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When I lead seminars, people often ask me why we need to read the Synoptics without immediately harmonizing the historical content.  Mark would be one place that illustrates the reason.  Each Gospel has its own uniqueness and must be read as such.  Unlike all the other Gospels, Mark withheld the description of Jesus as the king until His trial (e.g. Mk. 15.2).  This alone should raise interest.

NT scholar Joel Marcus has pointed this aspect out very well in his article written for Journal of Biblical Literature called “Crucifixion as Parodic Exaltation.”  This insight explains a lot about Mark, especially when the disciples did not recognize who Jesus was in many misunderstood passages.  Jesus’ true kingly position became most apparent when it was least humanly apparent.  How did a criminal get exalted on the cross?  Marcus suggests that he got exalted precisely because he had risen above his lot in life, thus making the cross a kind of social parody.  Whether Marcus is ultimately correct or not, there was something quite mocking about the whole usage of kingly vocabulary in the mockeries of the passion story.  None of this makes any human sense.  In creating this paradoxical parody of mockery, Mark was encouraging all his readers not to be stuck in their understanding about God.  By portraying Jesus as a brigand while simultaneously putting “king of the Jews” in various characters’ mouths, Mark demonstrated the alien strangeness of the cross.

Back in Mark’s day, the cross was a shame to the Christian faith. Yet, the social shame that it suffered became the empowerment for Jesus’ work.  If His followers wanted to be faithful, they too should not be stuck in the worldly value system and definitions.  We cannot explain all aspects of the faith using the world’s vocabulary and logic.  It does not mean we should not try, but Mark encouraged us to move above and beyond.  Was Jesus the king?  The answer depends on what you believe about Easter.  If the empty tomb of Easter shows resurrection, then Easter is God’s way of mocking His mockers.

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