, then our evangelizing might be all wrong. What if our perspective is skewed and we're not doing it right?

The life of Jesus is fascinating. But it is a model that we are supposed to use in our own lives. And if we choose to just shrug something like this off, I think we've missed why Jesus even came here in the first place (Christmas reference).

I encourage you to look into this. And I will too. Chances are there will be another blog about it soon.


WES ELLIS said...

Good thoughts. I think Perhaps the secrecy of Jesus' work is particular to the book of Mark because the book of Mark is particular in itself. Perhaps the book of Mark is particularly apocalyptic and the secrecy of Jesus work is part of the apocalyptic message. Remember the real end of the book? "They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid."

Secrecy...? now, when they are supposed to reveal the secret of the resurrection, they conceal it out of fear? A sort of prompt to the reader... do not be afraid...
i call it apocalyptic irony.

Danny said...

Wes beat me to the punch, but I would like to talk to you about this tomorrow when we have lunch. I think that the key is to read it without the ending that was added on later. The story ends with death--not resurrection. Another element of Mark (not you, the book), is that the disciples are displayed as dumb and stupid. There is a profound aspect of Mark that seems to be saying his followers are misunderstanding him. It could be seen, as Wes already noted, as an apoclypatic calling. More on this tomorrow.