The Bible’s New Testament: The Gospel of Mark I – The Mean Side to Jesus or a Context Issue?

from a church in Seville

from a church in Seville

I have friends who swear by HBO’s True Blood series.  They’ve watched it from the beginning and can’t wait for each new season: (as their Facebook updates and Tweets don’t let you forget). I listen every time the show comes up in conversation, as friends debate plot points and character evolutions.

I have nothing against vampires, werewolves, etc. but this show isn’t for me.

  • You don’t watch it?? a friend will ask.
  • I say no. Watching one episode sealed the deal for me.
  • Really?? Which episode?
  • Oh, one in the first season.
  • How did you follow what was going on? Oh, and the first season was not good. You have to watch the first two seasons to really get into it.

Having to wade through two season’s worth of programming to get into a show seems like a massive commitment for something you don’t know if you’ll like.  Shouldn’t you be able to form an opinion based on one episode?

Well, if you read only one (or even two) particular scenes of Jesus’ life in the Gospel of Mark, you too would have a distorted impression of him. The moment I have in mind shows a different, less perfect (dare I say human) side to this monumentally revered figure.

One day, Jesus was hungry and he found a fig tree. Since it was not fig season, the tree bore no fruit (11:13). He then curses the tree, saying “may no one ever eat fruit from you again” (11:14). This comment is made in front of his disciples. The next morning, while walking with Jesus, Peter points to the same fig tree, now withered from the roots.  Peter is impressed that Jesus was able to make this tree wither so rapidly and Jesus himself uses this as an example to show that whatever you ask for in prayer will be yours.

To be quite honest, I’m not sure I understand this part.  One, it makes Jesus seem vindictive in a strange way. It wasn’t fig season, so why should he have expected the tree to bear any fruit? And then why kill the tree for that reason?  Not the tree’s fault. As far as it being an example of getting what you pray for, should you hold up the killing of a tree as an example of what you can do with prayer? Seems like giving life would be more worthwhile. If this were a parable I could see this being a story not designed to be taken literally. However, it’s presented as fact.

This same story is even important enough to have also been discussed in Matthew (21:19). What am I missing?

But this isn’t the only moment that depicts Jesus in a harsh light. While tending to an audience, Jesus is informed that his mother and brothers were standing outside, hoping to see/talk with him. Unmoved, he challenges this information, asking “who are my mother and brothers?” (3:33). He motions to the crowd, indicating that they are his family. There is no mention of him having anything to do with his former family.

Ouch.

Now, he did ask much from his disciples, stating that they needed to leave everything behind to follow him (family included). But to shun your blood when they are a matter of a few feet away? This seems rather cold from someone who radiates such warmth and love to so many people. Why does one family (a new, larger one) have to arrive in your world at the expense of the smaller, original one?

Out of context, these two moments in Mark (and Matthew) paint a harsh picture of Jesus.  Thankfully, there’s much more throughout that shows why people embraced him, creating the picture that most people probably have when they think of Jesus.  Perhaps they are included to give an honest account of Jesus, that he wasn’t perfect, and even he had his human moments? As long as you invest the effort in reading up on him in other parts of Mark, you will be rewarded with a fuller picture of the man most people think of, not the one shown in these examples.

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About virgowriter

Brad Windhauser has a Master's in English from Rutgers University (Camden campus) and an MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte. He is an Associate Professor (Teaching/Instruction) in the English Department at Temple University. His short stories have appeared in The Baltimore Review, The Santa Fe Writer's Project Journal, Ray's Road Review, Philadelphia Review of Books, Northern Liberty Review, and Jonathan. His first novel, Regret (a gay-themed thriller set in Philadelphia) was published in 2007. You can read more about (and buy) it here: http://goo.gl/yvT24K His second novel, The Intersection, is being published by Black Rose Writing September 2016. He is one of five regular contributors to 5Writer.com. On his solo blog, he is chronicling his experience as a gay writer reading the Bible for the first time: www.BibleProjectBlog.com Follow his work at: www.BradWindhauser.com VirgoWriter@gmail.com
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One Response to The Bible’s New Testament: The Gospel of Mark I – The Mean Side to Jesus or a Context Issue?

  1. Well written, interesting commentary, Brad. Definitely raises some questions.

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