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In our beginning study of the gospels, I hear echoes of Year 1’s emphasis on “traditioning”: Bringing the past alive in the present moment. It’s what the Israelites did with the Torah. You shall read this Law aloud in the presence of all Israel… Your children also, who do not know it yet, must hear it and learn it (Deuteronomy 31:10-11, 13). In the Torah tradition, wrote Bernhard W. Anderson, “old memories are endlessly re-presented and reinterpreted, rearticulated and re-imagined in ways that keep the main claims of faith pertinent and authoritative in new circumstances.” Today’s believers, he wrote, may learn from the Jews “the sustaining power of imaginative remembering, the ongoing, lovely process of traditioning.”
It’s a process also known as anamnesis—a recalling to mind, so one never forgets. It’s what we do through study of the Old Testament: Genesis and Exodus are not just the stories of the Israelites; they’re our stories, with applications to our lives today. It’s what the early Christians did with their teaching and preaching about Jesus. And it’s what the evangelists did with the gospels, retelling the stories with applications to the lives of the communities they were addressing.
In addition to “kingdom of God” you will also found the phrase “kingdom of Heaven.” This phrase occurs nowhere in the Bible except in Matthew’s Gospel. It is a reverent Jewish way of avoiding saying “God” too often. So “kingdom of heaven” does not tell us WHERE the kingdom is.
Image by Bertana/Maggi via Flickr
A great revelation to me was the deliberate and complex ordering of Mark’s gospel. I supposed I’d thought of it as a collection of stories about the words and actions of Jesus with only a rough narrative structure. But through our readings and Gene’s lecture outline, we become aware of several layers of organization.
- The two main themes: Who is Jesus, and What does it mean to follow him.
- The buildup of dramatic tension, beginning with the end in mind—the resurrection of Jesus. The start of his ministry and the call of his first followers, followed quickly by miracles and five conflict stories.
- The Suffering Servant theme and Messianic imagery.
- The ironies and twists of the understanding/misunderstanding passages.
- The faith and fear themes in the parables.
- The parallel structure of the two “bread” sections.
- The patterns of the three Passion proclamations.
I am in awe of how someone could accomplish this 2,000 years ago. Just imagine, Mark didn’t have benefit of copy-and-paste word processing, or even cut-and-paste copy paper, as newspaper reporters used as late as the 1980s. Much of it had to be thought through in his mind before committing to a scroll of parchment or papyrus.
This gives me great confidence in the canonical process—that is, how the early Church determined which first-century writings were authentically inspired. God picked quite a skilled instrument in Mark the Evangelist.
At the memorial service today, we said goodbye to one of the Greco Institute’s most faithful scholars and our dear friend from Year 1 of Catholic Biblical School in Shreveport. I was reminded of a special Jim McGill class Winona and I and others attended one Saturday a couple of years ago. The topic was heaven and hell (as described by theologians and scholars). Of course, Jim translated all the complex concepts into simple ideas we could all understand. Hell is a place of psychic pain, aloneness, and misery — eternal depression, if you will.
Heaven, on the other hand, must be a lot like “Cheers” — a place where everybody knows your name! And they’re so happy to see you.
Winona’s feeling all that love right now, and just bursting to tell us all about it …
In case you missed it, here’s the obituary from the Shreveport Times.
Listening to Gene describe Mark’s style of writing, I was struck by the similarities to journalism: Simple words and direct language. Short, declarative sentences. Action verbs (baptize, repent, preach, teach, follow, cast out). Vivid images (“…clothed with camel’s hair, and had a leather girdle around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey.”)
You’ll see this more clearly, as Gene suggested, in the RSV rather than NAB. Here’s a link if you need it: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/r/rsv/browse.html
What’s more, newspaper reporters learn to “Show, don’t tell.” Keep the story moving, don’t let it bog down. Focus on the facts and leave the opinion for the editorial page. Know your audience and tailor your language or content to that particular audience.
Any editor worthy of the name, however, would try to break Mark of bad habits. Among them:
- Starting so many sentences with “And,” “But,” or “Immediately.”
- And failing to cite his sources!
I’m fascinated by the debate over the length of Jesus’ ministry on earth, based on the scant evidence in the gospels. John cites three Passovers, but Mark, Matthew, and John only one. Most scholars today, says Joseph F. Kelly (An Introduction to the New Testament for Catholics, p. 84), believe the public ministry lasted one year or maybe two, “given the time he would have needed to travel so much on foot.”
Surely it was more than a year. Consider the time it would take to develop such a strong following, not just throughout Galilee but into Judea. And the time it would take to select 12 apostles, train them, send them out to preach—the Great Commissioning– and welcome them back.
And remember, Martha, the sister of Mary and Lazarus, professed her belief that he was the son of God. That couldn’t have happened without several encounters during his public ministry.
Here’s an article about different Bible study resources available as applications for your iPhone and other devices. One is a Bible dictionary and one has Bible maps. Let me know if you try any out! I use e-readers and a lot of other “apps” but haven’t tried bible research this way.