Study Materials The Gospel According to Mark III
As you read chapters 11-16 of the Gospel of Mark, pay particularly close attention to these:
That fig tree: It doesn’t seem fair that Jesus would curse a tree that does not bear fruit if it is not the proper season. Biblical scholars think that it represents the Jewish religious practices and temple worship. Jesus will replace the temple as the center of relationship with God.
In another circular narrative, Mark moves through this fig tree narrative to talk about sacred community becoming the center of worship and prayer. Temples were understood in ancient religions to be the place where the god dwells. In Hebrew religion, too, believers are required to come to the temple to sacrifice and observe holy days. It is the place where the God of Hosts dwells. Mark suggests that the temple has not yielded the fruit for which it was designed: loving God and loving the neighbor. Jesus says he will replace the temple, and in his discourse on faith and prayer, he claims that sacred space has been replaced by sacred community, which will now be the place where the Holy resides. As you continue to read to the end of this Gospel, what other evidence do you see of a change in attitude about the Temple?
Women: What roles do women play in this narrative? In the interplay of insiders and outsiders, where would you place them?
Use this space to make a list:
Passover Supper/Last Supper: What threads of feeding from the Hebrew Bible and Jesus ministry are collected in this meal?
“Little Apocalypse:” In Chapter 13, Jesus has a few things to say about the end of the temple and the end of time. Scholars call it “Mark’s Little Apocalypse.” Maybe the Evangelist writes from a time when this has already happened, or maybe just to keep his community hopeful in a time of fear. What do you think? Does Jesus’ caution to his disciples against such times have anything to say to us? Does it give some answers to the “Left Behind,” predictions? Why do you think that Jesus talks about the end of time BEFORE his death and resurrection?
Betrayers: Is Judas the only one? How else is Jesus betrayed?
Suffering: When does Jesus suffering begin? What is Jesus like in Mark’s account of his arrest, interrogation and death? Does this match the portrait of Jesus Mark has given us until this? Why or why not?
Scenes: Mark’s passion narrative almost reads like a movie. How would you lay out each scene? Would you toggle between Jesus confessing that he is the Messiah and Peter’s denial? How would Jesus look before Pilate? Who is faithful and who is not? How would you show it?
“With God all things are possible.” Twice Jesus states that God can do what seems impossible (10:27 and 14:36). Where do you see the evidence that this is true? Is this Jesus faith in God, or Jesus knowledge because he is God? Is there a difference? What is your own experience through your faith?
Resurrection: There is controversy in the scholar community about the authentic ending of Mark’s Gospel. Everyone agrees through 16:8. The longer ending of Mark may have been put together by others and drawn from other Gospel accounts. Does the longer ending add anything necessary to the story? What do you think?
June 15, 2012
Readings from Mark’s Gospel 8:22-38; 9:30-37; 10:17-52
8:22…”they came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” And the man, looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.”
My mother used to use spit on her handkerchief to clean our faces. Nowadays, such behavior would be regarded as gross and unsanitary. But that’s not why I wanted to start with this story, and I don’t think it’s why Mark told it this way, either. This whole section of Mark’s Gospel is about learning to see. And I’m not sure that his disciples ever really got the message.
So let’s look at the stories that show us how Mark’s Jesus walks an unexpected and astonishing path toward Jerusalem and a humiliating death as he redefines what it means to be the Messiah.
Chapter 8: 27; “Jesus is on the way. “Who do people say that I am?” Peter is right, “you are the Messiah.” Immediately Jesus tells them plainly that this means that he will undergo great suffering, be rejected be killed and rise again. But Peter can’t imagine…he’s looking for something much more glorious. There is a strain of Biblical thinking that is reflected in the disciples expectation, the expectation that God will come with might and crush their enemies, the expectation that if you are good, you will be rewarded with long life, great wealth and good children. But there are other strains of thinking in the Scripture, Isaiah lifts up the suffering servant (Chapter 52-55), and says “my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.”
Jesus calls them together to teach them: “if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” It’s a different path, without glory at the end.
Chapter 9:30; they are on the road again – the road that leads to Jerusalem. Jesus passes through town quietly because he’s busy teaching. He tells them again: “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. As a matter of fact, they are so clueless that they get in a fight about who is the greatest. Why are these guys so dumb?
The third time Jesus tells them about his death and resurrection, they have just met a wealthy man who thinks of himself as righteous. But Jesus exposes the fallacy associated with the connection between wealth and God’s favor. The rich are so dependent on themselves they don’t think they need God. So then, say the disciples, how can anyone be saved? “For God all things are possible,” says Jesus. “Many who are first will be last and the last will be first.”
They are on the road again, and Jesus tells them once more that the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests in Jerusalem, condemned to death, handed over to the Gentiles, who will torture and kill him, and three days later he will rise again. And again this prediction is followed by an argument about who will be first in the kingdom of God when it finally arrives. He tells them that the system of dominance by tyrants and rulers does not apply in this kingdom, “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served by to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
This whole section ends with another story of a blind man, a beggar sitting by the roadside in Jericho. He recognizes Jesus as the healer he seeks and will not be silent in his pleas for healing. Jesus heals him with a word, and that his faith is the cause of his regaining his sight. The blind man follows Jesus on the way.
From blind man to blind man, Mark teaches us to see that the way of Jesus is not the way of glory and domination. There is still a strain of religion that suggests that if we are good enough, God will reward us with everything we want. Is that your experience? It’s not mine. Can we see that often life is about grappling with complications and reverses. Buffy says that it is the living everyday of the life you are destined to live that is the hard part. Next week we will see exactly what it cost God to come to live the life we live here in the presence of our own yearnings for things that are not good for us, our own failures to be and do what we know is right.
But the bottom line is that God knows it all. Jesus has been through the worst that the world can dish out, and has nailed it to the cross for us. This Jesus that we meet in Mark’s Gospel is not some wimpy victim that blunders into a plot he can’t escape. He strides forward, knowing the path, and fully prepared to walk it. He has the power to lay down his life and to pick it up again. In his letters from prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that when the world is falling apart, only a suffering God can help. Know that in your struggles to live the life that is yours, that in whatever suffering you experience, you are not alone. God knows. God walks with you. God has the power to bring you exactly where need to be. That’s where we find the joy. We find that we are on the way together with Jesus, and with each other. Seeing with God’s eyes the suffering around us and called to lift the lowly and rejoice with those who are found.
Now may the peace which passes all understanding , keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.