Notes From The Balcony

Progressive Reflections on Post-Modern Living in a Multifaith Age

Mark #3 – Christ and the Son of God 1(1)

The beginning of the good news (Gospel) of Jesus Christ,

the Son of God (Mark 1:1)

 

This week, we return for the third and last time to Mark’s title verse and continue to “unpack” its language. This third commentary looks at the two honorific titles, where Jesus is understood as Christ and where Jesus is declared a/the Son of Yahweh.

Titles are tricky! A couple of months ago, I was watching Oliver Stone’s epic movie drama, Alexander the Great. One scene caught my attention. The scene cinematically allows us to listen to an intimate conversation between the young emperor and his wife. She looks into his doubt filled eyes and assures him, “Alexander, you are the Light of the World.” I thought to myself, “I have heard this before…….”

We have lost so much of the original context of our Scripture narratives, we fail to see that every time an evangelist either puts titles in Jesus’ mouth, or relates how one of his followers suggests that Jesus fills-full the classic roles, someone else has laid claim to these pronouncements as well. In the Gospel of John, where Jesus says, “I am the Way” or “I am the Life” or “I am the Resurrection,” others, both individuals and groups, are making similar statements. First Century readers would not have to have this implicit “quasi-political” dialogue made explicit, but we do.

In our received versions of the text, Mark names Jesus as Son of God. Now, most commentators note that in our earliest versions, this appellation does not appear in this first verse. It is also true that Mark’s preferred title in the chapters that follow is Son of Man. However, it seems to me, that whether the two titles were original or whether they were added later, they foreshadow an important dynamic that will show up throughout our story.

In Mark, the crowds love Jesus (even as they often misunderstand him). They flock in such great numbers that his disciples must borrow a boat toserve as a “pulpit.” Jesus is repeatedly portrayed as one who can find no solitude for prayer. Even in lonely deserted places, he is constantly sought out by the masses to perform his healings and exorcisms or to tell his hilarious parables.

At the same time, there is dangerous opposition, and that opposition drives the narrative. Particularly in Mark’s version, these opponents show up as “unholy collaborations.” In the Galilee, we hear that the Pharisees and the Herodians (Rome’s most cooperative client family – or should we say lackies) are conspiring to destroy him. We know that this provincial alliance can be deadly. Look what happened to the Baptizer. In Judea, we also know who is out to get Jesus. Jesus reminds his disciples and us as well that he will suffer and die for his persistence in taking up the prophetic mantel. He knows this because he knows his scripture and the scripture teaches that prophets have been killed before.

In the final week in Jerusalem, Pilate, the Consul of the occupying forces, and the temple leadership and elders of the nation, cooperate in the late night arrest and early morning lynching of Jesus. In Mark’s narrative, there are two “kangaroo trials” with two distinct, but not separate sets of charges. Jesus is Messiah (the Christ) in one. Jesus is King (that is the Son of God) in the other. Jesus’ “gospel” message directly challenges what Professor Crossan aptly calls the “domination system” maintained through the traitorous liaisons between the imperial political establishment and the local religious hierarchies. This recognizable pattern is necessary (and repeated throughout history) to ensure the benefits that accrue to those who exercise coercive power while making pretense of justice.

As we move forward in our reflections, we will return to these titles and their detailed meanings. We will seek to understand the peculiar and unique meanings associated with these provocative words, particularly the special nuances heard quite differently by Jews versus Gentiles. We will reflect on the curious morphing of this movement from its origin in Palestine as a Jewish sect to its emergence as a Hellenistic pagan cult in the broader Roman world.

Next, we will turn to the Elijah connection.

Grace and Peace,

John

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