Surprised by Mark

In my Cup last week I mentioned that on vacation I read the gospel of Mark straight through, and while I had heard and read all of it before, it was in the bits and pieces as one encounters it in attending mass or saying the Office. I said then that one overall impression I had was of all that the Gospel does not say. For the most part Mark is an action narrative, lacking in much substance about the teachings of Jesus. There are a few instances of a teaching here and there, such as Jesus saying that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath; and telling the rich young man that to have treasure in heaven he must to sell all he owned and give it to the poor. But what I found frustrating was all the instances where it says he was teaching the people, but provides no information at all about what the teaching was.

For example, in Chapter 1:14-15 Jesus comes to Galilee proclaiming the good news. Yes, but what did he say that was “good news?” In 1:21 he comes to Capernaum and enters the synagogue and taught, and they were astonished that he taught as one with authority. What did he say? In 1:39 he went throughout Galilee “proclaiming the message.” What was “the message.” In 2:13 he went by the sea and a crowd gathered, and he taught them. At about this point, I was aware of this pattern and began looking specifically for details of what he was teaching. But so it went. In Chapter 4:1 “again he began to teach beside the sea” and the only substance we get of the teaching is the parable of the sower. Presumably he said a lot more than that. What was it? In 4:33-34, he “taught many things in parables” and explained it all to the disciples. What were those other parables and how nice it would be to be let in on the explanations he gave to the disciples. In 6:1 he goes to the synagogue in his home town and teaches and they take offense at him. I wonder what he said? We are not told; only that they were astounded. In 6:30 after being told of the murder of John the Baptist, he goes to a lonely place, but then seeing a crowd gather, a crowd of more than 5000 that he later feeds with five loaves and two fish, he “began to teach them many things.” And at about this point, chapter 8 or so, I might have actually yelled at the pages, like yelling at the TV, “TAUGHT THEM WHAT? WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME?” But Mark never does.

Oh yes, I know about the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. It is probably the best, maybe only, account of what Jesus was saying in all those instances in Mark when all Mark says is that he taught them many things. Thank you Matthew. Somewhere on my ToDo list now is a straight through reading of Matthew and see if any new impressions come out of that.

I close with the Collect about the holy scriptures. Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 5-August-2014.

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One Response to Surprised by Mark

  1. Eileen says:

    Ron, thank you for this posting. Your narratives and reflections always resonate with me. I’m always wondering, with these gospel accounts, who was this person and what was the agenda from which he wrote. Please let us hear your take on Matthew.

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