Many literary critics have said that in the theocratic age of literature, that the gospel of Mark is the most radical and important work of antiquity. It took me years to see that. I always saw Mark as a wallflower gospel, not yielding its secrets so easily. I mean there is no sermon on the mount, no Magnificat, no Pilate/Christ juicy repartee. And yet there is no doubt that Mark’s gospel was the first one to be written. The plethora of books on recent Markan studies, however, have convinced me that it is indeed the most revolutionary document against the imperial mindset in the common era. And for all eras.
Mark wastes no time with genealogies and blood lines. He starts off with a bang, “Tte beginning of the good news of Jesus Messiah, Son of God”. These words alone if taken in context are a slap in the face to the mindset of Caesar being the Son OF God that was written on every Roman coin. Then comes Jesus from nowheresville Nazareth, a nobody, with no credentials, blowing the whole concept of a messianic overthrow of Rome choosing rather to preach being a servant, and to love instead of being violent. Talk about a “reversal of expectation” that Israel was waiting for!
Then Mark’s Jesus has to break all the social taboos; healing on the Sabbath, treating woman equal to men, destroying private property, enraged at the religious leaders of his day for asking for a sign that he is the messiah. Oh yeah, and about those family values…forget it. He speaks of his mission to bring division to the family unit right at the axis of its power, between the generations. Because that is where the abuse is. And if that’s not enough, he denies his own family by stating that his family is “those who do the will of God”. What in the world is Mark trying to tell us? Hang on.
As the tension mounts in every great story, Jesus is taken into custody by the authorities for blasphemy. He is condemned by the Romans. He is crucified. A dishonorable way to die. a rabble rousing peasant dies with no honor in the eyes of anyone except a Roman soldier who sees the way in which he dies and commits treason by stating that Jesus is the real SON OF GOD. Bang! There is Mark’s tectonic plate paradigm shift. The defining moment of his gospel. And by the way, we get no great sayings from Jesus on the cross like in the other gospels. We get only, “my GOD my GOD, why have you forsaken me?”
Now this would ordinarily be the ultimate Greek tragedy. But rumor has it that he was raised from the dead in ch 16 and therefore Mark inverts tragedy into good news, hence blowing all despair away, and yet it ends with those who hear about it running away afraid telling no one. This is stripped down writing at its best.
All notions of messiahship and divinity are redefined in this short book. They are not defined in terms of empire, might makes right, physical deliverance of Israel from the Romans. It is the divinity and messiahship redefined in humility, love, servanthood. It is the document of the ultimate revolution and good news to the oppressed. And good news is always good.