27 January 2016

Mark 6:1-6

“And they took offence at him.” (v. 3)

Psalm: Psalm 22:1-21


The language of 'scandal' is scattered across the pages of the New Testament. But it's easy to miss it in translation. Trap, snare, stumbling block, offence, scandal are all renderings of the Greek language of 'skandalon'. Its meaning isn't conveyed by the English notion of 'scandal' or 'offence' alone.

In his 1994 book The Scandal of the Gospels, David McCracken argues for the importance of scandal in people's responses to Jesus. The language of 'skandalon' occurs throughout the Gospels and the Epistles. It's used repeatedly at key moments by Jesus, all the Gospel writers, Paul. But because it is translated into such a variety of English terms, its centrality in the story of Jesus can easily get lost.

McCracken suggests that 'skandalon' has to do with "the challenge to the individual's most fundamental and cherished beliefs" that encounter with Jesus can provoke. It leads some to reject him, and some to be transformed. For the people of Jesus' home town, it was the contrast between the carpenter's son that they thought they knew, and wisdom and deeds of power of his prophetic ministry. In Jesus' teaching, assumptions are overturned by the first being last (Mark 9:35), the prostitutes preceding the religious elites into the kingdom (Luke 7:36-50), the 99 sheep deserted for the sake of the lost one (Luke 15:3-6). For Paul it was the 'skandalon' of the cross, and the work of God being accomplished in apparent defeat and weakness - what Rowan Williams calls (in his book A Ray of Darkness) the difference between "the God we expect and the God who comes".

To Ponder

  • How do you respond to the notion of the gospel as 'skandalon'?
  • What kinds of assumptions and fundamental beliefs do you think Jesus challenges?
  • Is it possible to 'know Jesus too well' - so that encounter with him is no longer transforming?

Bible notes author

The Revd Carole Irwin

Carole is a presbyter in the Methodist Church. She has served in circuits in Folkestone and Bradford, and is currently Director of Studies at Wesley House, Cambridge.