I got several interesting responses to my questions on the secrecy in Mark. The post itself has sort of wandered off into a discussion of Gnosticism. I will say that, though I read Elaine Pagels’ book on the Gnostic Gospels and it’s an interesting subject, and I appreciate Jeremy’s comments, I’m not really going to try to juggle the Gnostic point of view in my discussions here. The Gnostics basically have a different Bible that totally recontextualizes the whole Jesus story, sort of like the Quran does. I am presently considering the Bible in its standard form, so my analysis is going to stick to that.
Anyway, Tom suggested that the parables are all in a meta-parable:
His instructing the crowds in parables is a parable of His earthly mission. The pattern of Jesus telling a parable in public, His disciples failing to understand Him, His explaining the meaning to them, and their subsequent revelation of His meaning to the crowds exactly matches His crucifixion, His disciples’ despair, His appearances to them, and their subsequent proclamation of Him as the Christ. Everything in Jesus’ life, as Mark records it, is parabolic.
The sequence may also serve a catechetical purpose. Adherents to this new faith would be drawn to it for all sorts of reasons, as Messianic hopes, curiousity, and the need for healing drew the crowds to Jesus. Much of what they would learn, though, would be utterly baffling. God’s Son is crucified? And that’s a good thing? And He’s here with us right now?
This is a good reminder of what Tom pointed out when I started this: the Gospels were instructional tools for the early church. I mentioned in the earlier post that my study notes connected the parable of the sower with the struggles of discipleship, from which the beleaguered early Christians might presumably draw comfort and inspiration. With all this in the recent past, probably everyone would have felt more part of “the continuing saga” than I do now.
I was thinking of this the other night, actually, when I talked to my new pastor. Among other things, I asked him what he thought of the secrecy Mark. With regard to the healings, he said he thought Jesus was trying to avoid making a spectacle of himself. He pointed to how star preachers of today do faith healings with all the TV cameras and razmatazz, and lamented that they couldn’t be more like Jesus.
I hadn’t thought of it like that, but it makes some sense. As the appearance of Simon Magus in Acts will show us, there were other healers and magicians floating around in those days, and Christians were at pains to distinguish themselves from them. And it sets a certain tone of self-denial. We’ve been scratching our heads because it’s such a funny way for a messiah to act; but if you think of it as an example for a line of human preachers, it makes a lot more sense. Subsequent preaching in Acts and so on wasn’t kept secret, but perhaps Jesus’ efforts at suppressing knowledge of his powers, his fleeing the crowds and so on, sent a message against self-aggrandizement.
The parabolic approach to teaching may have functioned the same. Lynn pointed to Ellen’s post about the sower parable, concluding that, “It’s OK to ask questions, to be puzzled, we discovered during that session, because it’s when we ask that we are answered.”
Again, we have an example for teaching here. Don’t whack people over the head with your knowledge; whet their appetites, stimulate their curiosity. It would be nice if more evangelists followed that one too…