(Let the reader understand), this rabbit hole gets deeper still. The view from down here is intimidating. You might be nervous that The Abyss has a welcome mat, but trust me… come on in; the water is dark. Open your Bible and take the plunge – won’t you? This is your next session in the XAnon conspiracy some of you internet junkies just can’t pass up.
Here we go:
If you ever took a serious academic study of Mark’s Gospel, you were introduced to the scholar William Wrede and the “Messianic Secret,” a motif Wrede discerned, primarily in Mark, demonstrating how Jesus seems almost constantly to be suppressing information about himself. (What an irony is that?) Jesus goes around making a bid to be crowned king of the Jews, alright, but is always healing people and ordering them not to tell anyone about it. (There is an exception to this (1:44), but it is the exception that proves the rule!)
Mark’s Gospel emphasizes this motif more than the others. Far more. And that too is ironic beyond accounting for it. A “gospel” by definition is “good news,” and good news, it would seem, should be shared. So why on earth would Jesus inhibit it? Why would a gospel writer feature it so profoundly? Doesn’t that kind of suppression run completely counter to the point both of Jesus’s life and mission AND Mark’s purpose in writing?
In fact, it is my case that a large part of the reason(s) Matthew, Luke, and John also pen accounts is to clear up the difficulty/ies presented by Mark’s Gospel. Just imagine (let the reader understand) if Mark’s Gospel was the only account we had and if it stopped at 16:8 – even in our English translations! Just imagine all the signs and wonders and teachings which elsewhere are handed to us on a silver platter, but if we only had Mark, we would not know! Mark’s account was enough for its time (the war of 66 A.D.), but the Holy Spirit determined that between Theophilus and the church at large through the eons, more would be required, and we didn’t need to be left only with Mark’s loose ends.
Yet another conspiracy for us to wrestle!
But there is one other element to this motif. It’s not just those who are healed (who witness and experience the grace of God and the healing touch of Jesus) who are told not to tell. It is not just ironic that the written narrative stops at 16:8, the last verse we have of Mark’s writing (see previous posts for explanation of this assertion if you are not already familiar), a troubling verse where the women are actually told to go tell, but due to their fear the flee the empty tomb and tell no one. No. It’s also especially ironic because all through Mark’s Gospel, demons know who Jesus is; they announce it nearly every time they meet him, and he is always, always, always telling them (the demons) to shut up about it!
How’s this for a conspiracy? The demons are the best gospel preachers in the whole story, and Jesus orders them to shut up!
But wait. There’s more!
Oh, yeah. The plot thickens.
If you read Mark very, very carefully and pay close attention to detail, you will notice that the demons are frequently confessing Jesus’s secret identity. They keep referring to him specifically as “God’s Son.” This, it seems, is the tip of the spear, the point which Jesus especially wants kept secret.
Why is that?
Codeword: Son of God
Well… there are lots of sons of God. And there is a whole can of worms we can open up with regard to that title. If you are an immersed Christian, a disciple of Christ, then you too are a “son of God.” If you were to read Luke’s Gospel (an account of Jesus’s life not yet written when Mark puts pen to parchment, btw), you will find he offers a lineage, a genealogy for Jesus, which goes in reverse through time and goes all the way back to Adam. So we have the lineage saying “son of…, son of…, son of…” all the way back to Adam. When we reach Adam, he is called “son of God.” If we read Exodus, a book written long before Mark’s Gospel, we will find the first time God refers to Israel (the whole nation) as “My son” in 4:22.
It is beyond our purpose here to bog down in Mark’s particular meaning with that title as applied to Jesus. It is enough to note that as far as Mark’s Gospel is concerned, the title “Son of God” means something extra special when applied to Jesus. We also discern that the demons are ready, willing, and able to divulge this information to anyone willing to listen, but Jesus shuts them up.
In fact, if you are a really sensitive reader, “(let the reader understand)”, then when you read Mark all through in one sitting and stopped at 16:8 you noticed that only one mortal human in the whole story ever makes the confession that Jesus is “the Son of God,” and that confession is made at a most crucial moment.
Did you notice?
Were you paying attention?
Let’s bounce through some pertinent passages and see what we missed.
There are four* sources of this insider information scattered all through Mark. The first is Mark himself. The title of his book is not “The Gospel According to St. Mark” like is printed at the top of the first page in bold font in my English translation. Not really. No. The first verse, chapter 1: verse 1 is the real title of Mark’s Gospel, and it says, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ (the Son of God).*
The second source (first if we trust textual criticism)* is God, the Father – the voice from heaven (1:11; 9:7). God interjects his own voice into the narrative to identify Jesus as his own Son twice, first at his baptism and later on the “Mount of Transfiguration.”
This is the most trustable source for this information for a reader (let the reader understand), but none of the characters within the narrative show any sign of hearing this message in chapter 1, and only the inner circle of the Twelve (the three) hear it in chapter 9. But by the time we reach 14:50, it is clear that just because they have had opportunity to hear the voice from heaven in chapter 9, it does not translate into their acceptance and right handling of this most sacred information later.
The third source (second if we trust textual criticism)* are the demons! The demons know who he is, and they tell us (the readers and characters in the story) repeatedly that Jesus is the “Son of God,” but Jesus is always shutting them up! (See 1:24-25, 34; 3:11-12; 5:7,19;**)
(Let that bake the reader’s noodle.)
Finally, the last source of this information is one of the most unlikely of all – a flat character who exits the narrative as fast as he enters it. The centurion at the foot of the cross! (15:39).
Yes. Something very ironic, but very special too, happens at 15:39. It is the climactic moment of Mark’s Gospel – barring only the cliff-hanger we are left with at 16:8. Here we find a mortal human pronouncing what previously no other mortal human could manage.
NOW… Go back at read chapter 8 again. In the last post we saw how the blind man was healed in two stages and how that broken act prophetically dramatizes the fact that Peter (and the rest of the Twelve) and us readers too are all suffering a type of blindness that must be worked out with more effort, more time, more care. Peter was asked, “Who do you say I am?” and answered offering, “You are the Christ!” (8:29).
(Let the reader take care here not to conflate this passage with Matthew’s account of the same moment, where Peter completes the thought proclaiming, “You are the Christ! The Son of the Living God!” (Matt. 16:16). For one thing, Matthew has not written his account yet, and so there is no chance our young rebel come to Jerusalem to defend the temple in 66 A.D. will be familiar with Matthew’s account. No. But when he goes back for a second, deeper, look at Mark, he will notice that the centurion at the cross is able to confess what Peter’s confession lacks, and it will prompt our young rebel to wrestle the angel all the more.)
Yes. Jesus is The Son of God in a very special sense. God knows it (of course); the demons know it; but neither the disciples nor any of the other mortal human beings within the narrative have this most precious insight and are able to confess it except for, and until we meet, the centurion at the cross in 15:39.
Do you think this little arrangement has any particular significance for Mark’s Gospel?
(Let the reader understand), OH YEAH IT DOES!
This is no mere coincidence of Scripture! There is no such thing. This was divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit for Mark to feature in his story. And it impacts a soul (especially of a young, Jewish rebel) who stumbles onto 16:8 and finds himself seeing Jesus, but unclearly seeing him… like trees walking around. It will send this reader back for more healing touch, a second round of Gospel to clear things up.
It’s a conspiracy.
A divine conspiracy.
You came to this recruiter’s pamphlet looking for your place in God’s Army. You expected to join the rebels defending the temple from Titus and six Roman legions. You are ready to fight and to kill, and to die if necessary, in service to God and country, when Mark put this pamphlet in your hands and tripped you up on a stumbling blog (Did I say stumbling blog?) ahem… stumbling block.
You might be feeling a strong urge to put it down and go running off to join Uncle Simon and fight. But then again, you might be just a little bit hooked too. Maybe even jealous. Tripped up. Stumbling in your convictions.
Is it possible that you don’t see Jesus clearly? Is it possible that God, the Father, really does claim Jesus is My Son? Listen to him! (Let the reader understand.)
The Holy Spirit is conspiring with your conscience right about now. You MIGHT reject Jesus outright. You might prefer to take up a sword and follow Uncle Simon rather than take up a cross and follow Jesus, but you must harden your heart to do it. Not a big leap for young rebel, really, but it’s been pricked now, and you might want to attend to it.
Why do demons and a centurion know what I can’t quite yet see? Shouldn’t I get this ironed out before I just reject him? There was, after all, quite a lot in this story that did actually ring deeply true with God. I probably should pray on this and look again more intently. He might open my eyes from the blindness I have been suffering and didn’t even realized.
Oh, my… This is a conspiracy, alright.
* There is a textual variant here. The oldest manuscript copies of Mark do not, in fact, have “the Son of God” in verse 1. Thus, we can safely argue that there are actually only three sources for this insider information in Mark’s Gospel. But, if my theory about Mark’s whole document is correct, then the later addition of this bit to verse one is all the more understandable as a compelling observation a later copyist could not resist adding to the work.
** The “Legion” demon(s) seems to be somewhat of an exception to the rule. Jesus casts out the demons, never tells them specifically to shut up, and tells the man after they have left him to go tell his people (Gentiles, by the way) “what the Lord has done for him.” There are enough exceptions to this story, all of them not directly impinging on the general point, that I think we can just acknowledge it has anomalies, but it still supports the trend.
More about these matters in the comments if questions are submitted.