Sunday, February 22, 2015

Mark's Distinct Voice, and the Good News (Extremely Scattered Ramblings)

At church this morning, the pastor preached about Mark 1:9-15.  Allow me to post this passage in the King James Version (which is in the public domain):

9 And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan.
10 And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him:
11 And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
12 And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness.
13 And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.
14 Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God,
15 And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.

The pastor’s sermon was entitled “Reading More Than the Headlines.”  The title relates to how my pastor was characterizing the Gospel of Mark: Mark’s Gospel is like the headlines of news stories because it does not tell us the rest of the story.  In Mark’s story of Jesus’ temptation, for example, we read that Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, but the Gospels of Matthew and Luke tell us more of the story by detailing what Satan actually said to Jesus.

I was thinking about the scholarly view of Markan priority, which states that Mark’s Gospel came first and the other synoptic Gospels relied on Mark (among other sources).  What the pastor was saying influenced me briefly to question Markan priority.  Why would Mark, as the first to write a Gospel, simply write that Satan tempted Jesus, without detailing the contents of that temptation?  Maybe Mark was intended to be a more succinct version of the other Gospels, and Mark expected readers to know the rest of the story that he was not telling.

At the same time, Mark’s version of the story is distinctive in its own right, so it may have come first, or it may not have been a shortened version of what Matthew and Luke have.  Mark says that Jesus was in the wilderness among wild beasts, whereas Matthew and Luke do not have that detail.
The pastor was preaching about the temptation story as it appears in Mark.  The Holy Spirit has gently descended on Jesus like a dove, then the Spirit drives Jesus out into the wilderness!  What a remarkable contrast there is between the Spirit’s behavior at Jesus’ baptism and the Spirit’s behavior right after Jesus’ baptism, my pastor was noting.  Jesus is among wild beasts for forty days and is tempted by Satan, but angels ministered to him.  The pastor likened that to our experience: things happen in our lives that scare us and that lead us to question God’s care, but God is still with us in the wilderness.

After his temptation, John the Baptist is put into prison, but Jesus preaches the good news of the Kingdom of God.  The pastor asked us what exactly that good news was.  My understanding is that the pastor was seeing the Kingdom of God as God’s presence.  Jesus was proclaiming that God is near, even when we are suffering.  The hymns that we sang after the sermon reinforced that particular theme.

I’m one of the readers of the Lenten liturgy.  This morning’s liturgy was contrasting the hopefulness of Advent with the solemnity of Lent.  The liturgy said the following in reference to Advent:
“During the weeks before Christmas we celebrate the anticipation of the coming of the Christ child with candles.  One by one during Advent, we light the candles of peace, hope, joy, and love, all in preparation for the beginning of Christ’s life on earth.  All this culminated on Christmas Eve when we light the Christ candle itself.  It represents the light of Jesus Christ’s shining in the world, living in our midst, coming forth to save us, inviting us to its warmth.  That is a joyous season.”

Jesus, in a sense, was bringing the Kingdom of God near to people.

But did Jesus bring something that was not present before?  God is faithful to people even when they’re suffering?  That was true before Jesus came.  Our Old Testament reading was Psalm 25:1-10, which essentially says that.  Of course, there are times when that does not seem to be the case.  The Psalmist often acknowledges that, which is why he wants God to act concretely and make it the case.  In Jesus’ day, evil made some triumphs, such as the imprisonment of John the Baptist.  Yet God was on the move, as Jesus healed people and people repented and became reconciled with God.  I think, though, that my pastor may have been saying something a bit different: that, even when we are suffering and we doubt God’s faithfulness, God is faithful.  I guess my question would be this: Is God’s faithfulness with us during the suffering, or is his faithfulness the fact that he will step in and alleviate that suffering, as Jesus was doing by healing people?

A number of scholars would say that Jesus was predicting the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God: God would soon step in, overthrow evil, and set up his kingdom of goodness.  Jesus was setting the stage for that by healing people, casting out demons, and making converts to God.  Is there another viable way to understand the Kingdom of God being near?  Suppose it is near in proximity, through the ministry of Jesus.  Why, though, was it near at that time?  How was it good news?  Jesus came and embodied the Kingdom, then went back to heaven to wait thousands of years before coming back?  What was the point?

Well, he did need to die to bring about the atonement.  For Christianity, the atonement had to take place at some point in actual history, and that occurred when Jesus was crucified.  Jesus was also exalted after his resurrection.  What, though, is the practical difference between the time before Jesus came and the time afterwards?  Did Jesus bring anything different?  What was his good news?
These are scattered ramblings.  I’ve written scattered ramblings in the past, but these are extremely scattered ramblings.

Overall, I enjoyed my pastor’s sermon this morning because it allowed Mark to speak in its distinct voice, and because it was rather expository—-it focused on interpreting the text.  Usually, my pastor preaches from Matthew, perhaps because it is the first Gospel in the New Testament.  I’ve sometimes wondered if he sees Mark as a shortened version of the same story that Matthew tells.  He may, but he was also allowing Mark to speak with Mark’s distinct voice, and that was good.

3 comments:

  1. It is possible that Jesus was referring to the idea of believing in a tzadik [saint, one who by hard work or other means has gained a kind of connection with the Divine].
    That is that by means of simple belief in a tzadik there is created a kind of pipeline between the tzadik and the person that believes in him. This is probably not in accord with Christian theology however. In any case I sometimes think to myself that finding a true tzadik to believe in is a good idea. Sometimes I am more skeptical.

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  2. I think aspects of that are consistent with Christian theology, though it would probably say Jesus was the only one who fulfilled that role.

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  3. I would need years to even begin to understand Aquinas. But perhaps you are right that he might agree with Nachman about what is accomplished by faith. But who can tell? Nachman's idea seems neo Platonic and Aquinas is Aristotlian.

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