Our second gospel could not be more different from Matthew’s which we looked at last week. Mark is writing for a Gentile audience, which means that he has to explain some Jewish technical terms (for example in 7:11). He pays little attention to fulfilment of OT scripture, and only quotes the OT occasionally. It is the shortest of the gospels, and has no great wodges of teaching such as the Sermon on the Mount. But more than anything else, Mark is in a hurry, or rather his Jesus is. One of his most common words is euthus (immediately), and we see Jesus on a whirlwind tour, rushing from one thing to the next and never letting the grass grow under his feet. And talking of grass, mark is the only one of the evangelists to tell us that the grass on which Jesus fed the 5000 was green, which makes him sound to me like a Myers-Briggs S.
Most scholars believe that Mark’s was the first gospel to have been written, and that Mark got his info from Peter. It has been suggested that the first recorded streaker (14:51-2) was Mark himself. The relationship between the first three (or ‘synoptic’) gospels is a complex one, but it does seem that Matthew and Luke used mark as one of their sources, although reworking the material for their own purposes.
Theologian Paula Gooder has suggested that a good way to read Mark is to treat it a bit like a pantomime, with four main groups of characters. Jesus goes around doing his stuff, and while the crowds are amazed (‘We have never seen anything like this! 2:12), the disciples just don’t get it. Meanwhile the evil Pharisees play the villains, and the four groups keep interacting as the story unfolds.
But Mark’s is a gospel of two halves, and there is an abrupt change of tone at 9:2, after Peter has finally recognised Jesus for who he is, as the journey towards the cross begins in earnest. Mark’s account of the passion is short and to the point: Jesus is crucified by the Romans, with the slightest of Jewish complicity, and the resurrection gets only 8 verses. The ‘long ending’ is almost certainly not original, but was added subsequently, although probably not too long after, which means it must reflect something of the practice of the Early Church.
Another strong theme for Mark is what has been called the ‘Messianic secret’. Again and again Jesus begs people not to go around telling everyone about him, which is of course exactly what people do. He doesn’t seem to want to interpret his parables, but simply to let them stand on their own, although when with his disciples Holy Spirit does give some explanation, although scholars dispute whether this was actually what Jesus did, and whether Mark himself felt the need to explain more than Jesus did. The classic statement of this policy is in 4:11-12, in one of his few OT quotations. There is much dispute over the reasons for this secrecy.
Mark is a great place to start reading the story of Jesus: it is clear, simple and fast-moving, and will appeal to S people who like facts and details.