Over the past two years I have been slowly reading through the Gospel of Mark with a few friends. We have not had much of an agenda other than to read it together, discuss what strikes us, ask any questions the text raises, and hopefully find Mark’s telling of the story of Jesus shaping us into more faithful ways of living. I am also in the midst of a 14-week Sunday morning class reading through the Gospel. All that to say, Mark currently occupies a lot of my mental space.
I began this year with a renewed commitment to post at least once a week on this blog. As part of that commitment I thought about beginning some kind of long-term series. As I’ve spent such a lot of time with Mark, I began wondering about some kind of creative re-telling of his Gospel, incorporating the insights I have gained from my friends and from the three commentaries that have also been my companions over the last two years: Ched Myers’ utterly compelling Binding the Strong Man; Tom Wright’s Mark for Everyone; and William L. Lane’s The Gospel of Mark in the New International Commentary on the New Testament series. After a few weeks of such wondering, I awoke in the middle of the night last Wednesday with one of those cartoon light-bulbs over my head, and these three words: “The Naked Man.” Here’s why. When Jesus is arrested in Gethsemane, Mark includes this brief vignette, unique to his Gospel:
“And a certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body; and they seized him. But he left the linen sheet behind, and escaped naked.” (Mark 14.51-52, NASB)
Who was that young man, running away – naked – into the night? There has been much conjecture as to his identity down through the centuries – perhaps even that it was the author of the Gospel himself. As I began to ponder the various possibilities for re-telling Mark’s story, that image stayed with me. Whenever I’m writing, I try to picture a scene which will give me a ‘way in’ to the story I want to tell. In this case I could imagine, years later, beloved nephews asking their Uncle Mark to tell the story over and over again for their innocent delight. So often, perhaps, that when he came to compose his telling of the life of Jesus, Mark decided to include that story.
Having decided on this scene as ‘the way in’ to the story, the next question was setting: Who, where, when? There are many scholarly proposals for the identity of the author of the Gospel according to Mark, as well as for the date and location of its composition, spreading over several years and a broad swath of the Roman Empire. I had to land somewhere, and so in similar fashion to the approach I adopted in my first book, The Story of God, the Story of Us, I found myself wondering what it would have been like to hear the stories Mark told before he composed his Gospel, long before they would become Scripture. What might his family, his friends and the fledgling community of those drawn to the way of Jesus have thought when they listened to his stories about the life and teachings of Jesus? How, exactly, were they “good news” – and why? In the coming months I hope to explore those questions with you, and I hope you’ll join me as we listen in on their imagined conversations.
I found a delightful painting of this scene by Australian artist, Michael Donnelly, and he has graciously allowed me to include it with the series. For more information on the painting, click here.
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