Indulge me, if you will, as I post a homework assignment. (I guess I’m allowed to.)
I often gloss over the Gospel of Mark because it seems to lack details. I sometimes associate details with validity. Mark quickly moves from one scenario to another, often interrupting himself to move to another scenario. So I put him down, and move to another synoptic Gospel that tells the same story in more detail. However, as with all scripture, there is something new every time I read this book. I found more detail in this Gospel as I read it through a lens that was determined to appreciate this Gospel for what it is as it stands alone.
Mark shows Jesus entrenched in conflict, often impatient and cynical, as exclusive, and secretive. I find that a lot of this is tied to messianic expectations and his God/human nature. Jesus seems preoccupied with getting people to understand the true nature of the messiah. Jesus says to the Pharisees, “you have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition,” (Mark 7:9). This seems to be an indictment also of their view and expectation of the messiah. As we have found in our discussions concerning Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, there were views about the messiah that pictured him as a military conqueror (maybe to overthrow Rome), a king from the line of David (maybe again to overthrow Rome—Jesus sets this thought aside in 12:35-37) or as a miracle worker, the “divine-man,” as Eerdman’s Dictionary of the Bible calls Him. Despite these prevailing views, Jesus claims that he is to suffer.
In regards to the military or royal expectations, Jesus does not lay ownership. While many would expect him to lead the Jews out of Roman bondage, Jesus does such things as to allow Legion (a name possibly reminiscent of a Roman squadron) to flee into pigs instead of being cast into eternity. He does not take the opportunity to denounce Rome when asked about paying taxes. In fact, He seems to pay little attention to Rome at all. However, He is not sitting idly by. Against common expectation, He quietly leads the religious order (arguably the more tyrannical of empires) to dismantle itself by aligning itself with Rome to see Him crucified. He does begin a kingdom by leading a revolution, but in a much different way than was expected.
Mark pictures Jesus as secretive, revealing his messianic destiny only to his disciples. However, it is worth noting that Jesus fully claims his role as the messiah, the King of the Jews, when He is to suffer for it (14:62). Does Jesus do this in order to avoid pressures to fulfill a role that does not belong to Him? Does He do this, as some would argue, as a form of reverse psychology? I am reminded of 7:9 as I ask these questions. Did Jesus want to keep silent the “human tradition” of the messiah in order that the truth of God’s plan would not be silenced when it came about? I think allowing Himself to be identified as the messiah by the Jewish people would have thrust Him into a form of “figure-head” leadership; whereby, without doing anything at all, the people would begin to follow Him based on their perceptions of who they thought He should be. His work would have essentially been eclipsed by this “human tradition” of the messiah.
Despite Jesus’ rejection of the common messiah, He isn’t reluctant to heal and cast out demons. He does not reject His role, His dual nature. He owns it and tries to redefine it in the eyes of Israel.
Mark is richer in detail than I remember. In fact, I enjoy how Mark illustrates Jesus. I find that many Christians like their Jesus to be “lowly, meek, and mild”—the better to have a personal relationship with, my dear. It is true that Jesus is those things. However, he is much more. He is also stern, impatient, and revolutionary. I love this about Jesus.
As a side note, I am intrigued by the conflict concerning the authorship of this Gospel. I would like to hear some other views on this matter. I have always ascribed to the view that it may not really matter in the long run, but I would still like to have a full perspective.