The Gospel of Mark: A Lutheran Gospel (Part 5 of 8)

             Mark’s Gospel has a Pauline flavor of Cross Theology, as well as a dramatic narrative that funnels the reader towards Jerusalem, towards the cross.  This theme of the cross is also developed in the conflicts that develop throughout the text.
Jack Dean Kingsbury has a book titled, “Conflict in Mark: Jesus, Authorities, Disciples.”[1]  Kingsbury notes that the conflict in Mark’s gospel between the religious authorities and Jesus begins very indirectly and then proceeds to become more direct all the way up to the point of Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion.[2]  In other words as we look at some of the early conflicts in the opening chapters of Mark they are over issues such as announcing forgiveness,[3] eating with sinners,[4] fasting,[5] etc…  The conflicts are thus indirect.  The conflict is over issues rather than directly with the person of Jesus himself.  Needless to say, by Mark 3:7 we see that the conflicts have escalated to the point of the religious leaders plotting to destroy Jesus.  Even though these early conflicts were indirect, they were essentially against Jesus’ authority.  As the story of Mark progresses the conflict begins to develop around the person of Jesus and his source of authority, thus becoming much more direct.  By the Second Act of Mark’s drama[6], the Pharisees are aiming to “put Jesus to the test concerning the source of his authority.”[7]  

          A notable feature to this conflict is also the geographical setting.  As we have previously covered, the dramatic narrative of Mark is taking us to the heart of Jerusalem.  However, the setting of the temple is worth noting in regards to the conflict.  Kingsbury states,
“If Jesus’ conflict with the religious authorities is intense in the middle of Mark’s story, it becomes still more intense in the controversies he has with them in the temple.  To alert the reader to this, Mark makes use of various devices.  For one thing, the setting itself heightens the intensity of the conflict, for the temple is the place of God’s presence and the seat of the authorities’ power.  For another thing, the atmosphere in which Jesus’ controversies in the temple take place is, except for his exchange with the ‘friendly scribe,’ one of unmitigated hostility.”[8]
Essentially the conflict boiled down to a difference in two different worldviews.  The religious authorities think the way of humankind and Christ thinks the ways of God.  The inevitable result is that as these two worldviews[9] (or we could loosely state, the two epistemologies) collide, Jesus proves more and more that he is Israel’s true shepherd and the hypocrisy, false presuppositions and man-centeredness of the religious authorities is exposed.  Inevitably what happens is that the religious authorities begin to find themselves having holes in their worldview and system, thus lacking authority.  Through the ministry and teaching of Jesus he essentially triggers the conflict when his teaching and actions rub against the establishment and undercut their comfort of authority.  As the conflict moves from indirect to direct discourse between the protagonist and antagonists the direct conflict goes from verbal to physical.  The pattern goes from: verbal indirect conflict over issues such as fasting; to more direct verbal conflict on authority; to more direct verbal conflict on the source of authority; to more direct physical conflict resulting in his arrest; to more direct physical conflict resulting in flogging; to the ultimate conflict of being crucified.  Essentially, the conflict of the cross is the full and direct conflict manifested.  The cross is the unfortunate means to reconciliation between the protagonist (i.e. Jesus) and the antagonist religious leaders.  In other words, the crucifixion is the climatic event of conflict that came about to satisfy the spirit of antagonistic injustice of the religious leaders.
 Ironically this conflict of the cross is also the event where Jesus speaks the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[10]  But wasn’t the Father well pleased with the Son?  For “if God does not forsake the repentant sinner in the hour of death, how could he forsake his sinless Son who needed no repentance when death came to him?”[11]  It seems as if there is a sense of spiritual conflict also present at the cross according to Mark.  “To be forsaken by God undoubtedly means to taste his wrath.  Jesus endured the full penalty for our sins when God turned from him for these three hours on the cross.”[12]  At the greatest moment of physical conflict in the gospel of Mark we see emotional and definitely spiritual conflict as the Father forsakes the Son.  For “in those hours the penalty was paid to the uttermost farthing; and when that was done, God again turned to Jesus in the capacity of his Father.”[13]  Thus at the cross we see a climax of conflict, physical and spiritual, that is perceived as the ultimate end of Jesus; it is perceived as the great defeat.  However, in the midst of this climatic conflict we see the essence of our Atonement as Jesus drinks the bitter cup of agony for the sins of the world.[14]  From a Theology of Glory perspective it is hard to understand how this climatic occasion of conflict is the great victory of our salvation, however, from a Theology of the Cross perspective we can affirm that the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.[15]          

[1] Jack Dean Kingsbury, Conflict In Mark: Jesus, Authorities, Disciples (Fortress Press, 1989)
[2] Ibid, 67.
[3] See Mark 2:1-12
[4] See Mark 2:15-17
[5] See Mark 2:18-22
[6] According to RT France the Second Drama is Mark 8:22-10:52
[7] Kingsbury, Conflict in Mark, 74.
[8] Ibid, 76.
[9] Ibid, 66-67.
[10] See Mark 15:34
[11] R.C.H. Lenski, Commentary on the New Testament: Luke (Hendrickson Publishing, 2001), 716.
[12] Ibid, 718.
[13] Ibid, 718.
[14] Note the context of Mark 14:32-42
[15] See Mark 10:45