As I’ve noted before, Mark happens fast. He keeps introducing things that I have to backtrack to discuss, because I didn’t have time and space to talk about them when they first showed up. For instance: throughout the last two chapters, he’s been hinting at his coming death, and yesterday, he identified Jerusalem as his final destination. His opponents have set a trap, and he intends to walk right into it, throwing the fight with the Pharisees in order to win a larger war. Well, today we’re in Jerusalem. This is the beginning of the end.
You know Switchfoot’s song “The Loser?” Of course you do. You’re no Johnny-come-lately Switchfoot fan, familiar only with their work from The Beautiful Letdown on. You’re a person of taste who has been there since Legend of Chin and appreciates the whole spectrum of Switchfoot’s corpus.
So of course you remember the first lines of “The Loser”: “Only the losers win; they’ve got nothing to prove. They’ll leave the world with nothing to lose.” Throughout the song, frontman Jon Foreman never once mentions Jesus or God even implicitly, but savvy listeners such as yourself understand that he’s banking on his loser status precisely because he believes in a God who loves the losers. And you’ll realize that those opening lines, along with the rest of the song, reflect Jesus’ own well-known teaching: “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.”
Mark 9 contains a verse that I wish didn’t have to be quite so meaningful to me. You may be familiar with the scene where it appears: following the transfiguration, Jesus finds his disciples unsuccessfully attempting an exorcism. The father of the demon-possessed boy brings him to Jesus, begging Jesus to help, if possible. When Jesus responds that all things are possible to him who believes, the man cries out: “I do believe; help my unbelief!” (24).
What is bread? The question has hounded philosophers and theologians for centuries. Many have speculated and pontificated on the nature and meaning of bread, but even today, with our marvels of modern technology, the truth about bread eludes us. Its mysteries–okay, no. Bread has been around for ages and we know what it is.
Is Jesus Christ omnipotent? Today’s chapter might seem to suggest otherwise, because dang if the Son of Man can’t catch a break. Following a heated disagreement with the Pharisees over traditions and hand-washing, Jesus once again seeks out some alone time, but even in the remotest regions beyond the boundaries of Judea and Galilee, trouble still seems to find him, in the form of a Syrophoenician woman with a demon-possessed daughter.
If yesterday’s chapter had two parts that could each be the subject of an entire blog post, then today’s chapter has…several. Jesus returns to his hometown, leaves, sends out the twelve apostles to preach and perform miracles, causes Herod to think Jesus is John the Baptist back from the dead, feeds a crowd with just five loaves and two fish, and walks on water. What ties the chapter together? It’s not some mere philosophical idea or a particular point of doctrine. It’s the same thing that ties all of Mark together: the person and ministry of Jesus Christ.
And what does the chapter tell us about Jesus Christ? Well, among other things, I wonder if it doesn’t tell us that he’s an introvert.
Today’s chapter could easily be the subject of two entries, as it comprises two events: an exorcism in the wilderness of Gerasa, and a resurrection at the synagogue official Jairus’ house. We could spend two days on them, one after the other as we have with other chapters, but I’m inclined to take them both in a single post, straddling the two and hoping I don’t lose my footing.
In today’s chapter, Jesus talks about agriculture from a boat.
In 2001, I took a year off to work between high school and college. During that time, my mom introduced me to Michael Card via his “best of” album Joy in the Journey. One track, “God’s Own Fool,” begins with Card singing in an impossibly high register about Jesus’ contemporary reputation as a wise teacher, despite the fact that many who actually witnessed his ministry firsthand regarded him as certified looney tunes:
For even his family said he was mad,
And the priests said a demon’s to blame,
But God in the form of this angry young man
Could not have seemed perfectly sane.
And this is precisely what we see happen smack in the middle of today’s chapter of Mark.
Mark’s gospel consists mostly of stuff that appears in the other gospels. You can find about 90% of Mark in Matthew, and about half of Mark in Luke, so you’re not going to find a lot of exclusive premium content here. And while most modern scholars think Mark wrote his gospel first, with the other authors drawing on his account as a resource, many early church traditions viewed it as a kind of condensed version of Matthew, due to their similarities. But in today’s chapter, we’ve got an even where Matthew gives the quick-and-dirty rundown, but Mark digs into the details. And the details are so extraordinary, one has to wonder: why did Matthew leave out the most interesting part?