Mark in a Nutshell
As fast-paced as it is brief, the Gospel According to Mark feels a little more like the evening news than it does a biography. Indeed, Mark’s story comes across as a crash course in the essentials about what it is to be a follower of Jesus. And what a course! Read through the gospel carefully – it won’t take you that long! – and you’ll discover a very human Jesus who agonizes over his fate (14:32-36), learns as he goes (7:24-30), is disappointed with his friends (14:37-42) and cries out in despair over God’s abandonment (15:34). You’ll also discover that Jesus came for one reason and one reason only – to proclaim and usher in the kingdom of God, a kingdom that was not only coming in the future but was already breaking into the world. How can you tell? Because from the get-go Jesus goes about casting out demons, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and forgiving the sins of all those who desire it. In short, Jesus challenges anything and everything – including demons, illness, hunger, sin, and more – that stands against the will of God.
This clash between God’s will and all that stands opposed to it creates a dramatic tension in Mark’s gospel that starts in the very first chapter when Jesus ministry is trigged by the arrest of John the Baptist and never lets up. Jesus strides across Palestine announcing a kingdom of grace, mercy and forgiveness. As he goes, he crosses all kinds of boundaries – geographical, ethnic, and religious – that challenges the status quo, particularly with regard to who has access to God. As my friend Nadia Bolz-Weber preached in a recent sermon: “it’s like Jesus starts his ministry by trying to shake our religious etch-a-sketch . All those lines we draw between us and God, us and other and others and God….all the cages we can construct through religion well…Jesus shakes them and they disappear.”
The dramatic tension Mark portrays culminates in Jesus’ crucifixion, the heart of the story to which everything else points. Jesus’ death is, in Mark, both the ultimate defeat, as Jesus cries out in despair, and simultaneously the surprising moment of Jesus’ – and really our – victory, as through his death Jesus makes it possible for all people – Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free – to encounter the God that cannot and will not be contained in a Temple built by human hands. So as Jesus dies the Temple curtain is torn in two and the Roman centurion confesses that he is the Son of God (15:38-39), and those who are watching discover
- that God is never where we expect God to be,
- that God works in and through our darkest moments,
- and that only those who are prepared to receive God in suffering and weakness glimpse God’s magnificent grace and power.
Be warned: Mark doesn’t pull any punches. His Gospel is short, poignant, at times stark, and always to the point. It’s a quick and dramatic trip into the heart of God that can be difficult to read because of it’s realism, but that challenges, surprises, and ultimately comforts and uplifts all who are willing to reconsider just where God is and what God is doing. So with that brief introduction, I hope you are encouraged to read with me through Mark’s story of the Passion of Our Lord and thereby be renewed in faith, hope, and courage.
You can find more information on Mark at Enter the Bible.