Reading the Gospel of Mark—A Story We Wouldn’t Tell

One of the most remarkable characteristics of the Gospel of Mark is how brutally honest it is about the frailties of the disciples.  When the disciples challenge Jesus to act during a storm at sea, (“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”), after stilling the storm, Jesus questions them, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith”(4:35-41)? After the feeding of the five thousand (6:30-44) and the four thousand (8: 1-9), the disciples are still worried about having no bread, and Jesus says “Why are you talking about having no bread?  Do you still not perceive or understand?  Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear…Do you not yet understand?” In Mark 8—10, Jesus foretells his passion three times and every time the disciples’ lack of understanding is almost comical. And, of course, their performance only gets worse.  In Jesus’ hour of great need in the Garden of Gethsemane, we read this chilling line, “All of them (the disciples) deserted him and fled”(14:50).  Peter did follow Jesus to the courtyard of the high priests house, but when asked if he was one of his disciples denied even knowing him (14:66-72).

Let’s be honest, if we were remembering the origins of our faith community, we probably would do a lot of editing. We would write a story about all our accomplishments and heroic deeds.  We would want to give the reader a reason to believe that if they joined our movement, they could become as spectacular as we are. We would gloss over the failures, immoral behavior, and bad decisions. Our story might be motivational, but it wouldn’t be Good News.

Mark is Good News because it takes a candid and realistic look at who we are, and then dares to proclaim that God’s faithfulness is greater than human frailty.  The Good News is not that Jesus chose impeccable followers; the Good News is that God can take real human beings with all their fears and misperceptions and use them in spite of it all.

One of the gifts the Church can bring our world is the willingness to tell the truth about who we are.  One of the reasons people have so little faith in governmental institutions is that they don’t trust that leaders are telling the truth.  We are justifiably suspicious of a politician’s real motivations. Are they telling us what they really believe or simply pandering to special interests? Most leaders also find it very hard to publicly acknowledge their mistakes because they are afraid that they will be punished for doing so. The Church knows that acknowledging our missed steps isn't the end, but by God’s mercy the beginning of a new chapter.