The following essay was written for the Gospel of Mark class I took last summer. Although all of the classes I’ve taken have been life-changing in their own way, this is definitely one of my favorite classes to-date. It taught me how to read the Bible slowly and dig a jewel out of even the most over-memorized passage; how to see the Kingdom mentality woven throughout the Gospels; and how to recognize the inherent literary quality and unique personality of each Gospel, among other things. It was also one of the first classes where I got an opportunity to speak and begin practicing preaching, so that was memorable for me. Since I received a good response to my essays, I wanted to share them here. Enjoy!
The Gospel of Mark is well-known for being the shortest gospel, containing only approximately 11,000 words (John, the next shortest gospel, is over 15,000). This brevity carries over into the style of writing John-Mark uses; his language is sharp and succinct, almost to the point of being aggressive. The stories are delivered without filler, connected by constant cries for urgency.
After a one-sentence salutation in which John-Mark declares his purpose without shame or ceremony (“The good news of Jesus Christ—the Message!—starts here.” Mark 1:1 MSG), John-Mark launches “immediately” into the baptism of Jesus by John. John-Mark feels no need to flatter Jesus with any introduction or genealogies. In the apostle’s mind, God’s statement of honor speaks for itself.
John-Mark then records a trifecta of events which prove Jesus’ claim to honor. By the end of the first chapter, we have witnessed Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, one of His sermons in the synagogue, and a healing. These three events work together to prove that Jesus carries His Father’s authority in all things and is who He says He is. It also sets the tone for the rest of the gospel; John-Mark will have a unique focus on the power of Jesus Christ as demonstrated through His miracles.
But before this whirlwind ministry gets underway, John-Mark pauses and relays a more personal story: the calling of the first four apostles. Since tradition states that John-Mark was a close associate of Peter, and his gospel was based off of the sermons and teachings of Peter, we can assume that John-Mark had heard this story many times and may have even had a private attachment to it. Nevertheless, John-Mark does not linger sentimentally on this story; Jesus gives Peter, Andrew, James, and John the call, and they “immediately” answer.
In reality, the situation was probably more nuanced than it appears in Scripture. Scholars assume that Peter and his associates were aware of Jesus prior to this event; it is possible that they were already followers of His teaching, or had even met Him. There were also likely cultural factors at play that did not survive translation. But I personally like to imagine that this encounter was just as abrupt as John-Mark makes it sound: Jesus interrupted their daily life without warning, and they had the choice to leave all and follow Him or continue with life as they knew it.
And perhaps, given the tone of John-Mark’s writing, that’s exactly the emotion he wanted to convey.
We don’t know if any other dialog was exchanged between Jesus and His newly-recruited disciples, or if they had received previous signs or urgings from God’s spirit. Even if there was, John-Mark feels no need to record it. In his mind, the situation is a simple one: Jesus has given us a call to leave our mundane life and serve Him, and we have the choice to either accept or stay in the boat. There may not be ceremony, there may not be much explanation, and the shift in our life will be sudden, dramatic, and costly. But if we look for gentle introductions and resist sudden moves of God, we may never get out of the boat—and miss our opportunity to be part of the movement of God.
Let us take a lesson from John-Mark’s succinct style and be prepared to jump out of the boat “immediately” upon getting the call—no matter how sudden it may be.