One of the problems of being a Catholic is that we allow ourselves to get cluttered up with religion. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not an iconoclast. I don’t want to throw out all the religious traditions. I love them. I’m also not a primitivist. I don’t think we need to somehow get back to what the early church was like. That’s a wild goose chase.
However, we do need to get back to Jesus. This is one of the reasons why I’m taking the time to write a daily reflection on Mark’s gospel. The Blobble Study –Bible study on a Blog–that I am teaching is already a great learning point for me. I have long contended that many Catholics have never read one of the gospels through in a single sitting. They’ve heard the readings at Mass and know the stories, but they don’t know the big story and see the whole story arch and the developing conflict, resolution, climax and denouement.
This is one of the joys therefore, of going through the gospel this time. We can see the drama of the whole story and I am starting to realize what a fantastic storyteller Mark the Evangelist really is. He introduces Jesus and immediately the story is up and running. He uses spare and dramatic language: Jesus is “thrust” out into the desert by the Spirit. The heavens are “torn open”. He engages immediately with the devil and his enemies are soon revealed.
Furthermore, there is this thing the scholars call “the Messianic Secret.” Why does Jesus tell people to keep quiet about their healings? Why does he command the devils not to say who he is? It is because from the beginning and throughout the gospel Mark keeps us guessing. Like a good storyteller he plants clues and hints for us to solve the great mystery, and the mystery is this: “Who is this man Jesus?”
Some scholars say, “Jesus never declared himself to be Son of God. This is a later accretion to the primitive stories.” Mark shows that there is something different and quite fascinating going on which the scholars miss because they are not seeing this as a riveting story. Mark hides the divinity of Jesus within the actions and words of Jesus. He does not so much come out and say “I am God in human form” Instead, as Jesus is the Divine Word enfleshed, so Mark enfleshes this truth within the story, and this is exactly what all great storytellers do.
They don’t come out and preach it. They don’t write “on the nose”. They weave the truths into the fabric of the hero’s story. They embed the truths within the conflict and the characters. They show the truths being lived out through the choices, actions and words of the characters.
Why do they do this? This is the vital and exciting point: they do this so the reader will go on a personal journey of discovery. They engage the reader or listener in the story itself so the person is mentally and emotionally involved with the hero. As the person goes on this journey of discovery through the story they encounter the person of Jesus Christ and they discover for themselves–through their experience–who he is.
This is why it is so vital to read the gospels in their entirety and preferably with a vital Bible study guide. This is also why modern Biblical scholarship with the critical method of deconstructing the gospels and picking through them for mistakes and linguistic technicalities and then theorizing about them and speculating is not a complete waste of time, but almost so.
It is rather like watching Saving Private Ryan and saying, “You know the treads on that tank were three quarter inch and in actual fact the Sherman tank produced in the Poduski Falls factory in Michigan was manufactured with half inch treads.” I actually knew a jerk like this who, after watching an episode of Poirot said, “The whole show was spoiled for me. I noticed that the steam train they were traveling on had passenger cars that were not produced until 1957.” You get my meaning.
Mark’s gospel wraps the truth of who Jesus Christ really is in an intriguing mystery story. An example: In the second chapter Jesus first refers to himself as “Son of Man”. This title is itself ambiguous as it is a reference to a passage in Daniel 7 in which the Son of Man is an apocalyptic, supernatural Messiah figure. However the title “Son of Man” in the OT is more often a way of saying “son of Adam” or “human being”. So Jesus uses this mysterious term and we are meant to understand the mystery of who he is and we are drawn in to ponder further that both meanings of the term are valid.
Join me on the daily Bible study. You can use the Categories tool and click on “Blobble Study” to catch up if you haven’t been following the story so far. You can also follow by the title of posts: Read, Mark and Learn.
Check out my latest book The Romance of Religion which is all about the faith as a great story.