You may read an introduction to the Gospel According to Mark and find an outline, here.
A prayer from the Book of Common Worship, to use before your reading,
God, source of all light, by your Word you give light to the soul. Pour out upon us the spirit of wisdom and understanding that, being taught by you in Holy Scripture, our hearts and minds may be opened to know the things that pertain to life and holiness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I. 1:1-6.6a Throughout Galilee Jesus proclaims the Imminence of God’s Reign in Powerful Words and Deeds
A. 1:1-13 Prologue: The Beginning of the Good News
B. 1:14-3:6 Initial Ministry in Galilee, Opposition from Pharisees
C. 3:7-6:6a Parables and Mighty Works of Jesus Cause Misunderstanding and Division
4:35-5:43 Culmination of Mighty Works in Galilee: After a series of parables from 4:1-34 and the calming of the sea in 4:35-41, now in Chapter 5 we have more examples of Jesus’ amazing power.
The story of the healing of the Gerasene demoniac (5:1-20) is longer than other miracle stories. In this story, Jesus is in gentile territory. This is a familiar story and so we may not pause to reflect on the sad and desperate condition of the man. Again, the demons know who Jesus is. Some believe that the demon’s name, “legion” is a reference to the Roman occupation. The Tenth Legion, used a boar on its standard and was stationed in this area. A legion could contain from 6000 infantry (plus cavalry and other support groups) to 2048. In any reading, a large number. If these commentators are correct, what does the legions recognition of who Jesus is and it’s obedience to his command tell us?
The formerly demon possessed man, while not allowed to join Jesus, becomes in essence a missionary to the gentiles.
The following two healing stories are “sandwiched” together- the healing of Jarius’ daughter and the healing of the woman bleeding for 12 years. How does each story help interpret the other? What does faith have to do with each story?
6:1-6a Rejection in His Own Country: After three powerful miracles, those closest to Jesus, people from his hometown do not believe. What does faith have do to with this story?
II. 6:6b-8:21 Jesus Extends His Ministry to Jews and Gentiles beyond Galilee: In this section pay attention to where Jesus is geographically. What Jesus does for Jews, he does for Gentiles.
A 6:6b-13,30 Summary of Jesus’ Activity and Commission of the Twelve: The Twelve, act under Jesus’ authority, and are effective.
B. 6:14-29 Interlude: The Passion and Death of John the Baptist: Jesus growing reputation reaches to King Herod. The story of John the Baptist death recalls the stories of Elijah, Ahab and Jezebel (1 Kings 21) and Jephthah’s daughter ( Judges 11:29-40) and the story of Esther (Est 1:1-22; 2:9; 5:3), righteous people in wicked courts.
C. 6:31-56 Jesus the Shepherd of Israel
6:31-44 The Feeding of the Five Thousand: This is the only miracle recorded in all four gospels and recalls previous miraculous feedings in the wilderness (Ex 16:14-35 ; Neh 9:15), the last supper, and the heavenly banquet. Remember, in the Bible, when people go into the wilderness, the encounter God.
6:45-52 Sea Crossings and Healings: Also God is found on mountain tops.(see Mark 1:35) A second stormy crossing of the Sea of Galilee to the gentile side. The disciples, even with all their experiences with Jesus, don’t understand who he is.
6:53-56 Summary: But in Gennesaret Jesus attracts large crowds. Notice the reference to “touch even the edge of his cloak,and all who touched him were healed” recalling the woman with the hemorrhage.
D. 7:1-23 Jesus’ New Teaching with Authority Breaks Down the Barrier Between Jew and Gentile : Customs and rituals concerning cleanliness and uncleanliness are not simple debates over legalism. The ritual practices helped secure and mark religious and ethnic identity. What, ultimately, is the point of these traditions? To keep people out? To help people to be holy? Is Jesus rejecting the practices themselves or is Jesus removing barriers that keep gentiles from full participation? Can people mark themselves as distinct from the rest of society without excluding others?
E. 7:24-8:10 Jesus Mighty Works Among Gentiles
7:24-30 The Syrophoenicain Woman: Jesus cannot keep his presence a secret, even in gentile areas (v24). Why does Jesus initially refuse the woman, especially since he has previously healed people in gentile lands? The story sets the woman up as able to hold her own ‘against’ Jesus. Her faith is courageous and challenging.
7:31-37 The Deaf Mute: In this healing story,once again, friends advocate for the person needing healing. See Isaiah 35:5-6 on healing of the blind, deaf and disabled as signs of the messiah.
8:1-10 The Feeding of the Four Thousand: Another feeding story. (If it is repeated, it must be important!) Still the disciples have difficulty believing.
F. 8:11-21 Jesus’ Actions Culminate in Opposition and Misunderstanding: This scene doesn’t follow the previous scene smoothly, but notice how Mark continues to use boats and water to tell his story. Scholars think Mark does not use the word “sign” to mean “miracle”. Sign here means something that shows divine approval or authentication. Of course the reader knows this has already happened at Jesus’ baptism.
In verse 14-21 the disciples are still confused about bread. They have sight and do not see, ears and do not hear; in contrast to the deaf and blind that Jesus has and will heal.
III. 8:22-10:52 Jesus Begins His Journey to Jerusalem Where as the Son of Man He Will Give His Life as a Ransom for Many :This middle section of the gospel is framed by giving of sight miracles and has three passion predictions. The passion predictions follow a pattern, Jesus predicts his suffering, the disciples misunderstand, Jesus gives instruction on discipleship.
Questions about who Jesus is have been building. Besides the reader, who knows about the pronouncement at Jesus’ baptism, so far only the demons seen to recognize Jesus for who he is. Now, the stories of Peter’s confession and the Transfiguration are told, along with the passion predictions. Jesus has been portrayed so far, primarily, as a miracle worker. But this portrait is insufficient for understanding who Jesus is ( as evidenced by the disciples lack of understanding).
A. 8:22-26 Transitional Giving of Sight story: In this story, it takes two attempts before sight is restored. Sight comes slowly to this man, not unlike the disciples who do not “see” who Jesus is?
B.8:27-9:29 The First Passion Prediction Unit
8:27-30 The Confession of Peter: this is the first time in the gospel that a human correctly identifies who Jesus is. Interestingly Jesus asks this question when they are not in Jewish territory. Why does Jesus warn the disciples not to tell anyone?
8:31-33 The First Passion Prediction: Peter and the rest of the disciples may believe Jesus is the Messiah, but they do not yet understand what, exactly, that means. The verb used in v30 “warned” and in v 33 “rebuked” is the same word in Greek. ( It is also the verb used when Jesus rebukes the demons acknowledge him as Son of God in 3:12.)
8:34-9:1 Further Instruction on Discipleship: Notice these instructions are not just to the disciples but to “the crowd”. Remember that death by ‘the cross’ was a shameful death and a shocking requirement for discipleship. Is verse 9:1 referring to the Transfiguration, the Crucifixion/Resurrection, or something else?
9:2-13 The Transfiguration: Elijah and Moses symbolize the Law and the prophets. This passage recalls Exodus 24:16-17, Moses transfiguration. The words in verse 7 recall Jesus’ baptism. Recall “cloud” as a manifestation of God’s presence in the Old Testament. The white clothing references Dan 7:9; 12:3. Since tradition held that Moses and Elijah were taken up into heaven it seems odd that Peter would think they need dwellings. Peter is perhaps content to stop here and not continue to follow the way to the cross? Elijah is to come before the Lord comes in judgment (Mal 3:23-24).
9:14-29 The Possessed Boy:This is the only exorcism in the second half of this gospel. Before the disciples were able to exorcism demons, but not this time. The disciples still struggle with lack of faith.
C. 9:30-50 The Second Passion Prediction Unit:
9:30-32 The Second Passion Prediction: In the first Passion prediction, Peter questions. In this prediction, no one understands and no one asks. Why are the disciples afraid to ask?
9:33-37 Dispute over the Greatest and Instruction on Service: The disciples still lack understanding. Sitting down is the position of a teacher. Children and childhood were thought about differently in ancient times. Children were powerless and vulnerable. Children were considered unpredictable and in need of proper training before they could be part of society. In a society that was intensely hierarchical and patriarchal the idea of children having value (being welcomed) was practically unthinkable.
9:38-50 The Unknown Exorcist and Teaching on Discipleship:
Verse 38-41 Ironically the disciples try to stop someone from doing what they could not. Who is “one of us”? How do we know?
Verse 42-50 Here Mark has collected a series of independent sayings and placed them together. The “stumbling block” (skandalizo) suggests loss of faith. “Little ones” is used in other texts (particularly Matthew) to indicate Christians. Salt was used to preserve food and season. Salt was a valuable item. Is was part of an offering (Exodus 43:24; Lev :13). Eating salt together was a sign of friendship and loyalty.
Read More About It:
Donahue, John R. “Mark” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary, rev. ed.James L Mays, ed. (New York: Society of Bible Literature) 2000.
Johnson, Luke Timothy, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation, rev. ed. (Minneapolis:Fortress Press) 1999. Chapter 7 “The Gospel of Mark”
Perkins, Pheme, “The Gospel of Mark: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VIII, Leander E. Keck,ed. (Nashville, Abingdon Press)1994.
Tilden, Elwyn E., Bruce M. Metzger, “Mark” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Bruce M. Metzger, Roland E. Murphy eds. (New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.