The Passion According to Mark: Session 1 (14: 26-52)

Some thoughts on Mark’s Gospel  (M. Powell’s Introducing the New Testament, p. 125-136)

The Gospel of Mark is the briefest of the four Gospels, and much of the best-known and most-loved material about Jesus is missing (Jesus’ birth story, the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Beatitudes, the raising of Lazarus).  Mark tells stories of Jesus in ways that seem to emphasize frailty, suffering, failure, and ambiguity.  His book is less complex than Matthew’s or Luke’s, and it is less “talky” than John’s.  It works as a story told from beginning to end, the sort of story that one might have heard read aloud in a single sitting.  It was probably the first Gospel written, most scholars dating it between 65 and 73 during the Jewish war with Rome, just after the Roman persecutions of Peter, Paul and many others.  The book is anonymous because there are only guesses at the author’s identity.  Mark was a common name.  There is suspicion it could be the Mark mentioned in 1 Peter 5:13 or the John Mark mentioned in Acts and some of Paul’s letters.  But we do know he is a devout Christian who believes in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, and he was probably writing for an audience of Roman Christians.  

When it comes to the Passion, Mark’s Gospel is distinctive.  On Easter morning, a group of women come to the tomb where a young man (probably an angel) tells the women Jesus is risen:  They went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.  It is such an abrupt ending that some Christians added on to it later.   The centrality of Mark’s Gospel is the cross.  The crucifixion of Jesus is clearly what matters most to Mark.  Jesus has not ultimately come to heal the sick or to argue with Pharisees ;he has come to give his life as a ransom (10:45).  The cross of Christ serves as the primary symbol for the life of self-denial, service, and sacrifice that Jesus’ followers (That means us!) are called to embrace (8:34).

Points made by Raymond Brown in A Crucified Christ in Holy Week (p. 21-24)

  • Begins on a gloomy note, and the darkness will intensify until Jesus breathes his last the next day.  In all that time no support will come from those who have been his followers, and he will die alone.  The tragedy seems almost too much for Jesus himself.
  • Even though he predicted Peter’s denials, he is upset that Peter could not watch one hour with him.  Although there is no direct response from God to Jesus’ prayer for deliverance, ultimately Jesus rises resolved to encounter the betrayer, leaving us to assume that he has understood God’s answer to be that he must drink the cup and face the hour that is at hand.
  • For Mark (and here he differs from the other 3 evangelists) Jesus’ resignation to his fate may be seen in his failure to respond to the Judas who kisses him or to the bystander who draws the sword and strikes the slave of the high priest on the ear.  If the hour and cup could not pass, as Jesus had prayed earlier, let be what God wills.
  • The disciple fleeing naked is symbolic simply of the abandonment of Jesus by his disciples.  The first disciples to be called left nets and family (1:18, 20), indeed everything (10:28), to follow him; but this last disciple, who at first sought to follow Jesus, ultimately leaves everything to get away from him.

Points made by Garry Wills in What the Gospels Meant (p. 42-47)

  • The reason that Jesus was still not being accepted as Messiah is that he was the wrong kind of Messiah.  It was bad enough for Jesus to claim to be the Messiah.  It is simply insane for him to say that he would suffer death for being the Messiah.  The call of this Messiah is a call to suffering.  Later Christianities will be ruling, crusading, and triumphalist bodies, sitting on papal and imperial thrones, sending out armies to slay the heathen.  Mark’s Gospel could not be further from such distortions of what Jesus said and did and meant.The Messianic community not only suffered because it was like Jesus.  It suffered because it was Jesus.
  • Mark knows the opening of Jesus’ prayer in the garden, Abba, the Aramaic for “Father,” which he translates into Greek for his readers.  When Mark quotes Jesus using his original language, he is close enough to his sources to be giving the Lord’s precise words.  He does it here, at the beginning of the Passion, as he will at the end, when he quotes the Aramaized Hebrew of Psalm 22, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani.

Reflection Questions

  1. Where do you see yourself in this story?  What feelings in your gut are stirred?
  2. Gethsemane in Hebrew means “oil press”.  How does this symbolism speak to you?
  3. Why do you think Jesus asks to have the cup taken from him?
  4. Have you ever been betrayed?

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