We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Monday, March 19, 2012

Actions Not Words - Mark 3:22-30 (xliii)

Lion of St. Mark, Piazza San Marco, Venice
This posting is the 43rd in a series (originally written in 1998) looking at the Gospel of Mark from the perspective of a historian. The first posting in this series is (here).

Mark's Jesus was an exorcist and healer. Through the first three chapters of Mark, we learn almost nothing directly about Jesus' teachings. What teaching he does give is in the form of refutations of his doubters and enemies. On a larger scale, there's nothing comparable in Mark to Matthew's Sermon on the Mount or Luke's Sermon on the Plain. Jesus is first and foremost an exorcist and only secondarily a teacher. The passage in Mark 3:22-30 reinforces this emphasis on Jesus the exorcist. So closely is he associated with exorcism, that his enemies charge him with being in league with the devil.

The Good News of Jesus Christ wasn't captured essentially in Jesus' words, then, as it was in his actions. The liberation he brought wasn't so much from ignorance as it was from captivity to evil powers, both human and extra-human. If we assume that the author of Mark based his portrayal on primary oral sources, we can conclude that the thing people most remembered about Jesus wasn't his formal teachings. What they remembered most clearly was the dramatic, liberating way in which he healed the under class. He convinced them that God did love them. Some scholars, at least, argue that Jesus gave his teachings in bits and snatches. He never systematized those teachings. Mark certainly doesn't contradict that opinion.