The bounding lion

Published 8:46 am Sunday, May 2, 2021

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I write this on the feast of Saint Mark — one of the four evangelists. It seems especially apropos to celebrate it this year as this year is the Liturgical year B, and it is the year dedicated to hearing Mark’s gospel on Sundays. Mark’s gospel is not only the shortest of the four in the New Testament, it is also believed to be the oldest. For biblical scholars, oldest, translates to closest to the source and thus the most accurate depiction of what truly happened. If compared to John’s gospel (the most recent/youngest of the four) it is quite different indeed. By the time John was written almost two generations of Christians had come and gone and the theology had developed considerably. As one of my professors in seminary put it, “In Mark’s gospel Jesus walks flat-footed on the ground. In John’s gospel he hovers about 3 feet above it.” To carry the contrast further, in John’s gospel Jesus knows exactly what is to happen next and can cure/heal with a simple word. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus seems to respond to the situations as they arise and when presented with healing a blind man, he can’t do it in one go but has to do it again to get it right. 

Mark’s symbol is the Lion. Many may know the symbols of the four evangelists: Matthew is the Teacher, Mark the Lion, Luke the Ox and John the Eagle. Mark’s lion bounds on the scene and charges for a full 16 chapters. Along the way Jesus is in a hurry to reach Jerusalem and the cross of calvary. Many of the sections are introduced with the word “immediately.” Imposing a sense of expediency, mission, and purpose to Jesus who has come to introduce the Kingdom of God and God’s reign revealed in his messiah. Hardly a chapter goes by without Jesus doing something miraculous and awesome in the face of his disciples. 

Speaking of disciples, in the other three gospels, they are the foil for Jesus and seem rapt pupils listening to the learned Rabbi as he teaches. In contrast, in Mark’s gospel, the disciples stand in for us and often are characterized by some scholars as the “duh-ciples”—those who never seem to get what Jesus is saying. In fact, they probably stand in for us more than we care to admit. Many of us who would call ourselves dyed-in-the-wool Christians still do not get what Jesus is saying half the time we read his parables. 

Many claim that the prospect of sitting down and reading the bible is a daunting task indeed. Many years ago, I watched a video of the esteemed layperson Verna Dozier who was speaking about the virtues of reading Holy Scripture. In the video she advised not to approach the bible at the beginning i.e., Genesis; it’s too overwhelming to have all those pages and texts laying out before one to cover. Rather, she advised, to read the gospel of Mark. It’s short, concise and easy to read. It’s 16 short chapters and tells a marvelous story. In fact, many have said that it was “The greatest story ever told.” As Eastertide unfolds, I can think of no better way to enter into the Easter story than with Mark’s gospel. After you’ve finished, perhaps you too can join the ranks with the rest of us, the humble corps of “duh-ciples.”

THE REV. SCOTT BAKER is the rector at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Franklin. Contact him at 757-562-4542.