Posted October 18, 2005
Book: The Beginning of the Gospel: Introducing the Gospel According to Mark
Author: Eugene La Verdiere
Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, pp. 237
An Excerpt from the Jacket:
Mark wrote “the beginning of the Gospel” for Christians who thought it was
the end. For that he told them a story of another time when Jesus’ disciples
thought it was the end but turned out to be the beginning. That is why the
passion-resurrection of Jesus dominates the Gospel according to Mark.
Using rhetorical and literary analysis, Father La Verdiere introduces Mark’s
story as the beginning of the Gospel as we enter a new millennium.
An Excerpt from the Book:
Lack of Understanding (8:16-21)
The disciples did not understand Jesus’ warning about the leaven of
Pharisees and the leaven of Herod (8:15). Nor did they understand the
meaning of the one loaf they had in the boat (8:14). They concluded that
Jesus was warning them about having no bread.
The passage continues with a series of rhetorical questions (8:17-18a),
flowing directly from Jesus’ warning about the leaven of the Pharisees and
the leaven of Herod and the disciples lack of understanding. Jesus begins
by questioning their conclusion: “Why do you conclude that it is because you
have no bread? Do you not understand or comprehend? Are your hearts
hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear? (8:17-18a).
The question, “Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?” evokes
Pay attention to this,
foolish and senseless people
Who have eyes and see not,
who have ears and hear not.
It also recalls Mark’s quotation of Isaiah in 4:12 concerning those who do
not understand Jesus’ parables:
They may look and see but not perceive
and hear and listen but not understand,
in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven.
Jesus’ warning summarizes the challenges facing the disciples in this part
of the Gospel. The leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod would
have separated them from the mission of Jesus. It would have transformed
them into outsiders. Like Jesus’ relatives, they would not have been able to
enter Jesus’ home and join both Jews and Gentiles at his table.
Jesus’ next two questions referred to the breaking of the bread for the five
thousand (6:34-44) and the breaking of the bread for the four thousand
(8:1-9). Jesus first asked them to remember the fragments left over when he
broke the five loaves for the five thousand: “And do you not remember, when
I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many wicker baskets full
of fragments you picked up?” (8:18b-19b). Jesus did not ask about the
breaking of the bread itself. He asked about the leftovers. They answered,
“Twelve” (8:19b) With that, they should have understood. Twelve baskets for
the Twelve! Twelve baskets for the universal Church!
Jesus then asked the disciples to remember the fragments left over when he
broke the five loaves for the four thousand: “When I broke the seven loaves
for the four thousand, how many full baskets of fragments dd you pick up?
(8:20a). Again Jesus did not ask about the breaking of the bread itself. He
asked about the leftovers. They answered, “Seven”. With that, they should
have understood. Seven baskets for Seven! Seven baskets for the Church among
the Gentiles (see Acts 6:1-7)
Jesus concludes with a final rhetorical question: “Do you still not
understand?” With that, Mark introduces the second part of the Gospel, where
Jesus would open the eyes of the blind and speak plainly about hs passion
and resurrection. At the Last Supper, Jesus would declare that the bread he
broke was his very body. With that, the disciples would understand. But did
the Church in Mark’s time understand? They too have to remember about the
leftovers, the one loaf in the boat, and the body of Christ.
Table of Contents:
1. Title and Preface
2. Prologue, the Gospel in Minature
3. Part One, Jesus and the mystery of the Kingdom of God
4. Section I, Jesus and the first disciples
5. Section II, Jesus and the Twelve
6. Section III, Jesus and the mission of the Twelve