The gospel of Luke has a wonderful birth story of Jesus. Every year we even get to hear it read by Linus in A Charlie Brown Christmas special. Matthew adds in the Wise Men but starts even further back, beginning his gospel with Abraham. Not to be outdone, John’s gospel goes back even behind Genesis, before creation, to when the Word was with God.*
No manger. No shepherds abiding. No angels singing. Not even a glance back to creation. He starts in the desert with a raggedy, prophet-like John the Baptist when Jesus was already in his thirties. Why?
Each of the gospel writers had their own reasons for why they wrote the way they did. So while there is a lot of overlap among the four, there are also differences of style, structure and content. What was Mark up to?
Mark writes his gospel from the perspective of the disciples. So we start where they started their journey toward Jesus–by hearing John the Baptist or by hearing about him. When they first encountered Jesus, they didn’t know he had a miraculous birth or a pedigree that went through King David’s line. They had to figure out what it was all about on their own.
a lot of explanation, Mark takes us through their experiences of confusion, uncertainty, and disorientation even while they were simultaneously drawn to Jesus. What in the world are those parables about? Who is this person who can stop a storm with a word? Hey, doesn’t he realize we are out of bread? And why does he keep talking about dying–isn’t he going to be a victorious king? His love, power, and wisdom are very compelling, sure–but where is all this taking us?
That’s not the only reason Mark starts in the desert, however. We’ll look at another in my next installment.
*I read this comparison of the opening of the four gospels somewhere but can’t place it. If anyone recognizes it, let me know and I’ll give due credit.
This post is partially adapted from Mark Through Old Testament Eyes.