I asked God to help me discover my focus for Mark since it is so economical in language.
Fresh off my reader-response of Matthew in which I was a bit taken aback by the fortitude of Jesus’ frustration and anger, I dug into the book of Mark with a focus on Jesus as fully human and fully divine and what the former means.
Jesus was God, yes. But he was also human. In his fleshy body with penetrable skin and human perceptions, senses, and emotions, Jesus endured every difficult thing a human can endure.
In other words, there is nothing you and I will go through that Jesus hasn’t already been through in human form.
Drawing from Matthew and Mark, I found several examples of Jesus facing mortal difficulties:
- If you endure discomfort, remember that Jesus had very little physical comfort in a given day:
Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”Matthew 8.20
In his adult years, Jesus had no true home, no bed of his own, no soft pillows. He must have endured physical discomfort for the majority of each day— long traveling days (often on foot), long stretches between meals, and uncomfortable sleeping accommodations.
It gives me pause to complain of the car being too hot or having to eat leftovers too many times in a row.
- If you feel frustrated, remember Jesus’ frustration with the faithless:
When the Pharisees demanded proof of his divinity, Jesus “sighed deeply in his spirit and said, ‘Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation”Mark 8.12
“O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?”Mark 9.19
We see an even greater frustration—eliciting even more than a sigh—when Jesus happened upon an argument between a crowd and his disciples and spoke these harsh words:
Biblical scholars are divided on the exact object of his frustration; some say he is frustrated with the disciples for not being able to execute the power he has imparted in them, perhaps due to doubt or faithlessness. Others posit that he is frustrated with the scribes for challenging the authority of the disciples and delighting in their inability to help the boy.
Regardless of the exact source, Jesus was frustrated with the scene, and put this frustration into words, into an exclamation, much like I might gripe “seriously?!” at my kids for making a mess in the house.
I’m not saying it is the right response in my case, but it is indeed human.
- If you are grieving, think of how Jesus must have grieved when John the Baptist was beheaded:
“Now when Jesus heard [of John’s death], he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself”Matthew 14.13
John the Baptist must have been special to Jesus; in fact, they had a divine connection as far back as the womb: Elizabeth (John the Baptist’s mother, pregnant with him) says to Mary (Jesus’ mother, pregnant with him) “But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1: 43-44).
And we know that John the Baptist humbly baptizes Jesus as seen in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
In his human form, Jesus’ heart must have ached to hear of John’s brutal and senseless execution. Jesus needed to be away from people. He needed a respite from his regular work. He needed time to (assumedly) pray through his grief.
If grief disrupts your normal routine, you are not alone. Jesus was there, too.
- If you are angry, remember Jesus’ anger that flipped tables in the temple:
Jesus “entered the temple…and overturned the tables of the money-changers… he was saying to them, ‘is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? But you have made it a den of robbers.’”Mark 12.17
Imagine that— Jesus feeling so angry that he grabbed the side of the tables and upheaved them— sending money raining down on the temple floor like weighty, hostile raindrops. The noise must have been loud; the scene must have been a spectacle to behold.
As a mom of three boys, we navigate the anger-with-destruction impulses on a daily basis. The important difference here is that Jesus was defending his Father’s sacred space—he had a righteous reason for his destruction. And so I hope I can help my boys learn how to manage their everyday emotions, but I want to remind them that a passionate love for God may in fact result in feelings of anger to those who desecrate His name.
- If you are anxious, remember the anguish Jesus felt anticipating his death:
“And they went to the place called Gesthemane… and [Jesus] began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death”… and going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him”Mark 14. 32-35
I have not faced imminent death, but I have felt anxious desperation on more than one occasion. Genetically wired for anxiety, I had intense phobias as a child coupled with a nervous stomach. Unfortunately, like those who suffer from major depressive disorder, my anxiety disorder is something the ebbs and flows and will be with me my whole life.
In my mid-twenties, I endured my first major anxious season that truly knocked me off my feet. Though often set off by major life changes, a debilitating anxious season has presented itself every 2-3 years since the initial one in my twenties. A season will be replete with feelings of panic, excessive worry, and irrational fears that I can’t shake. The most recent season was accompanied by physical tremors that doctors are still investigating.
I have often asked God why I have been stuck with with this incredibly difficult condition. As you might imagine, that that question doesn’t really get me anywhere. We live in a broken world, a fallen world. A world of sickness, of loss, and of evil. None of us have perfect bodies, nor will we, while we remain on earth.
A better question for me to ask God is “how can my condition serve others?” So far, the answer I have gotten is— share your story. So here I am, sharing in a macro sense. Next month, when I meditate on Luke, I will be sharing more in a more detailed, micro, sense. Can you tell that I am the daughter of an economist?
All this to say, Jesus experienced anticipatory fear and anguish in the garden of Gesthemane, and so he knows how excruciating anxiety can be.
- If you feel betrayed, remember the ultimate betrayal set off by a kiss on Jesus’ cheek:
“And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard.’ And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, ‘Rabbi!’ And he kissed him. And they laid hands on him and seized him”Mark 14.43-46
- If you suffer any kind of embarrassment or humiliation, remember how Jesus was publicly mocked with scorn:
“And [the soldiers] clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. And they began to salute him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!” And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to them”Mark 15. 16-19
- If you feel overlooked/uncared for, remember how the soldiers cared only for garnering Jesus’ clothes as soon as they put him on the cross:
“And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take”Mark 15.25
- If you are suffering from a painful ailment, remember the physical torture Jesus’ endured on the day of his crucifixion
“[They] filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink…And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last”Mark 15.37
- If you have ever been upset by what God has allowed to happen, Jesus has been there, too:
“And at the ninth hour, Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”Mark 15.34
Though Jesus cries out with a question to God, scholars seem to think that Jesus is not truly confused as to what is happening. Jesus knew the prophecies and knew that his death had to take place to satisfy God’s wrath for the sins of his people. Rather than pouring out his wrath on the people, on you and me, Jesus took it all.
So the cry to God is more likely a cry of distress—a cry of his human body enduring such pain, such torture. It’s an expression to God of the horror he is enduring. We humans have felt and lived that sentence: this is horrible, God.
I was interested to learn that these exact words were written in Psalm 22.1 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?”
It may be that Jesus intended to say the second part of that verse wondering how much longer his groaning would continue. But he probably did not have the strength for another spoken word.
In fact, in doing some light research, I learned that in order to exhale while nailed to the cross, one would have to push one’s body upward. Uttering words would fall into that same category. I wonder if he pushed his body up to deliver the first line but had no strength for more.
It is utterly devastating to thing of Jesus in that moment. And yet, all of the hard things Jesus went through ended. He suffers no more.
And they were not for naught. Jesus’ short, difficult life was redeemed infinitely.
Anything we face will end. Anything we endure, Jesus has been there before us— he is there with us. He knows how hard it is.
And God can use hard things for good even if we can’t yet see the good.
with His love,