For the Son of Man did not come to be served,
but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.
A Jesus who grieves? Gets angry? Refuses to help a foreigner? Welcome to the Gospel of Mark.
The Gospel according to Mark depicts an amazingly human Jesus. Mark directly shows his impatience and his compassion— he demands that onlookers give a recently healed girl something to eat (5:43)! Yet, oddly, after performing such signs, Jesus asks that everyone keep it a secret (as if wanting each to decide for his or her self about him). Mark also shows that Jesus doesn’t always get it right the first time. He rejects the request of a foreigner for healing, consenting only after she rebukes him (8:24-29).
The gospel of Mark is short — less than 700 verses, and has simple, direct language. Written in Greek less than a generation after Jesus’ death and resurrection, it reads like the author knew Jesus, and for centuries Christians thought that it was written by John Mark, a follower of Peter, Jesus’ closest friend. Nowadays scholars say it was probably handed down orally from a community facing ill-treatment both from Roman authorities and from Jews opposed to Jesus.
The first half of the book focuses on Jesus’ time in Galilee and on his amazing deeds there, curing those diseased and possessed (1:20-34; 1:40-2:12), calming angry seas (4:35-41). He teaches with authority about the kingdom of God, tells stories and parables, and (sometimes impatiently) translates them for his listeners (4:10-35).
The second half of the Gospel focuses on Jesus’ road to Jerusalem (8:22-10:52), where he will face suffering and death. He struggles against human naysayers and cosmic demonic forces. He is, for Mark, the Suffering Messiah, revealing that the Son of Man will be rejected and killed. (8:31). And he tells his followers that to follow him is to follow him in trust (a recurring theme) and in service to others— and that the way will lead them to the humiliation of the cross. Yet the book does not end with humiliation but with resurrection (at least a hint of it in the earliest versions).
The emphasis on suffering and service would have resonated with Mark’s audience— outsiders to both Jews and the pagan Romans, they needed to be equipped to face the temptation to abandon Christianity. Mark was to teach them perseverance (since Christ suffered, why would they escape?) and to live according to Jesus’ teaching.