We have been working on a Bible study of the Gospel of Mark at our little church in Granite Falls. Last year we did a study that was written by an international organization. This year, our Pastor and his wife put the study together. I have to say, I think this year's study is far more challenging. It makes me think in more depth and asks questions that I don't find in the black and white of my Scriptures. I have to try to get inside the head of Mark, who was talking to the Romans about 2,000 years ago. That's not an easy thing for this sometimes pre-occupied American Christian of 2008, often hindered by assumptions and cultural blindnesses!
The weird thing is, I get something almost physical in my frustration for the answer, a burning...not anxiety...more like an intensity...I almost think a tree must feel pain as it puts out a new shoot! How frustrating, that even when I have the answer perhaps, I am not sure, because it is not found in the lettering in the Bible. "Why does Mark include John the Baptist in his account?" Those types of questions. It won't be found spelled out in Mark 1:anything. Mark doesn't say, "Okay, the reason I'm including this is because you need to know (the mysterious reason included here)...." He doesn't spell it out for us, he just assumes that the reader is benefiting from his writing, that it performs the purpose for which God sent it, and that we understand...a "let the reader understand," "for those who have ears, let them hear" approach. Okay. Let the reader understand, is right!
So I ponder who John is talking to, where he heads with the gospel, the context of John the Baptist's story, how much of it is included, why he left out some that the other gospel writers included. It gets me perplexed next by the questions that they haven't yet asked, and I ask myself--or that were brought up at Bible study night by fellow students: How the account of John's death is inserted where it doesn't really belong. Why there hardly seems to be a response, a reaction, to the fact that he died. Those kinds of things. They flap at me when I read through the pages of Mark, and when I'm "done" and going about my day.
This is not the way I'm used to studying the Bible. If I find the answers written in the Scriptures, I'm satisfied. I found the answer. I wrote it down. On to the next one, or emptying the dishwasher. But with these, even if I write down an answer, is it really the answer? What was Mark thinking? I never met the guy. I don't know his culture. I don't know the people he wrote about (except, of course, Jesus)...so I am at a disadvantage. I write down an answer, but that doesn't mean I'm finished. It trails around after me, flapping irritatingly, like a sticky note stuck to my sole, making me doubt myself and wonder what the "right" answer would be and whether anyone really knows. Why do they have to make the questions so perplexing?
But I think I'll get more out of this study because of those very things. I think it will teach me to look beyond the page at the culture, the writer, the social context, the purpose, the things that I generally expect to pass over in my reading because they're a bit beyond me. The big picture that isn't spelled out, the meaning and reasoning that is elusive, the stuff that scholars figure out and write so that we can just read and learn about them and have it all fed to us in a matter of minutes and assume that it's true and right and good, because a scholar said so. I think it's more beneficial to the believer, when the brain cells hit a wall and have to probe to find a way through it. I'm glad to be where I am, even though right now you could say that it's a bit painful and humbling. I think I have about 6 nasty little sticky notes flailing around behind me.