Mark: The Gospel of Passion by Michael Card. InterVarsity Press. 2012. 206 pages.
The second book in Michael Card’s Biblical Imagination Series (the first was 2011’s Luke: The Gospel of Amazement) is on the Gospel of Mark, the topic of Michael’s Biblical Imagination Conference at Christ Church in March, 2012. It is dedicated to his late mentor William Lane. Matthew: The Gospel of Fulfillment will follow in 2013 and John: The Gospel of Amazement in 2014.
In discussing biblical imagination, Michael writes: “When we imagine, what are we actually doing? I don’t pretend to fully understand the mystery of the human heart, but I believe that when we imagine, something is taking place in our hearts. Our minds are working with our hearts to create images (hence image-nation). But the heart and mind must work in concert; they must be connected by a bridge. This bridge is the imagination. It connects the heart and mind. It seeks to reintegrate and reconnect after the fragmentation brought about by the Fall. An imagination that has been surrendered to God for this process of listening to the Scriptures is what I call the “biblical imagination.”
To describe his Biblical Imagination Series, he writes: “This volume is the second in a series that intends to overview all four Gospels. It is an attempt to model this approach of “engaging with the Scriptures at the level of the informed imagination.” It is not an academic commentary, although I make use of the best academic commentaries. Neither is it a devotional commentary, though I hope it leads to a deeper devotion in those who read it. I intend to take seriously the author of each of the Gospels insofar as their individual backgrounds
shape the text. We will compare what is unique about each account, always mindful of the flow of Jesus’ ministry. I also hope to present relevant historical backgrounds where they are illuminating. Most of all, I hope these books will be seen as an invitation to an ongoing conversation, hopefully to many conversations.”
Michael writes that Mark is the shortest gospel, but not necessarily because of any lack of detail. This could be called the Gospel of Peter, as Mark is simply recording what Peter remembers. More than any other Gospel it presents the emotional life of Jesus, lifted from the imagination of Peter himself, no stranger to the emotional. (Note: Michael’s 2006 book on Peter was titled A Fragile Stone: The Emotional Life of Simon Peter).
Michael writes that in Mark’s Gospel we should be prepared to meet a Jesus who shocks us and fails to meet our expectations. This was the experience of everyone who came close to him.
As far as the context, Michael writes that Mark is speaking to us from the midst of a crisis in Rome, which is reason enough for the sense of immediacy and haste that permeates his Gospel. In fact, Michael calls “euthos” translated as “immediately” Mark’s favorite word. We find it for the first time in Mark 1:10. He will use it eleven times in the first chapter alone. Michael states that it is the verbal razor blade he uses for the quick cuts of his fast-paced portrayal of Jesus’ life.
Jesus’ first words in the gospel are “The time has come” (Mark 1:15). Michael writes that in any well-told story, the opening words of the central character set the tone and direction for the rest of the narrative. Jesus has come and issued his call, his command. Michael states that “If you and I are engaged in listening to the
Gospel of Mark, we will take our places beside Peter, Andrew, James and John and decide, in the framework of this supreme moment, how we will respond”.
As he mentioned in the conference, here Michael writes that if you take a red-letter edition of the Gospel of Mark and time yourself reading only Jesus’ words, the total amounts to slightly more than twenty minutes.
The total time to read Mark’s Gospel is an hour and a half. In the conference Michael challenged us to read the Bible in large chunks.
One of the things I most appreciate about Michael is the insights he brings to the text. For example:
• “Jesus senses what some of the scribes are thinking to themselves. (This is almost always a bad thing in the Gospels, see Luke 12:17)”.
• Jesus will refer to himself by the mysterious title “Son of Man” fourteen times in the Gospel of Mark.
• Mark makes it clear on more than one occasion that Jesus did not come just to give His gifts. He came to give Himself.
• “Jesus always calls upon his disciples to do the impossible; to forgive without limit, to love their enemies.
His impossible commands force us to learn to depend totally on Him. His call is always precisely to the level of our inadequacy”.
• Of all Peter experienced with Jesus, the transfiguration is the only event he refers to in his writings. He understood that he had witnessed a picture of the coming kingdom (2 Peter 1:17-18).
• Mark’s method is not to tell us everything he knows, but only what we need to know.
As I read the book and listened to the new CD Mark: The Beginning of the Gospel, I enjoyed the connection between the two. For example, one of Michael’s new songs is “At His Feet”. He writes that three people fall at his feet – a frantic demon-possessed man, a dying woman and a fearful father. He writes that all find exactly what they need at Jesus’ feet.
Picking up on another theme that appears on the new album is that of asking for something that is not deserved.
He writes: “There is always a miracle behind the miracle. In this exchange it is the persistent faith of the Gentile woman that is miraculous. Without realizing it she has asked for something she does not deserve.
She has asked for mercy”.
If you want to continue what you began with the Biblical Imagination Series conference on the Gospel of Mark, read this book. Michael will continue the Biblical Imagination Series with books on the Gospel of Matthew
– The Gospel of Fulfillment in 2013 and John – The Gospel of Wisdom in 2014.