Mark this ambiguous Jesus

There have been a whole raft of posts around the interwebs in recent days about Mark’s understanding of Jesus in his gospel.

A flavour of the debate can be had from these posts, which also have further links:

Today Mike Bird returned to the fray to argue that:

I think Mark’s Christology is ambiguous because Mark knows of no other Christology than that embroiled in paradox of Jesus as the human Messiah, the coming Son of Man, and exalted Son of God, who shares in Yahweh’s throne.

I’m somewhat more inclined to think Mark’s ambiguity is more intentional than simply reflecting a paradoxical understanding of Jesus.

Notoriously Mark offers a strange rationale for parables:

And Jesus said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’ (Mk 4:11-12)

One way of taking these difficult verses is to say that, for Mark, a response to Jesus depends on God creating that response in the heart of the hearer.  Parable creates space for God to reveal truth, and those who are not open to God’s revelation will simply be left baffled by the parables and unable to understand them.

His riddling and ambiguous Jesus is of a piece with this understanding. Only those whose eyes God opens will be able to see who Jesus is. Mark will not give his reader a straight answer; he will only create a situation through his story which will enable (or not enable) someone to receive God’s revelation of who Jesus is.

If, as I think, Mark’s gospel does end at 16.8, then that coheres with this view. Mark will not describe an appearance of the risen Jesus. The risen Jesus can’t be narrated, he can only be encountered. The climax of the gospel comes in the personal experience that seals the revelation. Mark can only sow the seed, and ambiguity is his plough to furrow the heart and mind of his hearer.

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