• When and Where
Finally, a Gospel! I’m sure you will enjoy the more familiar narratives to be found here. However, notice how sparsely told Mark is! Particularly in today’s reading, roughly the first half of the Gospel, it may feel like we’re on fast forward, quickly jumping through scenes of a familiar movie.
Most scholars think the Gospel of Mark was written just before or just after 70AD. We’ll focus more on this tomorrow, but suffice it to say it was a traumatic time in Jewish history and Mark reflects these conflicts.
The location and even specific author are uncertain. Several attempts to definitively identify a “Markan community,” have come up short. Borg suggests it was probably written in northern Galilee. Others posit ties to an early leader, such as the “John Mark” we will read about in Acts (remember the comment yesterday on naming one’s writings for one’s teacher).
While the uncertainly surprises us, remember that the author did not write “The Gospel According to Mark” on the first line then sign it. In fact, Borg notes that the traditional names were not assigned to the gospels until the 2nd Century, as a way to distinguish them as collections started coming together.
• Key Insights
A major focus of Mark is presenting Jesus as “the Way” and as the announcement of the “kingdom of God.”
Mark uses a threefold narrative pattern, with several “inclusios” where one story frames or “brackets” another and the two thus help interpret one another. The overview is a beginning in Galilee, where most of Jesus’ public activity happens (today’s readings), then, (tomorrow,) a journey to Jerusalem for Passover, then Jesus’ final week, including confrontation with authorities, execution and the discovery of the empty tomb.
• Big Picture
To those of us used to hearing and reading Matthew and Luke, Mark’s gospel is striking both because of what it does and does not include. There is no birth narrative, no Lord’s Prayer, far fewer parables and no resurrection appearance stories. Even in what Mark does tell, the reader is often expected to fill in some blanks, make some choices and respond! This is not a text to be heard passively, but an invitation to respond.
However – when you “fill in the blanks” I encourage you not to simply do so with information from other gospels, but by paying close attention to what this text does present and your emotional and intellectual reaction to it. Who is this Jesus, according to Mark? Why follow him?
Note that we are now a full generation removed from Jesus’ human life, the distinct term Christian is just coming into use (first in the city of Antioch) and these fledgling communities are increasingly separated from the life of the synagogues.
Blessings on your reading!