Some time ago, while I was working for an insurance company, I came up with many conclusions about human nature, one of which is this: two people can witness the same accident but describe two totally different events. The mind can do funny things when forced to remember a traumatic occasion. One such account from a female client I remember indicated that the vehicle that backed into hers had to have been upside-down to match the physical damage. When asked by the adjuster, “Ma'am, was the vehicle that struck yours upside-down?” the claimant replied, “Of course not.” But she stuck to her account, anyway. I do not mean to suggest she was lying; no, she was simply retelling the accident as she recalled it.
The three-year Lectionary schedule changes now from reading the Gospel According to Matthew to Mark. So, we are saying good-bye to Matthew and “hello” to Mark. There is at least one big difference between these two Gospels. The narrative of salvation history (Christ was born, Christ died, Christ has risen and will return again) remains the same. But the stories are told a little differently from each other. Matthew is wordy and goes to great lengths to explain. Mark is concise and to the point. Matthew recalls in depth Jesus’ birth through the life of Joseph. Mark doesn’t even mention the nativity. Matthew describes how Jesus made appearances after death, ascended into heaven, and commissioned the disciples to teach and baptize to the ends of the earth. Mark’s version more or less ends with the tomb. For those who are familiar with poetry, Matthew wrote an epic poem about Jesus while Mark wrote a Haiku. You can read Mark’s Gospel in one sitting. It’s fast paced, riveting, and, well, short.
It would be a mistake, however, to judge Mark by size alone. He employs a writing technique that I call missional interruption. It fits the life of Jesus because he was always on the move and got interrupted along the way. Each interruption ends up being a key educational point. For example, in Chapter 5, Jesus arrived on the shore to find a crowd assembled to hear him. As he began to speak, he was interrupted; a synagogue leader, Jairus, begged Jesus to heal his daughter. Jesus left the crowd to go to Jairus’ home. Along the way, a woman who had suffered hemorrhages her whole life said to herself, “If I simply touch his clothes, I will be made well.” She interrupted Jesus again and received healing; as he did so often, Jesus took the opportunity to teach his disciples a lesson about faith, then healed Jairus’ daughter, and then returned to preach. Whew! What a day. Mark’s account can be viewed as Jesus-the-multi-tasker. Maybe that is a good lesson for today’s ministry – be prepared to multi-task!
There are four witnesses, or accounts, of Jesus’ life and ministry in the New Testament. Each one is a little different from the others but each maintains a central theme of salvation. Speaking from an insurance perspective, it is remarkable (and highly unlikely) to find four separate accounts of any set of events, let alone the entirety of Jesus’ life, that are so similar. I consider us lucky that the Church fathers didn’t compile all four accounts into one narrative which was one theory of how they should be presented. Instead, they accounts were kept separate. So, let us gather together and welcome Mark’s account into our spiritual lives for the next year.