Notes From The Balcony

Progressive Reflections on Post-Modern Living in a Multifaith Age

Mark #1 – In the beginning 1(1)

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:1)

It is tempting (and reasonable) to quickly pass over this first verse of Mark’s witness. After all, it is not even a complete sentence. Are we to make something of it?

I suppose one might suggest that this verse serves as evidence that the writer of Mark couldn’t have passed Greek Grammar 101. While this would be facetious speculation, many scholars do point out that in comparison with the authors of Luke, Hebrews or James, Mark’s Greek is far more like street language than the eloquent prose and poetry of the Academy.  At the same time, the more one closely reads Mark’s text, the more one finds subtle rhetorical devices that deepen the meanings found even in the more commonly worded witnesses.

At best, this initial verse is a title: a codex label that one is tempted to ignore as devoid of any theological importance. But I want to suggest that there is more here than one might think. So you will forgive me if I pause a bit, and for the next few postings, I will do some unpacking of the terms that Mark chooses to use. Obviously, you comments are welcome.


Recently a colleague of mine pointed out that the writer of Mark would have had a perfectly good title had he left out the word, beginningThe Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God (Yahweh). So can its inclusion point to important narrative and perhaps even theological issues?

Speaking of the beginning, arche, starts obvious echoes bouncing throughout the larger library of Scriptural texts. In the beginning, Yahweh created the heavens and earth. While the Gospel of John had not been written, we will eventually hear that “in the beginning, was the Word.” While I do not find it explicitly in Mark, but certainly the apostle Paul proposes a Christology than interprets Jesus as a second Adam – modeling an obedience necessary for new beginnings. He writes, “for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. (1 Cor 15:22)

Perhaps, we might take our clue from the fact that at the end of the text there is no “signpost” that says, “The end of the Gospel….” The movie producer, Stephen Spelberg, might call this a “prequel.” The writer of Luke wrote a whole second chapter to the story, and Mark even anticipates significant events beyond the resurrection as part of this tale. Some would suggest that Revelation envisions these coming events (a chapter three?).

I find myself arguing for a possible third implication behind Mark’s choice to include the word, beginning, in his title. This argument emerges at the point one seeks to answer the question of audience – who is the author of Mark writing for? I take my clue from what scholars point to as the “ring” rhetorical framework that Mark uses to construct his gospel. After, short preface materials, Mark begins to tell his story with Jesus proceeding to the Galilee beginning an apostolic commission to preach the coming Reign (i.e. Empire) of Yahweh. Our story ends outside Jerusalem in Judea with an empty tomb and a mysterious figure telling the grieving women followers seeking to anoint the body that Jesus has “gone on before them to Galilee, as he told the 12.”

A ring construct is a little like the bouncy song from “The Sound of Music.”

La, a note to follow So – Ti, a drink with jam and bread – and that brings us        back to Do!  — Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, DO! — Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, DO!

It is my contention that Mark writes less to an emerging congregation, but to what is probably a third generation cadre of preachers committed to picking up Jesus’ apostolic ministry of proclamation. Such a proposal begins to make sense of some of elements in the text that would be puzzling without a similar background. These committed prophets are having mixed results – Mark puts in Jesus’ remarks to the crowd, that after a farmer has spread seed far and wide, there will be mixed results. Rocky soil produces shallow commitments. One can hear this generation, saying to Jesus – “Teacher, maybe we ought to tone it down a bit – I mean, don’t you know that Samuel got beaten last week at the synagogue?” Jesus reminds the crowd that one can not put a lamp under a basket.

Mark’s Gospel is a tale of beginnings. “Let me tell you about the early times in this adventure.” Let me tell you about the first generation of this mission.

Mark’s Gospel is also a message of Hope – for it does remind us that seed planted in rich soil bring results that multiply. When we complain that our colleagues are confused, Mark reminds us that Jesus’ first followers were downright thick-headed. When we complain that we are having tensions in the family, Mark reminds us that our family is now much bigger than our biological ties. Moreover, while in Matthew’s text, Jesus is “Emanuel, Yahweh with us,” in Mark, Jesus has gone on before us and will greet us in our own Galilees.

So, what intrigues you about Mark’s title – would you buy it if you found it at your local Cokesbury?


John Montgomery


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