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  • Writer's pictureScott Carr, Jr.

Mark's Apology for the Cross in 21st-Century Ministry

I find the thesis that Mark’s Gospel functions primarily as an apology for the cross convincing. Mark’s narrative is marked by misunderstanding. The disciples and the religious leaders consistently miss the significance of Jesus’ words and actions. It is only near the end of the story that a character grasps who Jesus is. A Roman centurion looks up at the dead body of Jesus, nailed to a cross, and says, ““Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Mark 15:39 NRSV). In ch. 16, the women who witness Jesus’ empty tomb and Jesus’ disciples are sent back to Galilee, back to the beginning. Now that the cross has occurred and his tomb has been found empty, it’s time to review the story, this time with the keys to understanding Jesus. His life, teachings, and identity are only understood through the lens of the cross. Mark’s focus on the cross is vital for 21st-century ministry in North America. Jesus is commonly disconnected from the cross in the modern church and Jesus is consequently misunderstood. A prosperity Gospel or a mere social gospel maintains modern values of consumerism, power, and political agendas. The Gnosticizing-tendencies of conservatism disconnects the death of Jesus from the rest of his life and teaching, consequently disconnecting him from the concerns of day to day life. Instead, he becomes “the way to heaven”. Mark’s Jesus constantly subverts the values of our society. Jesus remains part of the world around us, constantly challenging it, subverting it, and transforming it. The call to modern pastors is to preach the cross as the call to discipleship in our present age. As comemntator Robert Gundry says, “So this gospel is for people who are afraid to believe in a world that despises weakness and esteems power. The Jesus of Mark is overpowering. Let the weak find in him their champion, the strong their conqueror” (1026).

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