Editors note: This summer I am writing about the Gospels each Monday (except for the week of the Fourth). In June we looked at how each of them opens, the themes that emerge in the first few chapters. This month, we are looking at the middle of each one—how does the narrative unfold, what does each author want us to see? Next month we will look at how each one ends. Because every great story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And this is the best story of all.
on the humanity of Christ
The Gospel of Mark seems to be about a man in a hurry, a man on a mission. The immediacy which marks its opening continues through the middle, not just in its language but in its structure. By the time you get halfway through this shortest account of Christ’s life, you are already into the last week of his life. He has been healing and teaching and even scolding, but his mission is clearly on his mind—four times he tells his disciples, who can’t quite understand it, that he will be delivered to the officials and put to death (8:31, 9:12-13, 9:31, 10:33).
What strikes you in Mark’s account is how very human Jesus is, even though many were healed by just touching the fringe of his garment (6:56). Even though, at his Transfiguration, “his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them (9:3).” Even though he knows the hearts of those who oppose him—he knows what they will ask and why they will ask it. Even though he knows where his disciples will find a donkey (11:2) or a room (14:13). Even though he withers a fig tree with his words (11:14, 21). Even though he knows how the world will end (13:3-31). There are signs of his divinity everywhere.
Despite all this, he is the Son of Man. He is hungry, tired, and even indignant. Twice we are told he sighs, the sigh of a man weary with the weight of the world: once when he heals a deaf-mute (7:34) and once when the Pharisees come to test him (8:12). Again. And he is clearly frustrated when his disciples fall asleep while he prays in the garden, and when they worry about their next meal when he has twice fed multitudes with miracles. “Do you not yet understand?” he asks (8:21).
The most notable aspect of his humanity, however, is his emotions. He has compassion toward the crowds thronging around him (6:34, 8:2). And on individuals who seek him. When the rich young ruler asks what he has to do to inherit eternal life, he gives him a difficult task—to sell all that he has and give it to the poor. But in asking this hard thing, Jesus condemns not wealth but idolatry. And he does so out of a very human kind of care for the man’s soul: “and Jesus, looking at him, loved him (10:21).”
This love oozes from the portrait Mark paints. When the crowd drowns out the cry of blind Bartimaeus, he calls for him (10:48). When the disciples turn away the parents bringing their children for a blessing, he rebukes them (10:13-16). When a woman is criticized for anointing him with costly perfume, he memorializes her (14:6-9). This is the Son of Man, who feels and weeps and loves like a man. And when he prays in the Garden, right before they come to arrest him, we feel his soul ache: “My soul is very sorrowful,” he tells his disciples (13:34). “Remove this cup from me (13:36),” he prays.
But he knows his mission. He knows why he came. And he finishes his prayer with this: “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” And if we have been paying attention, at that point we know how this will end and why. Earlier that evening, sharing the Passover with his disciples, he takes the cup and says, “This is my blood of the new covenant poured out for many (14:24).”
That many includes you.
Do you not yet understand?
Did you know if you read 5 or 6 chapters a day, only four days a week, you can read through all four Gospels in a month? Make a comment, or send me a message on Twitter or Facebook, if you willing read the Gospels this summer. #gospelchallenge