Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Fun factoids about Mark

Last night I attended with the small group at my church who are reading the four Gospels together. We did Matthew last month, and last night we focused on Mark.

From what we know about Mark, it was the first Gospel written, and most likely by a student of the disciple Peter. He was writing primarily to already converted Christians, shortly after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by Rome.

One woman in the group pointed out how she'd never read Mark straight through. She'd been a reader at our church, a position which required her to frequently assemble readings, and she confessed she'd seldom used the versions of the stories in Mark. Other gospels present longer versions that are a little more crafted. But Mark is written with sparse detail, flowing from one story to another with nary a pause.

She drew our attention to the words "immediately" and "straightway." The Bible has 55 instances of the word "immediately," 17 of which are in Mark. (Remember, Mark is also the shortest gospel in length.) There are 42 instances of "straightway," 18 of which are in Mark. Mark has a sense of urgency, or immediacy. Things are happening. Right now. And not stopping.

Which brings me to her contribution that really made my eyes pop. If you have a version of the King James handy, open it up to Mark. And just scan down the verses. What word pops out as the first of almost every verse? See if you can see it before I tell you. … It's the word "and." Mark wrote in these breakneck run-on sentences that just kept going and going and going without stopping and added more and more information and details and episodes without him even pausing for a breath.


Another point is that Mark uses a "sandwich" structure, meaning he'll start one story, break off to tell another story, then go back and resolve the first story. The point is for one story to give meaning to the other story, and vice versa. This clarified for me that whole episode with the fig tree.

You may remember it, it's in Chapter 11. Jesus and his disciples have just gone into Jerusalem and visited the temple. Jesus is gearing up for his cleansing of the temple but hasn't done it yet. The next day, they travel again from Bethany to Jerusalem, and on the way Jesus sees a fig tree. It's all leaves and no figs. (Someone pointed out last night that the bit about it not being "time" for figs was probably added later.)

I imagine that Jesus was thinking about what he's about to do in the temple, he's thinking about worthless activities and how they bear no fruit. And then he sees this useless fig tree and he remarks, "No man [will] eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever." [Bracket is my addition.]

Then Jesus gets to the temple and throws out the moneychangers. He rebukes the scribes and chief priests, saying, "Is it not written, My house shall be called of nations the house of prayer? But ye have made it a den of thieves." This angers the officials.

Jesus and the disciples leave the city again, coming back in the morning. Peter (remember Mark may have been Peter's student) notices the fig tree has dried up, and he exclaims, "Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away." To me, this is Peter's take on the incident. Jesus doesn't necessarily confirm it. Jesus answers, "Have faith in God." He goes on to explain that whatever you want to do, if you shall not doubt in your heart, God will do it. He also adds that you need to forgive to be forgiven.

They then get to Jerusalem, Jesus does the little brain teaser with the priests about who gave him his authority, and then he launches into his parable (Chapter 12) about the man leaving the vineyard to some husbandmen. The man sends servants to claim the fruit, but the husbandmen refuse to deliver it. They beat the servants. Finally they even kill the man's son. Jesus says, "What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others." The priests know that he's talking about them, and they start to plot to kill him.

To me, now, this whole section is about bearing fruit. About how following God needs to bring results and increased goodness. It's not about just following rules and expecting that to save you. You have to be true to what God has designed you to do, or your efforts will be as worthless as fig tree that only bears leaves.

I found the discussion with my fellow Gospel readers very inspiring. There were just a few of us, but we were caught up together in discovery. Can't wait for the discussion of Luke.

Your ideas and inspiration are welcome! Please comment below or Contact Laura.
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At 1/23/2007 02:39:00 PM, Blogger Kate said...

cool..John was always my favorite....but now I am going to have to give this character his due...in light of our mutual love for run on sentences...I have replaced my "and"s with .... maybe I'll share that with him someday...hey Laura did I ever tell you about the day I met George Harrison in the mall...that was almost what I said to him..."I never liked Paul...you were always my favorite"...hugs honey, Kate


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