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Much of the traditional focus of scholarship on Mark’s Gospel has concentrated upon the call and mission of the disciples, the twelve. However, through this exegetical study of five of the texts I seek to demonstrate that rather than seeing the disciples as the model for mission in the Church, as a people of God, they are in fact failures and a successful model for mission is found in the minor characters, particularly blind Barthimaeus (10:46-52) and the widow at the treasury, (12:41 – 44).
Mark’s Gospel, since the late 19th century has been used as the primary text. The primacy of Mark and his influence upon Matthew and Luke emerged at this time and most scholars have accepted the concept of Marcan priority. It forms the foundation for the widely accepted two-source theory, although a number of scholars support different forms of Marcan priority or reject it altogether. (Tuckett, 1-2). The structure of Mark can be divided into several distinct sections. Chapters 1-9 Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, Chapter 10 his journey to Jerusalem, Chapters 11- 13 Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem culminating in his passion, death and resurrection, chapters 14 -16. While there are numerous passages that assist in our discernment of discipleship, it is important to begin with a focus initially upon the three central themes of the call, the commissioning and the cost.
The Call of the First Disciples
– Jesus encounters Simon & Andrew; James & John (1:16-20)
The Sending out of the Twelve apostles (6:7-13)
The Cost of Discipleship 8:34-38
Malbon (REF) stressed the need to turn one’s attention to the ‘minor’ characters. The first of these I seek to highlight is the healing of blind Barthimaeus. Barthimaeus if vulnerable and depended upon the generosity (or not) of the others. He is truly one of the outcasts. Yet in his utter nothingness he declares an act of faith that none of the twelve were able to do, “Son of David have mercy on me”. (VV) when Jesus asks what he wants Barthimaeus seeks for his sight to be returned. Jesus heals him by returning his sight. The response of Barthimaeus was one of faith, recognition and action, he threw off his cloak. Such a gesture is important to understand as he detached himself from his everyday existence. Such a declaration and response is in contrast with the disciples who remain blind to the necessity of Jesus’ suffering and death. (Heil 216, 217). Consequently, it is one of the minor characters who offers a model of discipleship for the contemporary church. A model whose eyes are fully open to the presence of Christ in its midst and whose demands and costs are clear.
Such a model is further developed in the story of the widow’s mite (12:41-44). Here we learn of the contrast between those who give of their surplus and the one who gave all. Monetary donations at the temple treasury were seen as an act of devotion to God. By observing this practice of the Jews Jesus was attracted to the actions of the widow who gave a tine amount in comparison. But she did so quietly and without any show. She gave not what was ‘left over’ but gave all she had. Speaking to the disciples Jesus tells us that “she has put in more than all those contributing she out of her poverty has put in everything she had.” (VV) Mark shows us that the widow, who, without a husband to support her would have been marginalized by Jewish society, givers her totality. It is what Emmanuel Levinas refers to as an event or a force that introduces a decisive break into the historical status quo; it is relational, a human affair. (Levinas, 47) Written in the context of transcendence Levinas, while acknowledging his Jewish faith and without making any reference to the story of the widow, captures the essence of discipleship in the woman’s action. It is the giving of one’s entire being, that which exists outside space and time, that which is non-historical, that has a clear message for discipleship and mission in an authentic Christian church today. Such an action emphasises what Jesus said to the rich young man earlier in the Gospel. Jesus repeated the admonition of Deuteronomy 5:6 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself” (VV) In this Jesus turns his back on burn offerings and sacrifices. The widow, in essence is a model for discipleship that is in accord with the person of Jesus when he tries again and again to emphasise the cost to the deaf and blind twelve.
What I hope to have demonstrated in the five texts I have chosen is the contrast between what I deem to be the failure of the disciples and the ‘success’ of two minor characters. Essentially, I believe it points towards participation in the mission of the church. Fully understanding scripture is not unlike an understanding of revelation. Until there is a response then it remains dormant. Gadamer and Paul Ricouer were both of the opinion that real interpretation leads to actualization. Such an actualization, from an existential perspective, is transformational; it impacts and transforms one’s life. If one is called to discipleship then one is commissioned to preach the Gospel in word and action (Mk 16:15) by its very nature it is a Gospel of liberation, a liberating and unifying love as emphasized so eloquently in John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son”. Consequently, the Church is one of mission; local, national and international. One’s response to the movement of the Holy Spirit is missionary, it is both the end and the aim of the Church as a people of God.
Tuckett, Christopher M. (2008). “The current state of the Synoptic Problem. Oxford Conference on the Synoptic Problem. In Foster, Paul; et al., eds. (2011). New Studies in the Synoptic Problem: Oxford Conference, April 2008. Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium. 239. pp. 9-50
Levinas, Emmanuel. 1969 Totality and Infinity: An essay on Exteriority Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press
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