26 May 2021
Bible month - 30 days with Mark
Bible Month has become an annual highlight in the Methodist Church calendar. Each year, you and your church are invited to join the rest of the Connexion in digging deep into a particular book of the Bible over four weeks. This year we are looking at Mark’s Gospel with the help of ‘30 Days with Mark’, which has been written by Dr Kent Brower (Bible notes) with the Revd Michael Parsons (small group study guides) and Dr Paula Gooder (reflection).
Ahead of Bible Month, Michael Wadsworth considers Mark’s Gospel and what it asks of us as disciples of Christ.
Who is Jesus? That is the question that lies at the heart of Mark’s gospel. And is there a more important question for us to engage with as Christians?
Who is this man that we have chosen to put our faith in? This enigmatic, story-telling, miracle working, establishment-challenging, worldview re-writing, death-embracing, carpenter-come-prophet-priest-king-God-man?
Who have others told me he is? Who do I think he is? What difference might who he is – and is not - make to the world, to my religion, to me? What does it mean for me to be associated with him? What does it look like to follow him? Is he mad? Is he trustworthy? Could it really be that he is… as he seems to imply… God?!
These are the questions Mark’s Gospel wants us - even forces - us to wrestle with.
Don’t get me wrong, Mark offers us plenty of answers to these questions. The writer has a very clear opinion and agenda. But rather than write a systematic treatise, he wants to propel us into water-cooler conversations, fireside chats, pub-ponderings and cup-of-tea musings. He brilliantly and cleverly threads stories together, giving voice to different characters’ testimonies, letting us hear reflections on the questions above from Jesus’ close relatives and friends, various Jews and gentiles, social elites and societal outcasts, religious and political authorities, even demons! And as we engage with the reflections of these characters, we cannot help but find ourselves engaging in reflections of our own.
Once upon a time, I thought of Mark as a straight-forward, down the line, easy to understand biography of Jesus. And, on one level, it is. But the more I read, the more I find myself beautifully discombobulated and faithfully fascinated. The more I reflect on the stories, the more subtle details I discover. I keep seeing all these allusions to the Old Testament that leave me diving down bible-study rabbit warrens in search of what Mark might be trying to tell me. I keep noticing ways in which his seemingly unrelated episodes are actually meticulously connected to each other, which sends me in search of ‘textual-sandwiches’ that might help me better grasp his meaning. I keep thinking that maybe, like Peter, I don’t actually fully understand what’s going on at the transfiguration, or when Jesus talks about the yeast of the Pharisees, or what to do about the fact that the grave stands empty.
And in these moments, I realise that Mark has enabled me to become a disciple. One who has seen and heard something of Jesus and is wanting to explore more. One who both gets and does not get who Jesus is and what it means to follow him. One who is simultaneously challenged, comforted, and confused by what Jesus says and does. And as I read Mark I am wonderfully affirmed in my discipleship. I am told that my lack of certainty does not mean a lack of faith. My failure to fully understand does not mean I am not welcome to journey with the rabbi and ask my questions. The fact that at times I spectacularly mess up and miss the point appears to be the mark of Mark’s disciples.
And this is the good news that Mark actually wants to tell us. Yes, he wants to tell us all about the Jesus who is the Christ and the son of God. But, more than that, he wants us to know that we are invited. We are invited to explore Jesus for ourselves: to discover who he is, what he says and does and what that might mean for us today. We are invited to listen, read, wrestle, question, have a go and get things wrong, and reflect and discuss together in the process of faithful exploration.
This is the invitation we want to say yes to as a Connexion this June. You and your church are invited to join us too.
May this Bible Month be one in which you find yourself encountering the gospel afresh. May you discover a space to ask your questions, share your reflections, and feel affirmed and accepted as a disciple. And may you develop a deep curiosity and excitement for the life-long journey of faith in which we are invited to continually reflect, hone and live out our response to that most-important of all questions: who is Jesus?
Michael Wadsworth is a Learning & Development Officer for the Eastern Region
For more information about Bible Month and to access a host of resources and training opportunities visit www.methodist.org.uk/biblemonth.