Further, the in-breaking of God’s rule challenges any separation of what is pure or holy from what is defi led or unclean. When Jesus touches a leper, he doesn’t become unclean, but rather the leper is cleansed (1:40-42). Similarly, he associates with sinners without worrying that they will contaminate him (2:15-17). Throughout Mark’s Gospel, we learn that “holiness” is now contagious in a way that “uncleanness” was before: what is holy now has the power to transform what is unclean.

The climax of Mark’s Gospel comes with its account of the passion and resurrection of Jesus. In Mark, the plot to kill Jesus is introduced much earlier than in the other Gospels (3:6; cf. Matthew 12:14; Luke 19:47; John 11:53). Thus, most of the story may be read as a prelude to what happens at the end when Jesus dies on the cross. Indeed, Jesus has not ultimately come to heal the sick or to argue with the Pharisees—he has come to give his life (10:45).

Mark doesn’t spell out exactly why Jesus must do this or how his death serves God’s purposes, but he does off er us two fi gurative images: ransom and covenant. The language of “ransom” (10:45)

implies that Jesus’ death somehow purchases human freedom, and the language of “covenant” (14:24) implies that it seals or establishes a relationship between humanity and God. Further, the cross of Christ becomes the primary symbol for the life of self-denial, service and sacrifi ce that Jesus’ followers are called to embrace (8:34).

With regard to those followers, Mark’s Gospel seems to portray Jesus’ disciples in ways that accentuate their failings. They rarely understand what Jesus says to them and they inevitably fail to carry out his demands. When the shadow of the cross looms near, they scatter: one betrays him, another denies him and the rest desert him. Still, Jesus never gives up on these terribly inadequate disciples. At the end of the story, the message that goes out from the empty tomb is that he wants his disciples back (16:7).

Mark probably portrays the disciples as he does because he knows that inadequate Christians everywhere will be able to identify with them. He wants to teach us that our relationship to Christ depends on his faithfulness to us, not on our faithfulness to him.

Mark Allan Powell is the Robert and Phyllis Leatherman Professor of New Testament at Trinity Lutheran Seminary at Capital University, Columbus, Ohio.


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