Lately I’ve been thinking about Mark, mainly because I just contributed a post on Mark for Credo magazine. After writing the post, it occurred to me that what I was seeing in Mark is a huge reason for thanksgiving. As you may have guessed, Mark has nothing to say about turkey and all the trimmings (the traditional Thanksgiving holiday meal in the USA). In fact, although Mark directly mentions giving thanks only a few times, his story of Jesus gives us a profound reason for thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving holiday is November 28 in the USA this year, but Mark’s message gives us something to be thankful for every day of the year.
Truth through Story
When I was in seminary they taught me that we should read the Gospels for history and Paul for theology. Later I decided that was wrong, not least because Paul didn’t read the Old Testament merely as history. In fact, he taught that all Scripture was profitable for doctrine as well as pastoral admonition (2 Tim 3:16-17). As it turns out, the people who taught me not to read the Gospels for theology couldn’t help but read the Gospels for theology themselves. A case in point was how they (correctly) grabbed onto Matthew 28:18-20 to teach about the Trinity, Christology, and Mission.
We should read the Gospels as they were intended to be read, as biographies written to instruct and edify the church by creatively portraying real historical events surrounding Jesus of Nazareth, Messiah and Lord. The truth taught through stories in the Gospels is just as important for our doctrine and practice as the truth taught through propositions in the letters.
Messy Plots and Flawed Heroes
When you read the Gospels (not to mention Acts), things get messy quickly. No wonder Paul has a lot to correct in his letters. Mark pulls no punches when he describes the weaknesses and missteps of Jesus’ disciples, especially Peter. As soon as Peter correctly recognizes Jesus is the Messiah, he rebukes Jesus because he does not understand what sort of Messiah Jesus is (Mark 8:27-33). Later when Peter witnesses the transfiguration of Jesus, he sadly diminishes Jesus’ glory when he links Jesus to Moses and Elijah (Mark 9:2-8). Finally, in Jerusalem at Passover, Peter contradicts Jesus’ prophecy that all the disciples will desert him. After boasting that he would die before he would deny Jesus, he denies Jesus three times, fulfilling another prophecy of Jesus (Mark 14:26-72).
With these three blunders on his resumé, Mark’s readers might conclude that Peter has finally exhausted Jesus’ patience and disqualified himself from ministry. But near the end of Mark, the risen Lord directs the women who discover the empty tomb to remind Peter and the other disciples that they have an appointment with Jesus in Galilee Mark 16:7; cf. 14:28). Reading John 21 shows us that Jesus kept this appointment. The book of Acts and Peter’s letters show us the amazing results. After so many blunders, who would have thought that Peter could be restored to any sort of ministry, let alone lead the church in its early days?
God Uses Flawed People
Reading Mark convinces me that God uses deeply flawed people as cruciform agents for his Kingdom. What a blessing! I love my turkey and trimmings, and I’m thankful for all of God’s abundant provisions in my life, but this lesson is so much more important. Although we strive through the means of grace to follow the Lord ever more closely, we are far from perfect. God uses us in spite of and at times because of our weaknesses! God does not give up on flawed followers of Jesus, and neither should we. Let’s thank God for this truth and serve him all the more faithfully in light of it. Happy Thanksgiving!
Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38, NLT)
Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:26-32, NLT, reflecting on Isa 29:14 and Jer 9:23-24)
You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. (2 Cor 4:5-10 NLT, reflecting on Gen 1:3 and perhaps Lam 4:2)
Go here to read the Credo post that delves more deeply into Mark’s theology. Go here for a post on a similar theme: The God of the Second Chance, and here for another post on Mark: Reading Mark in Context.