Who is Jesus?
This is a question at the very centre of Mark’s Gospel—literally. In chapter 8, as the Gospel story swings on a pivot from Jesus’ ministry in Galilee to his journey to Jerusalem and the cross, Jesus asks his disciples: “Who do you say I am?” (8:29). It is comforting that even they are not sure how to answer.
Indeed, Mark does not give us easy answers to the question. Yes, Mark’s story opens by calling Jesus “Son of God,” but the rest of the story challenges our understanding of what that title means. Instead of giving us simple answers we can turn into confessions of faith, Mark invites us to follow Jesus. Mark’s story is built around action—it is a “narrative of practice.” In fact, of all the Gospels, Mark has the lowest ratio of sayings to narrative action. Following in the Way of Jesus is about doing what Jesus does.*
What does Jesus do? He travels on the Sea of Galilee into non-Jewish territory, breaking down barriers of segregation. By healing bodies and casting out demons, he confronts religious purity codes that defined who was “in” and who was “outside” the community of God. By eating at the tables of “sinners,” he challenges those who thought they had the sole authority to interpret scripture. He undoes systems of debt by offering forgiveness and challenging the religious-political establishments that took from the poor of the land. He walks the road to the cross—the way of self-giving love—showing us the corruption of the systems that rob us of the fullness of God’s good life not just in his time, but also in ours. Through all of these actions, Jesus practices a way of life Mark calls the kingdom or reign of God—the way of God’s salvation for the world.
In these next many months, we will open Mark’s Gospel story. I hope that like me, you will find this to be a regenerative time—a time to ask challenging questions about what it means to follow Jesus. Already, in preparing to preach Mark, I am finding my own understanding reanimated with new insights and questions as I try to follow Jesus through Mark’s Gospel and in our own time and place.
Who is Jesus?
Markan scholar, Ched Myers, writes: “In Mark, Jesus is not presented as ‘the answer’ but ‘the question’ to the church.” May we, individually and as a church community, never stop following this central question.*
*In this season of renewed engagement with the Gospel of Mark, I am indebted to the work of Ched Myers, particularly his book, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus.