Warning: This is a dry, dusty old seminary term paper…but grappling with some foundational, mind-blowing stuff worth revisiting and sharing. –JB
In the introduction to his massive commentary on the second gospel, R.H. Gundry contends that “the Gospel of Mark contains…no riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma…Mark’s meaning lies on the surface. He writes a straightforward apology for the Cross.”
However, the next 1,000 plus pages of commentary seems hardly the evidence of a “straightforward apology for the Cross,” but rather the product of years of painstaking scholarship in quest of unwrapping a tightly coiled “riddle.” While “straightforward” may be a bit misleading, Gundry rightly identifies the cross at the heart of Mark’s message.
But what was the significance of Jesus’ humiliating death in his self-understanding, life and mission and what is the significance of the cross in the broader thematic structuring of Mark’s narrative?
This series of posts will explore such questions by examining one of the most illuminating, yet controversial passages in Mark concerning the meaning and significance of the cross—namely, Mark 10:45:
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (NIV).
Do we have here the product of a post-Easter interpretation of Jesus’ death by the evangelist’s own Hellenized Jewish-Christian community? Or were these the authentic words of Jesus who, steeped in the prophetic writings of the OT, was consciously fulfilling OT expectations that foresaw a suffering messiah who would give his life as a ransom for many? I agree with those who take Isaiah 52-53 to be the principal background of Mark 10:45 and the servant motif as an integral part of Jesus’ self-understanding of his messianic mission. What, then, has caused interpreters so much confusion and disagreement over this passage?
I propose that much of the misunderstanding and misinterpretation has resulted from three errors:
1. The problem of restricting Jesus’ self-identity to only one major OT messianic figure against others (be it the Danielic “Son of Man” figure or the Isaianic Servant of YHWH) and neglecting to see Jesus’ self-identification as more elastic, at times harmonizing several OT hopes together in new and paradoxical ways (i.e. suffering into glory), and allowing for some radical reinterpretations and redefinitions.
2. A failure of many to place Jesus’ words and actions within its proper OT background, especially the permeating Isaianic influence behind the structure of Mark’s gospel. 3. Letting semantic intricacies overshadow the larger idea that shines clearly forth in light of the broader context and OT mindset of Jesus. I will argue my case in the next three posts.