Greetings True Scotfolk!
Before we start with post 2/3 on Goicoechea’s book on Mark, lets begin this post with 2 book cover affirmations that contain profound, mystical truths about human reality:
All right, feeling important? Good. Let’s be profound (it’s literally impossible for a scot not to be profound, but those above book covers push it to a completely new level!
Now, post 2/3 on Goicoecheas book on Mark and Jesus’ teaching on Agape (selfless love) as the Agapetos (beloved of God)
We’re beginning to see that each of the synoptic writers is going to have a different solution to the rather conspicuous problem that it was well known, for instance from Paul, that the historical Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who predicted the immanence of the general resurrection and the Kingdom of God, but the prophecy hadn’t come to fruition. The rejoinder by opponents obviously would have been if Jesus was wrong on such a central issue, why trust his theology at all? For Mark, as I’ve shown, Jesus was mistaken about an immediate apocalypse (not all of you will pass away …), but its okay because Jesus was a fallible human prophet, not the Great Angel of Ehrman’s reading of Paul, so this wrong prediction doesn’t change that Jesus was the agapetos or superlatively beloved of God. This didn’t work for Matthew, so he said the general resurrection did begin with Jesus’ death (the night of the living savior incident), but that the Kingdom would arrive at the completion of the great commission. For Luke, the kingdom of God was inside, even in the hearts of the hard hearted pharisees, so it was realized when the gospel circumcises your heart to reveal to you, not the law of Moses, but the law of agape (selfless love), your ownmost humanity of love of other more than yourself, such as a parent’s love or love of enemy like forgiving Stephen as he is being stoned.
Just as Socrates set out under the divine proclamation he was the wisest person, and his life attests to that, in Mark the question is to see how Jesus is the agapetos, the beloved. As some have noted, in Hebrews we seem to have and early form of the Gethsemanes tradition where Jesus’ desperate prayer is seen as, in a way, answered (take this cup from me, but not your will mine): “7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission (Hebrews 5:7).” Of course, this hermeneutic won’t stand as is, since we know Jesus’ desperate request wasn’t answered the way he asked it. Rather, just as it was the willingness to die of Isaac that was the key, so too did Jesus think God’s plan could be fulfilled without him actually having to die – since surely the specially chosen man of God having the world turn on him would dis-close the dystopia-ness of the world and inspire repentance! So, it would be God sending Elijah, as he was supposed to in the last days to recue him, that would be a catalyst for faith and demonstrate him as the agapetos, the beloved. It was Jesus suffering to awaken guilt and then escaping the cross to demonstrate his being agapetos of God that Jesus after Gethsemane thought was God’s new plan. This is what Jesus thought would inspire faith rather than Jesus dying: “32 Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see ‘and believe’ (Mark 15:32)” ; “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down. (36).” As we saw previously, God didn’t send Elijah and Jesus died, the noble lie by God just meant to ease Jesus’s burden: Easing burdens being one of the traditional traits of God (as was lying on occasion, see 1 Kings).
Another difficulty Mark has to deal with is point that the disciples got violent at the arrest. If it was known by the disciples that Jesus had to suffer or die, there’s no reason the disciples would have attacked the arresting party. But here further compounds this problem: how could Jesus not know about his passion and resurrection, and how could he not have informed the disciples about it? Mark thus posits one of the most ad hoc defenses in Christian history: the messianic secret, which in part means Jesus repeatedly predicted his passion and resurrection in Mark, but the disciples didn’t understand. Is this plausible? “I’ll be dead, then I won’t.”
Goicoechea points out Jesus instructs the disciples to trust in God as a loving father:
- And then he sends the twelve out two by two to proclaim the secret of the kingdom and they are to trust God as a child would trust his beloved Daddy and have no worries about food, money, clothing, where to sleep, etc. and at Mark 6:8–9 (174)
The self-less love of the disciples is indicated in that they go out in poverty, chastity and obedience and with a great childlike trust in their Loving Father to maintain them and that their example will teach others. The people trusted Jesus in this fatherly way, for instance, as the provider of loaves and fishes. Goicoechea comments:
- Agape is a childlike attitude that can live without great concern for it trusts that the Father will take care of us as Jesus shows every time he takes care of others by performing miracles for them. What Jesus does (176)… What Jesus does for those in need teaches us that our God is so loving that we do not have to worry for he came to save the sinners and thus we come to know God through Jesus as a Father who is much more loving toward us than he is always just. In justice we might deserve punishment but our Father overlooks that. (177)
Jesus wants his disciples to love God the pure way a child loves a parent, and to model that for others so they might also experience and operate out of the same agape. Over and over Mark says the disciples’ hearts are hardened and so they are unable to understand, which is obvious satire, but satire with a point. The reader understands perfectly well even though we have a fraction of the exposure to Jesus the disciples have. I talked in previous posts about Markan satire.
The circumcision of the heart with Jesus’ passion/resurrection un-covers the depths of depravity and hence are the catalyst for change. Mark says regarding the heart:
- It is what comes out of someone that makes that person unclean. For it is from within, from the heart, that evil intentions emerge: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within and make a person unclean. (Mark 7:21-23)
What’s the problem? The disciples have heard of the passion/resurrection but haven’t experienced it in all its horror, sorrow, and joy, since Jesus hasn’t died yet, so their hearts remain tainted. And, the words of Jesus’ enemies weighed on the disciples, like that he won’t give a sign to the pharisees, so they could not come to unconditional childlike love. They are still operating out of a penal logic that they will be punished for their sins and so they don’t see God’s agape. They are beginning to see the agape of God that they will be taken care of by God despite the fact they go forth in poverty, chastity and obedience. Jesus teaches agape as altruistic, universal, missionary, celibate, childlike love, but to help the disciples understand he speaks of the eternal, with the resurrection.
Jesus is again called the agapetos by Mark at the transfiguration. The altruistic love is encapsulated in the idea that one must “renounce herself and pick up her cross and follow him,” so that “Anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” Finally, on the last prediction of death and resurrection James and John talk about being on his right and left side in glory so they are becoming aware of an eternal kingdom, but the lampooning here is their understanding completely misses the full point and equates to what any nobody on the street would glean out of listening to Jesus for 2 minutes, not close disciples who followed him for 1 or 3 years. Again, the stress is the crucifixion/resurrection must be enacted by Jesus to have its true force. They are starting to see God’s kingdom of love will be eternal in these apocalyptic end times.
Jesus teaches the importance of prayer to the crowd, namely becoming godly by praying to praise Jesus and God, repent, thank him and make petitions. The disciples grow in their prayer life throughout Mark, such as petitioning to be at Jesus’ right side in glory. But the main issue isn’t just the disciple, but what to do about the dystopian world as a whole.
Jesus gives his central discourse on agape in Mark 12. He says:
- This is the first: Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is the one, only Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You must love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these.
Jesus says the scribes and the Pharisees and the Priests and the Herodians will put him to death, but the scribe he is talking to is won over because the Hebrew scripture also gives primacy to these love commands and the scribe likes this. So, we see the issue of winning hearts without a resurrection, and we will see the crucifixion winning the heart of the soldier at the cross. Jesus will come to emphasize loving neighbor more than himself, but the traditional 2-fold love command is maintained here.
Mark teases us with crucifixion/resurrection predictions time after time, the reader always thinking the disciples will get it this time, always the donkey and the carrot, but as I said Mark’s Jesus will win the faith of the pagan soldier at the cross without needing the resurrection at all – which for Paul, by contrast, was the entire lynchpin. Goicoechea argues for the scribe the love of neighbor might still mean his Jewish people so the altruism and the universalism of this agape is not yet made explicit but that is coming soon.
It is the forgiving Jesus we are going to see on the cross that transfigures the soldier in Luke, but especially in Mark we read “And when you stand in prayer, forgive whatever you have against anybody, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your failings too.” Forgiving sins is the claim, not penal punishing sins. Just as the willingness of Isaac to die resulted in the end of child sacrifice, the willingness of Jesus to die will play an important part. There will be an evolution from the self-interested animal sacrifice of the temple to self-sacrificial love. Jesus tells the parable of the vineyard and of the wicked servants who were taking care of it. It does not say that the owner will punish the wicked tenants he will only take the vineyard from them and give it to others. So Jesus is saying that his father will be merciful to the Jews even if they kill him for the temple will be destroyed but they will not. We have a forgiving God here, not one who is looking to punish sin as penal substitution theorists want. Goicoechea says:
- So these stories are preparing us for the great commandment of Agape in which we are told to love God and our neighbor. Now the neighbor will include the very Romans who destroy Jerusalem once the Zealots begin to revolt thinking that God will be on their side against the Romans but they are to be loved too. (196-7)
NEXT TIME, PART 3/3 OF GOICOECHEA’s BOOK ON MARK, which is sometimes me and sometimes him …
I usually have a cool Scottish graphic at the bottom of the article to link to the scripture study index, but just to switch it up here is Robin Williams with my favorite Scottish humor routine.
COMING TO THE CONCLUSION. ONE MORE POST ON GOICOECHEA’S BOOK ON MARK, THEN THREE ON HIS BOOK ON MATTHEW