Gospel of Mark

Short and powerfully brutal.

Written by Blue Pipe Thoughts

I expected to find it really hard to condense each chapter into a sentence when it came to the gospels and I was right! Wot no feeding the five thousand? No parables? Where’s John the Baptist’s story got to?!

The important question, I think, is whether there is enough left when you pare it back to the essentials? I’m certainly not going to try and suggest that this is THE way to read Mark’s Gospel, but I will say that through the process of pruning it, I have a clearer understanding of how this gospel story hangs together. Not just because it’s simplified but because somehow, in spite of the simplification, the raw energy of it is still there.

1. We are introduced to Jesus through the prophecies of Isaiah and after baptism by cousin John, he begins to preach and heal throughout Galilee

2. Jesus is involved in several situations which bring him into conflict with fellow Jews over Jewish law

3. Healing and exorcisms attract large crowds and bring Jesus into even more conflict with Jewish leaders

4. Away from the crowds Jesus explains to his new disciples why he teaches in parables, but they struggle to understand

5. Jesus heals more people – intended and unintended – and his fame grows

6. Healing and proclamations continue to draw ever larger crowds, but those who’ve known Jesus longest doubt him

7. Jesus accuses some Jewish legal experts of failing to keep Jewish law properly, then heals a gentile woman’s daughter – against his better judgement

8. Many come looking for signs but do not seem to recognise the signs Jesus gives or want to accept the path he follows

9. After a powerful mountaintop experience, Jesus begins to talk about his coming death and the cost of being his follower

10. Crowds continue to flock to Jesus; he teaches that they must be childlike and servant hearted to be his followers – and warns  that it won’t be easy

11. Jesus keeps his disciples close as he confronts temple authority during forays into Jerusalem

12. While continuing to teach the crowds in parables, Jesus also condemns, confronts and debates with Jewish leaders

13. Jesus again warns his followers that hard times will come and being known as his follower will be costly

14.  As Jesus prepares for a predicted betrayal by friends; his closest friend becomes increasingly confused and distressed until finally, Peter is left sobbing and alone in a courtyard after seeing Jesus taken away by a mob

15. Jesus is tried in the Roman court at dawn, and (even though he sees no good reason for it) Pilate allows him to be whipped, executed and entombed – all before the Sabbath begins

16. On the third day, as the Sabbath lifts at sunrise, some of Jesus’s female followers go to the tomb to anoint his body, only to discover that the tomb is open and the body is gone. (This ending appears to be followed by several ‘How It Should Have Ended’ versions, which hint at diverse Resurrection accounts)

What strikes me as I reread this bare bones account is the huge amount of healing and confrontations that took place. Constant highs and lows. The crowds feel thick and noisy. Even before my extreme trimming it is the shortest and most action packed of the gospels. The perception of Jesus my shortened version gives is far removed from the gentle good-teacher-shepherd model, so popular in and outside of church circles. He’s abrasive, life changing and relentless.

I made a particular point of mentioning the healing of the gentile woman’s daughter in chapter 7, because the hypocrisy of it really struck me. After accusing others of not keeping Jewish law consistently or appropriately, Jesus says one thing and does another. It’s a story full of mercy and surprise. I wonder who was more surprised at the time – the woman asking for help or Jesus himself?

I couldn’t make the final chapter into a single sentence because it’s made up of too many mashed together stories, so I stuck with the ending that most scholars agree is the most authentic, and just nodded towards the others in an extra note.

The more I read the New Testament the more I love Peter, and it seemed to make perfect sense to end chapter 14 from his perspective. Peter is such a great model for Christians; of trying and failing and trying again. It’s almost a cliche – but Peter really rocks!