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The Book of Books Book Club weekly blog

Mark 1-8

Mark, what's your hurry? Where's the fire? That's always my first reaction to the second gospel, in which the word "immediately" occurs 28 times in 16 brief chapters – twenty of those occurrences in the first eight chapters alone! This semantic peculiarity echoes the overall narrative drive of the gospel: Mark is more focused on plot than character, at least until the Passion. He starts fast, with no kings, no angels and shepherds, no manger in Bethlehem, no story of Jesus' birth at all. Instead, we plunge right in with the baptism, the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, and we're quickly barrelling through an array of healings, disciple-calling, and miracles. There are only three parables in this first half (and one more in the second), an indication of Mark's greater emphasis on what Jesus did than what he said. This will shift some in the second half. But don't miss the quick summary of the good news Mark offers in that first chapter: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." Might this summary provide us with an interpretive angle on the rest of the gospel? 

Comparing Mark with our reading of Matthew, we see general agreement about chronology and major events – hence the majority of scholars see Mark as the frame on which Matthew then hung further information, particularly in the area of teaching. How, then, does this gospel's narrative drive strike you? If Mark is not really in a hurry (and I don't actually think he is), what message do we get from this emphasis on events? And what, really, is the implication of all those things happening "immediately"? Do we feel urgency sometimes in our own faith? Are there times when you've felt the call of God in Christ and felt the desire to respond immediately, yet some hesitation prevented you? Perhaps Mark's examples of immediacy are meant to encourage us to act?