Online Bible Study Fall, 2018 The Gospel of Mark
Online Bible Study
The Gospel of Mark
A 10-Week study based upon A Journey With Mark, ed. Marek T. Zabriskie
(Forward Movement, 2015)
- September 23-29 Ch. 1 & 2
- September 30- October 6 Ch. 3 & 4
- October 7-13 Ch. 5 & 6
- October 14-20 Ch. 7
- October 21-27 Ch. 8 & 9
- October 28-November 3 Ch. 10
- November 4-10 Ch. 11 & 12
- November 11-17 Ch. 13 & 14
- November 18-24 Ch. 15
- 10.November 25-30 Ch. 16
Our reading is guided by A Journey With Mark, ed. Marek P Zabriskie [Forward Movement, 2015), and some of the meditations are drawn from that book. This is one of a series in "the 50 Day Bible Challenge," founded by Marek Zabriskie, designed to encourage the daily reading of Scripture.
The Gospel of Mark is the earliest gospel, and it also the shortest. Scholars generally agree that it was probably written before 70 CE - just a generation after the ministry of Jesus. Scholars agree that the writers of the gospels of Matthew and Luke drew upon it. These three gospels are called the "Synoptic Gospels" based on the Greek meaning "able to be seen together.” [The Gospel of John, of course, takes a very different approach to the "good news" of Jesus' ministry.]
Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark begins not with the birth of Jesus, but with his baptism. The opening line sets the tone and theme for this Gospel: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The central theme of this gospel is that Jesus’ ministry demonstrates the fulfillment of God’s promise of a Messiah who would initiate the kingdom God: It marks the beginning of the realm of justice, compassion, and peace. The unique opening of this gospel points to this theme: it calls attention to the ministry rather than to the person of Jesus. There is also a singular sense of urgency in this gospel: the word for immediately occurs over 40 times: Paradoxically, the long-awaited “good news of Jesus Christ” arrives abruptly, recognized only by those who have patiently prepared themselves but disrupting all their plans and expectations.
The central argument of Mark’s gospel is a response to the question of Jesus’ identity: If Jesus was the Messiah, why was he not more famous? Why didn’t everyone recognize him when he was alive? In our reading of the gospel, we will focus on three ways in which Mark responds to this question:
- The “messianic secret” – In Mark’s gospel, Jesus repeatedly commands people not to tell about the healings they have experienced or witnessed. At the same time, the people who do recognize Jesus are the poor and marginalized who live outside the religious and political center in Jerusalem. On the one hand, Jesus makes it clear that he wants people to see God at work through him, not to call attention to himself; on the other hand, those who do intuitively recognize him do not have the authority to be credible witnesses.
- The disciples are portrayed in this gospel as less insightful or reliable than in the other gospels. They repeatedly show that they do not understand the meaning of Jesus’ teachings. As a result, on the one hand they would not have been credible narrators, and on the other hand the “messianic secret” is a narrative device through which the reader knows more than they do. The implicit message is that, as the Kingdom of God grows, our own understanding deepens. From that perspective, it makes sense that they would not understand what Jesus was teaching.
- Because its purpose is to portray the realm of God emerging through the ministry of Jesus, this gospel lends itself to political interpretations perhaps more readily than do the other gospels. The episodes of healing can be seen as acts of political rebellion, and Jesus’ teachings point toward an alternative socio-political order. Indeed, the fact that his first public act is to heal a man possessed by a demon in the synagogue at Capernaum, on the Sabbath, (1:21-28), signifies the institutional implications of his ministry. The story of Jesus according to Mark is the story of institutional transformation, not just of personal enlightenment and healing. Jesus may not look like the king that the people expected, but his ministry reveals the Rule of God. The Kingdom is here, albeit unfinished.
At the very center of this gospel is the question to which we return over and over again: Who do you say that I am? (8:29) Jesus has many different titles in this gospel, and despite its brevity we see him through a multitude of shifting, contrasting perspectives. Our own answer to this question changes as we ourselves grow and change. My own response to this question has been guided by Albert Schweitzer, who ends his book The Historical Jesus as follows:
He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake side, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.
Week One: Chapters 1 & 2 Passages for Reflection
1.1: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
1.9-11: In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.
1:13: He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
1:23-27: Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him." And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, "What is this? I new teaching -with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.
2:16-17: When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
2:21-22: “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise; the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”
Week One Meditations:
"Baptism is . . . a commitment to walk in solidarity and compassion with others, sharing their hopes, tears, joy and pain."
- Christopher Duraisingh, quoted by The Rt. Rev. Fred Hiltz (A Journey With Mark, p. 3)
As Christians we can be imprisoned by our religion, and Jesus seeks to free us from it. Jesus offers us unbounded love, free from the shackles of an inherited religion that says that you are not good enough to belong because you haven't earned God's love. We as a community must be freed and unbound from the ties that bind us. You and I both know our own hearts. We know how hard it is to welcome others freely.
Jesus invites us to reach that part of our heart that believes in God's unfailing love. He invites us to be welcoming and accepting of others with abandon. We are invited to live lives in communities where the Holy One of God is present and alive and proclaimed. Most of all we are invited to proclaim with our lives the unbounded love of Jesus. We are invited to unbind one another from our self-made religious shackles and follow Jesus.
- The Rev. Andrew Doyle (A Journey With Mark, p. 10)
O Father of us and of all time, be merciful as we struggle to be Church even as Church is changing and shifting around us, and even as there seems to be no cohesion among us. Show us the way, Father, to understand Christ as Lord of the sabbath every day of our lives. Amen.
- Phyllis Tickle (A Journey Through Mark, p. 20)
The Gospel of Mark
Weeks 3: Chapters 5 & 6
These two chapters describe miracles that could not be explained as the practices of a wonder-worker (the healing of the Gennaseret demoniac, the woman with a hemorrhage, Jairus’ daughter, the feeding of 5,000, and walking on water). And these episodes alternate with scenes of opposition and danger (the rejection in Nazareth and news of the death of John the Baptizer). We must keep in mind the apocalyptic context for the narrative: These miracles and intensified opposition are signs of the imminence of the day of judgement, the ultimate coming of the kingdom. They are presented as signs of God’s presence in the world. The narrative suggests that faith is not a doctrinal statement but a way of life: In the words of Abraham Herschel: Authentic faith is more than an echo of a tradition. It is a creative situation, an event. For God is not always silent, and man is not always blind. In every man’s life there are moments when there is a lifting of the veil at the horizon of the known, opening a sigh of the eternal . . . .each of us has at least once in his life experienced the momentous reality of God. . . . But such experiences or inspirations are rare events. To some people they are like shooting stars, passing and unremembered. In others they kindle a light that is never quenched. . . . The remembrance of that experience and the loyalty to the response of that moment are the forces that sustain our faith. In this sense, ‘faith is faithfulness,’ loyalty to an event, loyalty to our response. [quoted in Joy, ed. Christian Wiman, Yale University Press, 2018, p. 43]
Passages for Reflection
5:3-5 He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had
often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him.
5:18-19 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him
that he might be with him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.”
6:6 And he was amazed at their unbelief. [in his hometown]
6:11-13 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, and as you leave, shake off the
dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
6:34: As Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were
like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
Week 3 Meditations
Demons and swine. This is not the stuff of our daily lives, yet this story is not as foreign to us as we might wish. . . . Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee intending to begin a mission of healing and teaching; he leaves having healed only this one man. The townspeople, the man’s neighbors, want Jesus gone. Jesus’ work of healing disrupts the local economy (all those pigs) and disturbs the peace they have made with sin and pain in their midst. Yet new life for this one man was clearly worth the journey. . . . The life of this man will be a powerful lesson to all he meets about the grace and mercy of God.
- The Rev. Brenda G. Husson [A Journey With Mark, p. 43]
What Jesus commends is the longing for healing and renewal that makes us seek him out. It may be born of desperation, but if it helps us push through the clutter, the crowds, or the naysayers to reach him, then that is faith enough. How and when healing comes is up to God. In our asking, we declare our faith in God’s promise of new life.
- The Rev. Brenda G. Husson [A Journey With Mark, p. 47]
This story [the death of John the Baptist] is one of ultimate contrast between Herod the successful and John the significant. If ever we needed an example of success at any price, this episode of Herod’s unrestrained ambition gives it to us. In comparison, John was a man of significant faith who lived his life to the very end faithful to the God who had called him.
Though the contrast between success and significance is easily overstated, nevertheless it is a contrast which followers of Christ Jesus will be well served to remember and hold in tension.
- The Rt. Rev. James B. Magness [A Journey With Mark, p. 54]
Similar to the disciples, we are called by Jesus away from the busyness of our lives and into prayer. And similar to the disciples, we can be left anxious and even angry as the demands of our lives can crash into these times. Thanks be to God that in the silence and busyness, God meets us where we are and offers compassion and love.
The Rev. Jennifer Strawbridge [A Journey With Mark, p. 57]
Dear Lord, sometimes I’m afraid that I don’t have enough faith. Help me to remember that my desire for you is faith enough, then kindle that desire within me that I might daily call upon your name and look to you for my life and my salvation. Amen.
The Rev. Brenda G. Husson [ A Journey With Mark], p. 47
The Gospel of Mark
Week Four: Chapter 7
Chapter 7 describes Jesus crossing several different boundaries to reveal the universality of the Realm of God. He crosses the boundaries of religious authority when he exhorts the religious leaders to remember that human rituals are designed open our hearts to God’s grace, not to substitute for God’s commands. He crosses geographical and ideological boundaries when he heals the Syro-Phoenician woman and the deaf mute man in the region of Decapolis. He crosses the boundary of the purity codes by touching the man’s ears and tongue and spitting. These stories may make us uncomfortable in different ways: They may repulse us in showing an earthiness-- even a vulgarity--about Jesus that we do not often see. They may stir up resentment in us and we may ask: If these stories are true, why could God not heal the person I love? Why could God not heal me? They may remind us of our own vulnerability. How many of us have been told, over and over again: You do not belong? You come last? You are not worthy. Simply because of where we have been born, because of gender, age, or race. How many of us have lived in a prison of silence, unable to speak or to hear the words that will restore and guide us?
Jesus’ words to the deaf mute pierce us:
Be opened! Trust more deeply and resolutely than you ever have!
Be opened! Speak up! Listen!
Be opened! Confront your own biases! Don’t listen to words of rejection!
Be opened! If Jesus can learn, so can you.
Passages for Reflection:
- 7:6-8 Jesus said to them: "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.' You abandon the commandments of God and hold to human tradition."
- 7:20-21 And Jesus said: "It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come.
- 7:25-30 A woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." But she answered him, "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.' Then he said to her, "For saying that, you may go--the demon has left your daughter." So she went home, and found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
- 7:32-35 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He too him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ear, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him "Ephphatha", that is "Be opened." And immediately his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.
Week Four Meditations
What to make of Jesus' less-than-gentle engagement of the Pharisees? . . . Consider carefully his critique. The Pharisees are not Jewish enough, in effect. They have forgotten the prophetic instructions of Isaiah. They have allowed their hearts to wander, being too impressed with human teaching. They have taken their eyes off God. . . . Amazingly, the Word of God propounds God's holy word For this reason, the Christian Church treasures these same sacred scriptures. Continuity with the past is our rule, propounded by Jesus himself, who incarnates fulfillment.
Christopher Wells [ A Journey With Mark, p. 63]
Whenever we endeavor to follow the Spirit, we will come up against resistance. And the Syrophoenician woman reminds us that resistance is the great validator. The naysaying voices actually have a positive effect in assuring us we are onto something--for nothing good is every easy. This is discipleship. This is the way of Jesus.
The Rev. Chris Yaw [A Journey With Mark, p. 69]
If you're like me, you may suspect that you spend your days far more blind and deaf than you care to admit. Each day brings mysterious newness filled with far more questions than answers. Yet each day also offers insight and understanding. These revelations come from above, and they come from a God who wants us to be whole. When Jesus chooses to heal this blind and deaf man, he witnesses to God's desire for us to be healed--to be constantly awakened to what's around us. God wants our eyes and ears opened. God wants us to be able to see that each day offers us a new revelation, a new insight, a path from blindness to sight, from deafness to hearing. It is in deeper awareness that we more fully partake of our God-given humanity. It's the most common way Jesus heals us today.
The Rev. Chris Yaw [A Journey With Mark, p.72]
O God of healing power, whose desire is always to bring wholeness: Grant us insight into all that is around us that we may observe your healing power; and equip us to go out into the world as your agents of restoration. Use us to bring healing and wholeness to others. All this we ask in the name of our healer, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Rev. Chris Yaw [A Journey With Mark, p.73]