Most likely, Mark’s was the first gospel. Some scholars even believe Mark invented the gospel genre and provided the basic framework that both Matthew and Luke followed twenty years later.
Mark’s story is bold, quick and on the move.
Mark’s Jesus is bold, controversial and focused.
Mark begins the story of Jesus with an incomplete sentence: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” In a way, his opening functions as a title.
Later when Jesus was baptized, a voice spoke from heaven: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Mark’s Jesus is again referred to as “son.”
“… out of Egypt I called my son,” the God of Hosea proclaimed centuries before, signifying Israel as the first to be called the “beloved son” of the Most High.
So now what did it mean for Mark and his Christian community to say that this Jesus is the “son of God?”
For Mark “son” is a category of being.
When Mark uses this word to refer to Jesus, he’s not suggesting that Jesus is the next generation of God like we think of our sons and daughters.
Also it is not a term that designates gender, rather “son” in this context means one who belongs to a particular type, a particular category.
Jesus comes from the classification: “God.”
Jesus exists within the category of being: “divine.”
For Mark, Jesus as “Son of God” suggests that Jesus is truly God.
But Mark’s Jesus is of another category as well because all throughout his gospel, Mark speaks of Jesus as the “Son of Man.”
Jesus comes from the classification: “human.”
Jesus exists within the category of being “mortal.”
For Mark, Jesus as “Son of Man” suggests that Jesus is truly human.
Mark’s Jesus throughout this brilliant narrative is always “both-and.” Mark’s Christology (Mark’s way of talking about the Christ) sees him as both fully human and fully divine.
Mark’s Jesus shows us who God is.
Mark’s Jesus teaches us who we are—who we are meant to be.
As Mark tells The Story in his gospel he tells us truth, deep and profound truth, but he tells this indescribable truth in beautiful, simple stories.
We don’t know whether all these stories happened in history the way Mark tells them; probably not. Mark’s way is a theological story telling: he assumes the flesh and blood reality of the man Jesus of Nazareth but his gospel ponders what it means that heaven intersected earth in the life of Jesus.
It is meaning that is significant for Mark: Who is God? Who are we? Why does this matter? What does this mean?
Later Christians will grapple with this “truly human-truly divine” mystery and attempt to distill it into creedal statements. Later Christians will let its theological nuance divide them into camps. Later Christians will imagine they could come up with neat explanations and contain such truth in well-defined boxes.
But Mark is wise enough to recognize how indescribable this mystery actually is. So when Mark grapples with this “truly human-truly divine” conundrum, he does it with story.
Mark’s gospel is simple and complex. It is clear and also filled with ambiguity. It’s straightforward and multilayered.
Like every good story, Mark’s Gospel stays with you and won’t let you go.
One thing that stays with you is the odd way the people in the story just don’t get Jesus. Mark’s Jesus is misunderstood at every turn. “Who IS this?!?” the characters in Mark’s story say again and again.
But we who are listening in to the story; we who are watching from the audience, get to overhear the narrator set the stage; we hear the storyteller telling us more clearly about this Jesus who is Son of God, Son of Man. Unlike John the baptizer and the other disciples, we the audience can hear the voice that Jesus heard, the voice that split the heavens:
You are my Son, my Beloved.
Most of the other characters in the story Mark tells don’t have that divine perspective. But strangely, interestingly, the demons called Jesus of Nazareth the “Holy One of God …” (1:24). Interestingly, courageously, the centurion confessed the crucified Jesus as Son of God (15:39).
But no one else got Jesus during the entire telling of Mark’s story because of Mark’s brilliant rhetorical device that contemplates the mystery of the truly human-truly divine One.
We call this the Messianic Secret.
Jesus as Messiah/Christ—anointed and appointed by God to reveal God and to bring the kingdom of God—is known only in the way of the cross.
Jesus as Son of Man/Son of God—truly human and truly divine—is known only in the resurrection.
Any effort to get Jesus by any other means than faith and faithfulness, trust and entrusting ourselves to the Way of Christ is totally inadequate.
So as you read Mark’s Gospel and ponder Mark’s Jesus, ask yourself two questions:
1) “What does this Jesus show me about who God is?”
2) “What does this Jesus teach me about what it means to be truly human?”
Read slowly. Take your time. Stop when something strikes you as important and just think about it for a while. Pray. Trust that God is still speaking.
Trust that this God who is Creator and Sustainer, who is the Beginning and the End of The Big Overarching Story of creation is always also writing something new and wonderful and mysterious into each one of our individual stories.
The Gospel of Mark is a great read and a good way to get to know more about the good news of Jesus Christ.
From the prophet’s call to prepare the way of God; from the voice splitting the heavens and declaring favor on the beloved Son; from the message of Jesus proclaiming the good news that the kingdom of God has come near, all the way to the abrupt, open-ended, uncomfortable close of the Gospel according to Mark (16:8) – it’s all only the beginning of the good news, Mark tells us.
Mark’s Jesus is always “going ahead” and disciples are always called to follow. The women at the tomb, Peter and the other disciples…there are countless stories of what God has done and is doing in countless lives – including our own.
As Mark’s story transitions from the story of the crucified Jesus to the mystery of the resurrected Christ, we readers realize we are no longer observers sitting in Mark’s audience.
The Story is not over.
The Gospel according to Mark sees US as written into The Story. It is we who are challenged to “go and tell,” to be witnesses of the invisible, inscrutable reality of the risen Christ. WE have become participants in the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God, Son of Man.
Make time to watch Alec McCowen’s brilliant recitation of Mark, now available on YouTube