A Deconstructionist's Bible Study
What is a Deconstructionist’s Bible Study?
When I began to think the Bible didn’t say what “they” said it said, I began searching different voices and perspectives. I listened to Catholics, Anglicans, Jewish scholars, feminists, womanists, queers. I read from the work of Native Americans, blacks, Latinos.
Slowly, my old biblical framework began to fall apart. And a kinder, more hopeful and more exciting message began to emerge.
This is the place I share what I learned, what I am continuing to learn.
Why study the Gospel of Mark?
A study of Jesus is imperative to understanding our humanity, who God is, and interpreting the rest of Scripture. Biblical interpretation without Jesus is dangerous to the whole of creation, as many are now seeing in our political, social and natural environments.
Many years ago, I began studying Mark’s Gospel in depth because it is the shortest book about Jesus. To be frank, I figured I would be more likely to finish the whole of it, all 16 chapters. Though I have studied all of Mark to the end, to my dismay and delight, I have learned that I will never be “finished.” There is always more to discover, and that is an endless source of delight for all of us.
I deliberately studied Mark separately from Matthew, Luke and John, hoping to learn from Mark’s unique perspective. What stories does he tell? Why? How does he interpret Jesus’ life?
Who is Mark?
We don’t know with certainty who this gospel writer is. The Gospel itself does not tell us, and its title was attached much later by the church. Was he a Jew or a Gentile? Did he write the gospel from Rome or Jerusalem? Was he a he at all?
Early church tradition teaches that the gospel writer is the Mark who served as Peter’s interpreter and secretary, making this Gospel essentially based on the stories Peter lived and told to Mark. However, Mark is a common name of the time. Some believe that the John Mark mentioned in Acts is the gospel writer. Paul also mentions a Mark in several of his letters. Are all these referencing the same man and the gospel writer?
There are many scholarly opinions and scraps of evidence, but the evidence is slim and views are speculative.
For ease of our study, we will continue to refer to the author as Mark.
What most scholars do agree on – Mark’s Gospel is the oldest Gospel, written in Koine Greek, the language common among the tradesmen, not the literary scholars of the day. It was likely written sometime during Nero’s persecutions between AD 64-70.
What does Mark say?
Mark writes his story in hindsight, likely some 30 years after Jesus’ death. He introduces his readers to Jesus, identifying him as the expected Messiah who will bring God’s Kingdom. He quickly moves the story to the people who meet Jesus – those who follow him without fully understanding who he is, those who reject him, those who challenge him, those who try to change him.
Along the way, Jesus’ identity is partly concealed both purposely by Jesus himself and also by the obstinacy and resistance of his listeners. Indeed, one wonders if Jesus conceals his identity in order to avoid conflict that will hinder his teachings. Jesus’ identity and purpose is revealed in layers of stories and his attentions to people and not fully unveiled until the crucifixion. And the church has been arguing about it ever since.
We are left with the feeling that faith, like this revelation, is a continuing, slow process like a seed being planted, sprouting, growing, and putting forth fruit, an image Jesus references many times when talking about the kingdom of God.
Mark’s Gospel focuses on suffering people. It is unusual in that the lowest people are elevated, and the Kingdom of God comes simply through people loving each other. Through the story, Jesus prepares his followers, flawed and frail humanity, to continue his work -- to feed his sheep, to heal, to cast out demons, to live in a way of love that will ultimately threaten the most powerful might in the world, the Roman Empire.
Because only Love will conquer the Empire. Only Love will conquer abusive Power, Greed, Hunger, War, Suffering, Loneliness.
Pay attention to the people with no name, the people pushed to the margins, the ignored, the scorned. Mark does.
The nameless and vulnerable have the insight to see who Jesus is. The religious leaders of the faith community should have listened to them. Will we learn to do better today? Will our faith leaders finally learn to listen to the vulnerable and powerless? Will our leaders learn to wonder at their own blindness and begin to ask if those they disagree with are right?
Only when you and I ask ourselves these questions will we learn what it means to create community, to work toward the Kingdom of God. Who do we push to the margins of our lives? Who do we ignore? Who do we scorn? Who disturbs our comfort and why?
Mark invites us to ask these questions.