The Rest of Mark’s Story
Chapter 13 in Mark’s story of Jesus can feel like something of an interruption. We noticed earlier that it stands apart from much of Mark’s writing with its strong apocalyptic imagery and symbolism and its sudden concern with the end of the world and Christ’s return. Very likely Mark borrowed, inherited, or adapted a common tradition or set of sayings in order to help his people make sense of the tremendous disruptions introduced by war that led to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple and its aftermath.
If you read carefully, you can see how Mark works not just to fit that tradition into his story but uses it to advance his drama. The latter section of Mark’s narrative really begins in chapter 11 with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his confrontation with the religious leaders at the Temple. Having disrupted religious practice and commerce, thereby setting himself against both the religious and secular (Roman) leadership, Jesus is now a marked man. Through chapters 11 and 12 the tension only mounts, as Jesus teaches in and around the Temple and is regularly drawn into arguments with the religious authorities.
Perhaps because Jesus has been teaching at the Temple, this seems the perfect place to discuss – via Jesus’ apocalyptic predictions – its destruction. While this event occurs nearly forty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, it is fresh in the minds of Mark’s community. And as we’ve seen at several points, our appreciation for and understanding of Mark’s confession is enhanced when we read it with what I would call “double vision,” both paying attention to the primary story of Jesus Mark is telling as well as listening for what he may have been trying to confess for his community in their immediate situation forty years later.
With the common reference point of the Temple, the bridge from the end of chapter 12 and the beginning of 13 is pretty seamless. And after several apocalyptic passages, Mark draws our attention back to the main narrative by lodging an outline of what is to come in the last parable Jesus shares. Mark, in other words, having pointed toward Christ’s eventual return in a distant future, now invites us to see where Christ already came concretely and passionately for us in the cross.
Which is where Mark’s story goes next. Indeed, it is where Mark’s story has been headed all the time. Mark has sometimes been described as “a passion story with a long introduction.” This isn’t to say that everything that comes before is mere window dressing. Rather, it is to recognize that all of Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God in word and deed – his opposition to the forces of evil and anything that oppresses God’s children, his healing and feeding, his compassion and vulnerability – all this find its culmination in his suffering, crucifixion, and death. That this is indeed the shape and form of God’s kingdom – utter vulnerability and sacrificial love for the sake of others – is attested by the proclamation that God has raised Jesus from the dead in the last scene of the story.
I started these devotions as something of an experiment late last winter at the beginning of Lent. There I wrote forty devotions that followed Mark’s account of Jesus’ journey to the cross contained in chapters 14 and 15. Because I enjoyed the discipline of writing daily biblical devotions, and because folks seemed to receive them well, I decided to continue and so followed through to the end of Mark’s story in chapter 16 – which proved ultimately to be just the beginning of the gospel – and then came back around to chapter 1 to look at Mark’s story from its starting place.
This, then, brings an end to our journey through Mark. If you missed the devotions I wrote last Lent and want now to read to the end, you can find those devotions here. (Because they are posted by date, you may have to scroll back to start at the first devotion and move forward. I’ll put a link to that first one here.)
Tomorrow I will continue our daily devotions by starting anew with Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, hopefully drawing to a close in time to welcome Advent by looking at Luke’s account of the nativity of our Lord. Thanks for coming along thus far. I hope you’ll continue.