The New Testament in Review: The Gospel of Mark 1-8
Yes, I actually decided to come back for the Gospel of Mark. And how could I not? Mark is about half as long as Matthew, so it seemed like an easy read. Plus I am kinda into this project, and into reading the New Testament again. This time around I want to focus on the differences in the gospels, try and pinpoint what each author was trying to get across. Every writer has their own view on things, and a message they are trying to convey in their works. Why should the gospel writers be any different?
We can see a little bit of this in how Mary Magdalene is treated between the gospels of Matthew and Mark, for example. What other differences will we run in to? Only one way to find out:
The Gospel of Mark
Wow, Mark manages to condense the first four chapters of Matthew into one single chapter! Of course, one of the ways that Mark does this is by completely skipping the events of the birth of Christ. Mark instead focuses on John the Baptist getting people prepared for the coming of Jesus. John wears an outfit made of camel’s hair. There’s no real reason to point this out, except that I find it amusing.
We are still in Chapter 1, and still in fast forward. Jesus’s baptism and God’s approval: check. Jesus’s temptation by Satan in the wilderness: check. Jesus rounding up a bunch of fishermen: check. Jesus walking into a temple and starting to teach: check. Jesus healing people and casting out demons: check.
An interesting note here: Jesus would not let any of the demons speak, “because they knew who he was.” This is a bit of a theme in Chapter 1. Jesus is trying to keep his true identity hidden, to the point that Jesus tells a man he cures: “See to it that you don’t say anything to anyone.” Of course, if a man cures your leprosy with just a word, you have to tell at least some of your friends. Word spreads out amongst people in all the neighboring towns, of course, and the paparazzi start flocking Jesus, to the point that “Jesus could no longer enter a town openly.”
More distilling of Matthew’s gospel. Jesus forgives someone’s sins and the Pharisees proclaim blasphemy. The disciples gather grain from a field, the Pharisees charge that the disciples are not honoring the Sabbath. The disciples and Jesus sup with tax collectors and sinners, the Pharisees ask why he would do this. Bemused, Jesus answers: “Healthy people don’t need a physician, but sick ones do. I did not come to call righteous people, but sinners.”
We are still in the time-condensed version of events. Jesus is getting more and more depressed by our natural tendency to not help others, “Jesus looked around at them with anger, for he was deeply hurt because of their hardness of heart.” (v. 5). Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, giving the Pharisees and Herodians (who?) an excuse to try to kill Jesus.
Jesus gets out of Dodge, and who can blame him? Why stay in the city where the religious leaders are trying to find a way to justify your murder? Unfortunately, the crowd of worshipers continues to follow Jesus everywhere, practically trampling him in their rush to be healed. Which seems counter-productive to me, but whatever. Jesus keeps telling people and demons not to say that he is the Son Of God, but everyone knows a demon can’t keep a secret.
Jesus starts teaching to the crowds in parables (the sower of the seeds, the lamp, scatterer of the seeds, the mustard seed). “He did not tell them anything without using a parable, though he explained everything to his disciples in private.” I still hear people say that the Parables were meant to hide the truth from others, but I still don’t see it. The Parables meanings are up-front; the unwashed masses would be able to more easily understand what Jesus was teaching them.
One of the biggest differences between Mark and Matthew is the detailed paid to Jesus’s miracles. Chapter 5 deals in-depth with three. In the first, Jesus casts Legion (a demon composed of numerous demons. Because demons can apparently come together like a Transformer) out into a herd of swine. The pigs grow insane because of the demons and fling themselves off a cliff. Which kinda sucks for Legion, when you think about it.
This takes place in “the territory of the Gerasenes.” The Gerasenes are the first peoples that the Bible mentions as being a bit weirded out by all of these demons that are cast out and left to roam in their city. They actually kick Jesus out of town (v.17: “So they began to beg Jesus to leave their territory.”)
The second miracle is Jesus bringing a child back from the dead. This gets only a passing mention in Matthew (Jesus brought “an official’s” daughter back to life. In Mark, we find that the “official” is a synagogue leader named Jairus. His daughter – not named – is 12 years old. Jesus tells her “‘Talitha koum,’ which means, ‘Little girl, I tell you, get up!’” She gets up, of course. Jesus tells those gathered to feed the girl, and orders everyone to tell no one. Yeah, right, like anyone could watch someone be raised from the dead and not tell others.
As an aside: Mark shows a Jesus who is rather out of touch with human nature. Jesus is angered and saddened that people won’t help strangers. He expects people not to talk about miracles. He is surprised when crowds practically mob him. He cannot believe that a woman would reach out and touch him without asking, so she could be healed. Mark’s Jesus seems a little bit alien, or at least very naive when it comes to how people think and behave.
The other miracle is the woman who reaches out and touches Jesus. Jesus is on his way to raise Jairus’s daughter from the dead. This woman – unnamed, as most women in the Bible are – has lost everything as she tries to battle a chronic illness. (Sounds like our current medical system.) She has nothing to lose, so she stealthily makes her way through the crowd and sneakily touches his robe. She is healed, but “Jesus became aware that power had gone out of him.” Jesus asked who had done this, and to the woman’s credit, she accepted responsibility. Jesus was pleasantly surprised by this, and kindly told her “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed from your illness.”
Much has been said about Jesus, from his loving nature to his ability to grow angry, to his calmness. I don’t know many people who have mentioned his sweetness. He was incredibly sweet to reassure the woman, both that he wasn’t angry with her, and that she was healed.
Jesus goes back home. And discovers that no one believes he can do the things that people say he can. Which is pretty much standard: when you watch someone grow up and then they leave, you expect them to be the same person when they come back home. Jesus apparently found this amusing, too: “A prophet is without honor only in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his own home.” (v. 4)
Jesus realizes that there are just too many people needing healing or exorcism for one man to handle. So he has the disciples go out, in groups of two, and gives them authority to do these things. People are apparently happy that they do this, though no further mention is made.
Next up is John the Baptist’s beheading, which is written here exactly as it is in Matthew, so i’ll skip over that bit. What is interesting here is that Mark’s Jesus doesn’t seem that devastated at the news. In Matthew’s telling, Jesus is so distraught that he isolates himself on a hill to grieve. In Mark, Jesus doesn’t seem to register that news at all. Instead, he has the disciples go out to a deserted place where they could rest.
Once they get back, Jesus performs the miracle on the mount. In this telling, the Disciples actually tell Jesus to send away the crowds, and make the people in the crowd buy their own food. Jesus hushes them and turns a few loaves of bread and two fish into enough food to feed thousands. We’ve heard this story before, but it is interesting to hear that the Disciples are growing weary of the crowds, but Jesus still welcomes them.
Mark realizes that he hasn’t been writing much about what Jesus was actually teaching, so he decides to get back on track. But he only records Jesus’s teaching about eating without washing one’s hands. Mark’s recount of this speech is a touch different from Matthew’s. In Mark, Jesus is very annoyed and a bit defensive. He starts out with an out-and-out diatribe against the Pharisees (who asked this question): “(v. 6,8) Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites. […] You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” That is actually the calm part of his rant! All told, Mark 7:6-13 is one long tirade against the Pharisees, in front of a crowd of people. If you were one of the Pharisees, would you be happy after this?
Jesus tries to regain control as he turns back to the crowd. He tells the crowd that nothing from the outside can make someone unclean, only what is on the inside. Seems straight-forward, but when the crowd departs, the Disciples ask Jesus what that meant. Jesus is still ticked off about what had happened earlier, and takes a little bit of that frustration out on the disciples: “Are you so ignorant? Don’t you know that nothing that goes into a person from the outside can make him unclean?”
Jesus decides to leave and wander around a bit. Of course, more people found him. Because when you are crabby and just want to be left alone, isn’t that when everyone needs something from you? Imagine that happening, but with hundreds of people trying to get to you instead of just two or three.
The second miracle of the bread and fish. I don’t know why it was thrown in here, other than to throw it in here.
Jesus is getting more and more annoyed with his Disciples. I think it’s the way that family can sometimes get snippy and crabby with each other. But his patience with them has grown thin. The Disciples are worried because they have nothing to eat. Jesus snips, “Why are you discussing the fact that you don’t have any bread? Don’t you understand or perceive yet? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see? Do you have ears but fail to hear? Don’t you remember?” (v. 17-18)
One more miracle, which Mark again tells in detail. I’ll give the short story: a blind man comes to Jesus, Jesus spit on the man’s eyes and the man was able to see. For some reason, in Mark, a few of Jesus’s miracles revolve around Jesus spitting, either directly on the person he is going to cure, or onto the ground and then taking the mud made by his spit and putting that on the person to cure. That seems very, very odd to me.
It still sounds like Jesus is grumpy. Mark definitely wants to highlight the more assertive, moodier side of Jesus. Chapter 8 ends with Jesus warning everyone that his followers will need to give up everything they have. The last line of Chapter 8 is a great example of Christ’s crabbiness : “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes with the holy angels in his Father’s glory.”
Up next: Jesus gets VERY crabby.
New installments of The New Testament In Review will be posted each Monday and Thursday. The new posts will always be on my blog, http://biffster.org. The entire series is accessible via http://biffster.org/ntir. If you are one of my Facebook friends, you can get an advance preview on my Facebook page. You can also follow me (@biffster) on Twitter to be alerted to new posts.