Lenten Reading Challenge: Mark 8:31 to 16
• When and Where
In 66AD a Jewish revolt led to a brief freedom in Jerusalem from Roman rule. Revolutionaries deposed the Roman appointed High Priest and appointed their own. The response was brutal and ultimately led to Roman legions destroying much of the city in 70 AD, including the massive, fortress-like Temple. Similar to the Babylonian destruction of the first Temple some 600 years earlier, this was a calamity for the Jewish people, including early Christians, the majority of whom were still of Jewish origin and identity.
In the midst of this trauma, the Gospel we know as Mark was written. Keep this in mind, particular when reading sections like Mark 13’s “little apocalypse.” A key part of my understanding of this Gospel is that it is part of an intense, even bitter, struggle for a new Jewish identity. The faction coming to be known as Christians will lose that fight, even as they survive to become a larger world religion.
• Key Insights
One of Mark’s claims is that “we” no longer need the Temple; Jesus is the Temple, the way, the center and focus of our worship.
In Mark, Jesus is often shown to be telling people not to tell others about who he is! This “Messianic Secret” aspect of Mark is puzzling to many. My own primary take is that Jesus is discerning himself to be a very different kind of Messiah than many, including his closest followers, are expecting. (A advanced study would focus on how often Mark uses Isaiah as a reference point and connect Jesus’ ministry and his followers to the “suffering servant” passages found in Isaiah.)
Note how Mark gives great detail, with a day-by-day, even hour-by-hour, account of Passion week. Based on this detailed timeline, Borg and Crossan’s “The Last Week” is an excellent and very accessible opportunity to study this aspect of Mark’s Gospel in more depth.
• Big Picture
Interestingly, the earliest manuscripts end with 16:8 “and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Obviously the story was told, or this Gospel would not have come into being, but how does the text ending there affect you as a reader or hearer of the story? Different manuscripts show a longer ending was added in the 2nd Century, and a shorter ending added in the 4th (which may seem odd, but remember that a given scroll or codex travelled different routes from others and weren’t necessarily known to different regions. In this internet age, we take information sharing and cross-referencing for granted!)
Mark, Matthew and Luke present their narratives in a one-year framework. Later we will see that John has a very different timeline, presenting at least 3 years of activity. This difference is a reminder that these are primarily theological writings, not “live” play-by-play or even newspaper accounts. Each gospel has a particular insight and a particular call on the reader’s response. The early church intentionally kept all 4 and resisted efforts to “harmonize” them.
Blessings on your reading!