2nd Sunday after Trinity
St Barbara’s 10.06.18
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Over the last couple of years I have set myself the task of learning a bit more british history, and getting a grasp of the overall flow of what happens when.
I can now tell you something about Henry II, one of England’s greatest kings of whom I knew nothing before. I now know who invaded Britain when – Celts, Romans, Saxons, Vikings, Normans, etc. I am beginning to be able to piece things together.
But to do so, I have found some books and podcasts better than others. Some books have been so full of detail about a particular period that I haven’t been able to get the bigger picture. They may be great in a few years time, but not now. I still need to get an overview, and the best books for that I have found go at pace, giving interesting details along the way, but always keeping the big picture in view.
Well, when it comes to the life of Jesus, if you are looking for a place to start, or even a refresher, then Mark provides exactly what we need.
Mark’s gospel was the first of the accounts of Jesus to be written. Indeed Matthew and Luke both draw on him extensively when writing their own later gospels.
Mark writes at a breathless pace, as we move from one story about Jesus to the next. “At once Jesus went somewhere… and then he did this… and then he did that… Immediately after that…” We may be used to the stories but imagine reading them or hearing them for the first time, getting swept along by the excitement of what is happening next.
Mark’s gospel may go at speed but at the same time it gives us detail that draws us in, that gives us amazing insights into the life of Jesus, and the responses to him of those around him. It is based on eyewitness accounts, almost certainly of one of Jesus’ closest disciples, Peter.
So why did Mark write his gospel?
Some of the history books I read simply are about recording what happened. The better books are those that then ask the question, “so how does this affect us today? what does this mean for us”. Mark wants to give us a record of the life of Jesus – some of the things he said and did – but he wants us all to answer the question for ourselves – who is this Jesus?
In the very first sentence of his book he tells us what he thinks – the gospel is “about Jesus Christ, the Saviour, the Son of God”, but from that point on he leaves it for us to draw our own conclusions. He tells us what Jesus said and did, he tells us what other people thought about him and how they responded to him, some with enthusiasm, some with indifference and some with outright hostility, but we keep coming back to the question: who do we think he is?
Mark splits his gospel into three different parts, each of which takes place in a different geographical area, to help us think this question through.
The first part takes place in Galilee in northern Israel, Jesus’ home area. In this part, we are introduced to Jesus: his life, his actions, his healings and miracles, his teaching.
Here we come to get to know Jesus up close and personal. We see him calling the disciples including fishermen and tax collectors. We see him healing people such as a leper and a paralysed man. He calms a storm, walks on water, and feeds 5,000 people. He teaches about the kingdom of God that he has come to bring. And throughout, we see the confusion of followers and opponents alike as they try and work out who he is. We heard one such example in our gospel reading.
The first part of Mark’s Gospel – the first eight chapters – help us to get acquainted with Jesus, and start asking, who he is.
The second part takes place on the road between Galilee and Jerusalem. And now the focus begins to shift. Jesus is clearly someone special, a king, a saviour perhaps, but what kind of saviour is he going to be? One who will lead armies into battle? One who will simply stamp his foot and everyone will cower down in awe and worship? One who will dish out honours and rewards to his closest followers?
Mark records three conversations between Jesus and his disciples on their journey. Each time they think Jesus is about bringing glory and power; each time Jesus corrects them and tells them he is a servant who will be rejected by his own people, suffer and die.
On the third occasion Jesus calls them together and tells them that the Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus keeps having to tell them that he is a different kind of king – not one of might and power and force. But they struggle to grasp it.
The third and final part of Mark’s gospel all takes place in Jerusalem. The first part in Galilee shows us who Jesus is. The second part, on the road, shows us what kind of saviour Jesus will be. The third part shows us how Jesus becomes that saviour, through his death and resurrection.
Mark leaves us at a somewhat surprising, abrupt ending. The last verses of Chapter 16 were added later, but the most reliable manuscripts end with the women fleeing the tomb having been told by an angel that Jesus has risen, but unsure of what to make of it.
The question that has been running throughout Mark’s Gospel hits us with renewed force: who do we think Jesus is? Do we believe he has risen? What is our conclusion?
Do join in the readings of Mark over the the next four weeks: relive the journey and answer the question once more for yourself.