The Gospel of Mark 4

A study course by The Reverend Christopher Cooke

This coming session looks at Some Special Characteristics of Mark’s Gospel.

Normally, I suggest that folk study the questions before reading my comments. However, when it comes to Mark’s treatment of Peter and the Twelve, you may want to refer to my comments below, because I have had the Parallels in Matthew and Luke in front of me. They were often embarrassed and confused by Mark’s treatment of Mary, Peter and the Apostles and this is one of the areas where they changed the earlier Gospel considerably.

Chapter 5:21-43: A Girl Restored to Life and a Woman Healed.

The two healings are linked by faith. Morna Hooker thinks there may be a connection between the many years that the woman has suffered and the life of the young girl. We know the woman had been suffering for twelve years and perhaps that was the age of the child as well.

Jairus is one of the rulers of the synagogue and he asks Jesus to lay his hands on his dying girl. Normally, the Jewish religious leaders are shown in a very poor light in Mark’s Gospel but Jairus is shown in a much more positive way. This is the first time in the Gospel that laying on of hands on the sick is specifically recorded. He touches the leper but specifically laying on of hands happens here first and then to the sick (6:5), a deaf mute (7:32) and a blind man (8:23-25). This was to become a feature of the infant Church. Jesus also lays his hands on the children but that was a form of blessing.

Jesus’ progress to Jairus’ house is interrupted by the actions of the suffering woman. Whereas, Jairus has formally asked Jesus for help, the woman secretly touches Jesus’ clothes. Elsewhere, in the Gospels, people touch Jesus’ clothing for healing and in this Gospel at 6:56. In Acts, we are told that people brought the sick out so that Peter’s shadow may fall upon them (Acts 5:15). The woman does not immediately own up to her actions because touching someone else whilst one was impure would have been very offensive (almost as bad as a leper trying to touch someone). She was, like them, an outsider. It would have made the other person impure as well. However, she does pluck up courage to admit what she has done. She receives no rebuke from Jesus, and he says to her: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease”.

Meanwhile, Jairus must have been experiencing torment at the delay in what was his last hope. And then the message comes that his daughter has died. Jesus has words for Jairus at this point: “Do not fear, only believe”. Seeing the woman healed through her faith, Jairus should have faith that his daughter will also be well. When Jesus arrives at Jairus’ home, the mourners are already lamenting the girl’s death. Jesus’ assertion that the girl is only sleeping, strikes the mourners as profoundly silly. As far as they are concerned, nothing can be done now that she is dead but mourn. Jesus speaks to the girl in Aramaic, their shared native tongue. She is not only brought to life, but she brought back to full health.

The command that the family is to keep silent about this is, of course, impractical. Craig Evans thinks this was just long enough so that Jesus could slip away and not be caught up in the melee. There may also be a hint here of the “Messianic Secret”. Jesus was anxious that people did not jump to the wrong ideas about what sort of Messiah he was going to be. It may also be part of Mark’s explanation why the Jewish people had not turned to Jesus and become Christians in greater numbers.

We should also note that this, in some ways, is rather like the raising of Lazarus in John’s Gospel. It prefigures the resurrection of Jesus and, indeed, the hoped-for resurrection of the Christians who first heard Mark’s Gospel. [We must bear this in mind when we consider the rather truncated Easter account in Mark’s Gospel]. Gentile Christians would also have identified with the woman because like her, they were once outsiders.

“Both stories would have brought reassurance of the new life and salvation which came to believers through the power of Jesus”. Morna Hooker.

A Thread Running Throughout the Gospel.

Leslie Houldenstressed the importance of Bread in Mark’s Gospel.

I am reading Carol Meyers’ “Rediscovering Eve” currently. In this book, she examines Eve in refreshing ways. She also examines what life would be like for ordinary women during Old Testament times. She points out that the heartland of Israel in the hill country provided a livelihood that could be undermined by water shortages, pestilence and illness. Wheat and other grains were the main subsistence crops and nearly all meals involved bread. It may have been dipped in olive oil if that was available. To “break bread” was synonymous with having a meal. Obviously, wealthier people would have a better diet and the diet was more varied in cities such as Jerusalem. On the shores of Lake Galilee, this diet was supplemented with fish. Wine was the staple drink.

Mark 6:30-44 concerns the return of the Twelve from their mission and the Feeding of the Five Thousand. So, we have the staple foods for an area around Lake Galilee. It is a famous passage. Lying behind this, and the other Feeding, is the God’s provision for the Israelites escaping from Egypt. God provided manna in the desert (Exodus 16 and Numbers 11). Jesus views the crowd as like sheep without a shepherd. This is also full of Old Testament imagery: Jesus says that the people of Israel, in his day, are leaderless and have no guide. The Feeding is linked to Jesus’ ministry of teaching. We notice everyone was satisfied. Jesus feeds those who are God’s people and Morna Hooker remarks on the amount of bread and fish left over. This was more than enough for those who were not there including Mark and those who first heard his Gospel. Some commentators think that the numbers are significant for the Israelites. Five thousand men and five fishes may have echoes of the five books attributed to Moses (Genesis to Deuteronomy) which were the bedrock of the Jewish scriptures. There were twelve baskets left over which might echo the twelve tribes of Israel (and, indeed, the twelve disciples).

Mark 8:1-10 is the Feeding of the Four Thousand. Some scholars believe this is a duplicate of the earlier feeding. It is certainly interesting that the disciples show the same incredulity as before. The fish come into the story a little later and they are of some indeterminate number. That there are fewer people than the previous occasion might seem to be a slight anti-climax. In the previous feeding, we are told the crowd were following Jesus’ movements. There are fewer Old Testament references, but we are told that some had come from a great distance. There were seven baskets of leftovers. Seven is an important number throughout the Middle East of the time and relevant to many peoples. This has led some scholars to suggest that this Feeding was in those parts of the shores of Galilee which were in Gentile occupation. The last geographical reference in the Gospel was to the Decapolis which was Gentile. This may be Mark’s understanding, but Morna Hooker thinks that Mark found a Feeding narrative in two different sources. She thinks that it is the leftovers that fill the Gentiles.

Mark 7:27-28 is part of the Jesus’ discussion with the Syro-Phoenician woman where she elegantly demonstrates her wit and faith by saying “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs”. This rather underlines Morna Hooker’s point that there are plenty of leftovers for the Gentiles. This passage also demonstrates that people who only appear once in Mark’s Gospel are shown in a good light (see below).

Mark 8:14-21 is a discussion about Bread. It is a passage which shows the Twelve in a poor light (see below). Here, as elsewhere, they get the wrong end of the stick entirely. They are roundly rebuked by Jesus. When Matthew uses this passage in his own Gospel, he rather softens Jesus’ words. Jesus feels that having witnessed these miracles, the Twelve should have more faith. It follows the Feeding of the Four Thousand and a debate with the Pharisees about following ritual cleaning rules when eating. This is more characteristic of the Jesus found in John’s Gospel who takes an image and discusses it. We have some sympathy with the Twelve for not understanding Jesus at this point. The point Jesus is making seems to have been lost in its transmission. Mark does not make this clear. What is clear is that Jesus uses bread for teaching purposes.

Mark 14:12-25 is one of the most important episodes in the whole Gospel. It concerns preparations for the Passover and the institution of the Last Supper. The Last Supper is Jesus’ reinterpretation of the Passover for his followers. It was to be the central way that his followers worshipped him across the Mediterranean world, and it is central to our worship today. Jesus uses the staple food, bread, and the staple drink, wine, to inaugurate a new relationship between his followers and Jesus and, indeed, God. This is the oldest account in the Gospels which Matthew and Luke use. There is an even older account in the New Testament in Paul’s Letters: 1 Corinthians 11:23-34. There is a remarkable similarity between the two accounts. Morna Hooker points out that this is a brief account “and almost certainly reflects the form of wording used at the celebration of the eucharist in [Mark’s] own church”. The meal is a Passover which celebrates Israel’s escape from Egypt. Jesus’ conversation at the meal concerns his imminent betrayal and death. Matthew largely follows Mark’s account in his Gospel (as he does throughout the whole Passion Narrative). Luke tries to combine Mark’s version with Paul’s. Leslie Houlden said that the eucharist speaks of God’s freedom, faithfulness and mysteriousness. Its importance is both once for all and something to be perpetuated time and time again. And at the very heart of all this are bread and wine.

Mark’s Treatment of his Characters.

Mary and Jesus’ Family.

There are no birth stories in Mark’s Gospel which means references to his family are very limited. I have found only one reference by name to ‘Mary’ his mother: 6:3. One of the reasons for Jesus’ rejection in the Nazareth Synagogue is: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon…”

15:40, 15:47 and 16:1: Although, we see at 6:3 that Mary was also the mother of James, Joses and Simon as well as Jesus. However, most commentators (including the more conservative C.E.B. Cranfield), do not argue that these are references to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Both Cranfield and Hooker believe these people were known in the early Church. The women may have died by the writing of the Gospel but their sons were living witnesses.

15:21 is also relevant here. Simon of Cyrene was compelled to carry Jesus’ cross. Mark describes him as “the father of Alexander and Rufus”. Matthew and Luke omit this detail because, presumably, they do not see its relevance. Most commentators believe that Alexander and Rufus were again known in the early Church either in person or by name.

3:21, 31-35 is a profoundly disturbing passage as Tom Wright and Dick France state. The Greek word translated “brothers” can include cousins and both sexes. In verse 21, we read that people were saying that Jesus was out of his mind and his family are concerned for him. There does appear to be an estrangement between Jesus and his family. Luke is embarrassed by this and omits this section. As Craig Evans writes, we must take into account that Jesus often used hyperbole and exaggeration in his teaching. Jesus defines his true family. His kinsmen are not those who are related to him by blood but those people who do the will of God.

“Has he literally rejected his family? Probably not, for his family will come to believe in him, and his brother James becomes an apostle and one of the ‘pillars’ of the church (Galatians 1:9, 2:9). But his language indicates the seriousness of his message and the need to commit to it”. Craig Evans.

The Disciples and Peter.

We have already seen that the Twelve are slow to understand the Parables which Jesus then explains to them. On the other hand, we have seen the enthusiastic response of Peter, Andrew, James and John (the Fishermen) to become his disciples. This is also true of Levi/Matthew (2:13-15). Jesus appoints The Twelve in 3:13-19 and sends them out on Mission in 6:1-6.

8:27-33 is an interesting passage particularly as it concerns Peter. It begins well for Peter who has one of his flashes of insight: Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. Again, it is followed by the command to secrecy. However, it then all goes wrong. Jesus teaches that he must suffer and die. Peter, not unnaturally, wants to protect him. He gets the rebuff: “Get behind me, Satan!” In the Gospels, Satan is the prosecution counsel (and the Holy Spirit is the defence counsel). These harsh words may betray a real temptation. Matthew adapts this passage with Jesus extolling Peter and giving him the keys of heaven. Luke leaves out the second part concerning Satan.

9:17-19 and 9:28-29 is an occasion when the disciples fail in a healing and Jesus accuses them of a lack of faith. When they ask him about this later, Jesus says some rather puzzling words. Presumably, the disciples had already been praying when trying to heal the boy. It may reflect two sources which Mark has put together rather clumsily. However, the overall message is clear: Jesus thinks that the disciples have not come up to the mark.

9:33-37 is an even more disturbing passage. The Twelve are arguing about who was the greatest. We know this is all too common of most institutions but here we find it amongst the Twelve! Luke shortens his account and Matthew omits entirely the verses about the Twelve arguing about who was the greatest.

10:13-16 is the famous passage where the disciples are trying to protect Jesus from the attentions of children. Jesus rebukes them and says that the children should be allowed to come to him. Matthew and Luke do not alter this very much. Children, at that time, held the lowest position in Jewish society and the disciples are viewing them as of less worth than other people.

10:23-27 also contains a passage where the disciples’ attitude is wrong. There was a long Jewish tradition that those people who were wealthy had been blessed by God. This is very typical of the wisdom literature and traditions of the Old Testament. The Book of Proverbs often asserts this while the Book of Job questions it. Both Matthew and Luke remove the verses where the disciples express incredulity.

10:28-31 shows Peter in a better light. He points out that the Twelve have left so much behind so that they can follow Jesus. Jesus says they will be rewarded. However, it is followed by the challenging saying that the first will be last and the last will be first. Again, there are no gradations of service.

10:35-45 is another extremely shocking passage. The apostles James and John ask to sit on Jesus’ right and left in heaven. This infuriates the other ten. Of course, it leads into profound teaching from Jesus. Matthew and Luke were very uneasy about this. Luke omits all of the first section and so it becomes rather like 9:33-37. Matthew puts the request on the lips of James and John’s mother!

Then we come to the Passion account.

14:26-31 is set immediately after the celebration of the Last Supper and contains Jesus’ prophetic words that the Twelve will deny him. Peter is adamant that he will not let Jesus down and the rest of the Twelve agree in backing Jesus to the last. Luke leaves out this prophecy and replaces it with special words about Peter. All the Gospels include Peter and the Twelve’s promise.

“Throughout the Gospel, Mark has stressed the failure of the disciples to comprehend, but they have at least followed him. Now they will fail to do even that”. Morna Hooker.

Verse 28 is important for understanding Mark’s view of Jesus. He will be raised and go before them into Galilee.

14:37-42 is immediately afterwards in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus takes Peter, James and John with him. Despite the tense situation, they are unable to stay awake with Jesus. Luke omits the sections where the three apostles are sleeping on the job.

14:43-50 concerns Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus and Jesus’ arrest. In contrast to elsewhere in the Gospels, Matthew and Luke lengthen this section and there is a corresponding tendency to amplify the heinousness of Judas’ actions. As Leslie Houlden says, there is no further mention of Judas in the Gospel. Why did Judas do it? I am very unpersuaded by John’s argument that it was for the money. ‘Iscariot’ may be a reference to swords. Some scholars think that Judas was in favour of a revolution. Whether this is right or not, it would seem that Judas was trying to force Jesus’ hand. He seems to have had his own agenda. I would like to agree with Leslie Houlden that even Judas could have received Jesus’ forgiveness after the resurrection as Peter did. Matthew 27:3-6 says that Judas was filled with remorse, tried to return the money and then hung himself. Luke in Acts 1:16-19 argues that he died because his “he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out”. John, like Mark, has nothing to say about the fate of Judas. In all probability, he did die and quite possibly by suicide (hanging or falling on a dagger). Otherwise, the infant Church would not have been able to elect Matthias in his place.

14:66-72 is Peter’s denial of Jesus. Matthew and Luke also include the denials although Luke changes the order of events somewhat. In Mark, the three denials match the three times Peter falls asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane. There is a general moral decline in Peter’s denials. First, he denies Jesus to one girl. Then he does so again when bystanders are present. The third denial is accompanied by curses and oaths. This is the very opposite of sharing the Gospel.

“The story of Peter and his testing stands in sharp contrast to that of Jesus before the Sanhedrin, and Mark draws attention to this by interleaving the two stories… The story may have been a timely reminder to Mark’s readers that following Jesus was by no means an easy thing: when persecution threatened, it was all too easy to be ashamed of Jesus and his words”. Morna Hooker.

It is a nuanced picture of fallible men!

Why does Mark give us such a complex picture of the founding apostles of the Church?

Normally, we build up the saints and the apostles so that they can be role models. We use role models in many other aspects of life as well.

  • Hugh Anderson supports the view of A.E.J. Rawlinson (who was writing as early as 1927). The utter frankness of Mark’s portrait of Peter makes sense now that Peter has been recently martyred. Peter’s loyalty unto death after previous failures would have been very encouraging to a church facing its own problems and, perhaps, persecution.
  • Leslie Houlden suggests that all disciples are failures and all need forgiveness. There are no gradations in Mark or Paul on this matter. We all rely upon Jesus Christ.
  • Ernest Best argues that the Twelve act as a foil to Jesus. They often fall short but Jesus is the supreme figure who is always right and good.
  • The great Canadian spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen, described Jesus as the “wounded healer”. There is a great tradition that Jesus saves just because of his weaknesses. Perhaps, Mark is offering the very mature viewpoint that the apostles are our role models just because of their weaknesses and fallibility. Morna Hooker’s quote above seems to suggest this.

People who appear once in the Gospel.

7:24-30 describes how the Syrophoenician Woman displays comprehension and wit when dealing with Jesus which contrasts with the lack of understanding of the Twelve. Jesus’ words are rather shocking, but we do not know whether his facial expression was less off-putting than his words. As Craig Evans writes that “the apparent harshness and insensitivity argue strongly against the invention of this story in an increasingly Gentile church. On the contrary, Jesus’ disposition reflects genuine tradition in which Israel enjoyed priority”.

We have already looked at 9:21-24 when considering the limitations of the Twelve. Surely, the climax of the story is the wonderful words of the Father of the boy.It is a sentiment that might be said to sum up much of the intent of Mark’s Gospel: “I believe; help my unbelief!”

10:46-52 concerns Blind Bartimaeus. He refuses to be put off by the people trying to quiet him. He addresses Jesus as ‘my teacher’ and asks for his sight back. However, before that he has been calling out “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” That has a definite messianic ring to it. So, Bartimaeus has already acclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah and the Christ. This is not much longer after Peter’s similar acclamation and Bartimaeus has not had the benefit of Jesus’ teaching or experienced the Transfiguration. Jesus says, “Go, your faith has made you well”. Immediately, he regains his sight “and followed him on the way”. “The way” was the first description for being a Christian. In other words, Bartimaeus becomes a believer and a disciple. His earlier acclamation prepares for Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

12:41-44 is about the Widow’s Offering. It follows on from Jesus’ argument with the scribes where he accuses the scribes of devouring the estates of widows. Traditionally, we have seen her as a model of sacrificial giving. We also stress that her gift is proportionately more than the ostentatious gifts of those who had great wealth. Craig Evans points out that the widow cannot afford her tiny gift. He writes that the “example of the widow’s mite is a tragic example of the exploitation of a temple establishment that has become oppressive, not generous and protective”. Morna Hooker writes, the “story is a reminder to Mark’s readers that the humblest and the poorest of them can make a worthy offering to God”.

14:3-9 describes the Woman who Anointed Jesus with expensive ointment and shocked those who saw it. Olive oil would have done but she uses pure nard. The money could have been used for good causes. Craig Evans points out that money would be necessary if Jesus were to set up an alternative government as some hoped. This, of course, occurs after Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem. There was also a tradition of giving alms during the Passover festival. Morna Hooker sees this as a pair with the Widow’s offering because this woman also spent much more than she should. Jesus links her actions with his coming burial and so, here is another foreshadowing of his death. Jesus’ words are the highest accolade: “Truly, I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her”.

15:21 describes how Simon of Cyrene was compelled to help carry Jesus ’cross. We might have expected that such assistance would have been given by Simon Peter! This passage would have been most relevant if Simon and his family then became Christians (see above).

15:39 isprobably the climax of the Gospel when the Centurion makes the great acclamation: “Truly this man was God’s son”. Up to now, it has been the unclean spirits that have acclaimed Jesus as such. God has done so at the Baptism and the Transfiguration. Even Peter’s acclamation “You are the Messiah” does not go as far. During his trials, Jesus has been taunted and ridiculed by both the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman soldiers. The Centurion was a servant of Caesar and the Emperors acclaimed themselves as “son of God”. By the time, Mark had written his Gospel, Caligula and Nero had claimed themselves to be gods.

14:51-52 concerns the young man running away. Morna Hooker thinks these two verses are a total enigma. However, because we cannot find an obvious theological point being made, she suggests this may be part of a genuine historical tradition.

Morna Hooker and Craig Evans see a connection with Amos 2:16. Morna Hooker tends to think the connection is too tenuous (and I rather agree with her). In Amos 2:16, the prophet foresees that even Israel’s stalwart defenders will flee away naked. Craig Evans argues that in rejecting the Messiah, Israel has brought upon itself the judgement described by Amos.

Hugh Anderson makes a good point here. The previous verse is: “All of them deserted him and fled”. This refers to The Twelve. And this young man also flees. In contrast, Jesus makes no attempt to escape and he calmly accepts his destiny. This is the essence of Mark’s Passion account as my teacher, Christopher Evans, stressed. In the Passion, Jesus is largely passive and he rarely speaks. The main actors are everyone else and we will look at this in our final two sessions.


Some Special Characteristics

We will look at three things:

  1. There is a device that Mark uses in his construction. As we have seen, Mark’s Gospel is not very literary. Partly, this was because it was written to be spoken.
  2. In the Retreat, Leslie Houlden led at Cuddesdon, he drew attention to a theme running through Mark’s Gospel which perhaps has not had the attention it deserves.
  3. Then there is the much-discussed subject of how Mark treats his characters and particularly Mary, Peter and the apostles.

Chapter 5:21-43: A Girl Restored to Life and a Woman Healed.

Mark uses a ‘sandwich device’ from time to time. This is usually taken over by Matthew and Luke when they write their Gospels using Mark as a major source. This shows that Mark does possess more skill than some scholars give him credit. The most celebrated example of this is Chapter 5:21-43. Luke shortens the account to sixteen verses and Matthew reduces it to eight verses, but they keep the same pattern. We have already looked at miracles and so we will be more concerned about the pattern and the interruption.

It may well have come to Mark this way (either through tradition or from St Peter) but the temptation would have been to separate out the two distinct narrative lines:

  • The Healing of Jairus’ daughter in verses 21-24 and 35-43, and
  • The Healing of the woman with haemorrhages in verses 24-34.

Indeed, Dick France and Tom Wright consider them separately in their Commentaries.

The healing of Jairus’ daughter is rather similar in form to other healings we considered in Chapter 1. However, the healing of the woman with haemorrhages is atypical.

Do you think that Mark’s way of telling these events is effective?

Or is Mark muddying the waters?

Does this capture how it must have been like for Jesus juggling many requests?

What is Jairus feeling as the hoped-for prompt response from Jesus is delayed?

Does this heighten the tension?

In most of the healing miracles, the afflicted person or their friends and family ask Jesus for help.

What happens with this woman?

Notice, again, the use of the word “IMMEDIATELY”.

What is the result of the secret touch?

  • For the woman?
  • For Jesus?

How do the disciples respond?

What does the woman do when she realizes Jesus knows?

What is Jesus’ response?

Then the dreadful news arrives from Jairus’ house.

What are Jairus’ feelings now?

How is Jesus welcomed by the mourners at the house?

What are Jesus’ instructions after the healing?

Do these two stories shed light on each other?

Does this tell us something about how we are to deal with interruptions to our plans?

A Thread Running Throughout the Gospel.

Look at the following passages and references and see if you can pick up Leslie Houlden’s theme?

Mark 6:30-44Mark 7:27-28
Mark 8:1-10Mark 8:14-21
Mark 14:12-25

Mark’s Treatment of his Characters.

We have already seen Jesus’ clashes with the Jewish religious leaders when considering the Parable of the Vineyard and the Tenants last week. Mark portrays them in a bad light, and this becomes even more obvious in the Passion Story. Matthew and Luke largely follow this presentation.

We now consider Mark’s portrayal of:

  • Mary and Jesus’ Family.
  • The Disciples and Peter.

Here, Matthew and Luke do give us a rather different picture than Mark does. They sometimes change Mark’s Gospel when they write their versions of his episodes. They also included a lot more material from other sources (which Mark presumably did not have). We get the impression that Mark was writing with urgency whilst Matthew and Luke writing a little later, take the opportunity of doing more research and incorporating more material.

Mary and Jesus’ Family.

There are no birth stories in Mark’s Gospel which means references to his family are very limited.

I have found only one reference by name to ‘Mary’ his mother: 6:3.

One of the reasons for Jesus’ rejection in the Nazareth Synagogue is: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon…”

Later, in the Passion and Burial accounts, there are references to Marys but is this the Mary, the mother of Jesus? If so, it is a strange way of referring to her!

Look at 15:40, 15:47 and 16:1.

What do you think?

3:21, 31-35 is the main passage that refers to Mary and Jesus’ family.

Try to read it as if you are hearing it for the first time! (And without the knowledge of what appears in the other Gospels).

This is part of another of Mark’s sandwiches.

Jewish society put the greatest emphasis possible on family relationships.

Elsewhere in this Gospel, Jesus insists we must honour our mother and father (7:9-13).

So, what does Jesus mean here?

What does it say about his mother and family?

What do you think they felt when Jesus’ response was relayed to them?

Does this suggest that Mary and the family were not part of the new movement?

Are we part of a new family as Christians?

How does that relate to our other family responsibilities?

“Unless you read verses 34 and 35 as deeply shocking, you haven’t got the message”. Tom Wright.
“As long as Jesus’ family are unable to join that movement, the blood relationship must take second place to the new family which is coming into being through Jesus’ ministry”.
Dick France.

Most scholars believe that Mary and Jesus’ family play no further part in Mark’s Gospel!

Do you find that shocking?

No wonder, Matthew and, particularly Luke and John present a very different picture. Luke in Acts and Paul in his Letters have Jesus’ brother James leading the Jerusalem Church. We have seen a lot of correspondences between Mark and Paul, but this is a point on which they diverge.

The Disciples and Peter.

Mark’s description of The Twelve is also very interesting. Matthew and Luke often tone down and even alter Mark’s picture. Luke writes a second volume ‘Acts’ where Peter is a prime figure as well as Paul and James the brother of Jesus.

We have seen that Mark’s Gospel was probably written in response to the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul during Nero’s persecution. They were not the first martyrs. Stephen had been stoned to death by outraged Jews. James (the brother of John) had been martyred by Herod Agrippa. It seems that James the brother of Jesus also lost his life in the turbulent period that led up to the Jewish Revolt.

The normal reaction is to build up the reputation of such figures and this is a concern for Matthew and Luke. But we must remember that Mark, like Paul, thinks that the Second Coming of Jesus is about to happen and there is urgency to all Christians do. 9:1 is an example of this expectation.

What is Mark’s view of the The Twelve?

We have already seen that they are slow to understand the Parables which Jesus then explains to them. On the other hand, we have seen the enthusiastic response of Peter, Andrew, James and John (the Fishermen) to become his disciples. This is also true of Levi/Matthew (2:13-15).

Jesus appoints The Twelve in 3:13-19 and sends them out on Mission in 6:1-6.

Briefly, look at the following passages and consider what this sounded like for those who first heard Mark’s Gospel.

8:27-33.9:17-19 and 9:28-29.

It is a nuanced picture of fallible men!

Why does Mark give us such a complex picture of the founding apostles of the Church?

Unlike Matthew’s Gospel and Luke’s Acts, Judas Iscariot is not mentioned again. There is no reference to his death (and replacement). Leslie Houlden suggests that if we just had Mark’s Gospel, we might assume that Judas, like Peter, was forgiven by Jesus and remained one of The Twelve.

What do you make of this?

People who appear once in the Gospel.

We look briefly at these passages.

What do you think of these individuals?

7:24-30 – The Syrophoenician Woman.

9:21-24 – The Father of the Boy with a Spirit.

10:46-52 – Blind Bartimaeus.

12:41-44 – The Widow’s Offering.

14:3-9 – The Woman who Anointed Jesus.

15:39 – The Centurion.

Here we see some wonderful instances of faith.

The accolades that Jesus applies to the Widow and the Anointing Woman are reminiscent of how Luke later treats Mary the mother of Jesus.

The climatic words that sum up the Gospel are given to the Centurion rather than to Peter and the disciples.

One final enigma is 14:51-52.

Who is the young man? Matthew and Luke omit him when they write their versions of the Passion account.

The author of the Gospel? This was favoured at one time but less so these days.

A Source of the Passion Account?

Is he related to the young man found in the Empty Tomb in 16:5?

As Leslie Houlden says:

We too are disciples. The first disciples failed, and we fail.

The one-offs cheer us, and they are the best of us by the sheer gift of God which comes through Jesus.

Mark does not grade failures. In this he is like Paul. All have sinned and are lost and are ready to be saved.

  • There is no acceptance of second best.
  • But there is no despair at failure.

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