Examining Markan Faith

Note: This blog entry was originally a theme paper presented to Dan Jass for a class titled “Self in Community” at Bethel Seminary in August of 2008.

Theme of Faith in Mark

During my reading of the book of Mark, I have found five main examples of faith. This blog post will take a brief look at these examples, and look at how they are reflected in my own understanding of faith. The profiles of faith that are found in Mark are 1) the faith of friends, 2) the unimaginative, 3) the desperate, 4) the unabashed, and 5) the Son.

The faith of the friends is found in Mark 2:3-5. The text simply does not give much detail to this narrative, but what is left unsaid leaves some interesting possibilities. What is immediately noticed in the account is that the one who actually receives the healing doesn’t seem to be the one who is driving the action. The paralytic isn’t insisting that he be taken closer to Jesus; rather, it is the friends who make the decision to do whatever is necessary to effect the alleviation of suffering for their comrade. The simple message in this narrative is that the benefits of faith are worth the costs that might be necessary to obtain them.

Conversely, Jesus seems to be frustrated with His disciples when they do not fully utilize their own faith. I refer to this next narrative as the faith of the unimaginative. It is found in Mark 4:35-41. Apparently, Jesus uses this example of His dominion over nature not to primarily show God’s power (although He does do that as well), but rather to show the disciples that their faith is too limited in scope. The weather conditions seemed to be of no concern to Christ; He slept through the storm! The disciples, however, were too afraid to think through the situation with the eyes of faith. They must have been focused on the storm clouds instead of the fact that Jesus was with them.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and we, the readers, know that Jesus was the Messiah with a mission to complete, which would not come to an end at the bottom of a lake but at the top of a hill. But even though the disciples didn’t have that specific knowledge, they’d seen Jesus do amazing things by faith. Jesus seems to imply that they should have done the speaking to the Father themselves about the storm, and they would have been fine (and let Him sleep).

The woman at the center of the next major account of faith didn’t seem to suffer from the limited faith of the disciples. She was desperate, and her story is found in Mark 5:25-34. This desperate woman knew that she was in trouble, and she believed that her needs for healing would be met by Jesus. Did she know that He was God the Son? The text doesn’t indicate any kind of confessional nature; only that she knew she would be made well. Her actions indicate the urgent nature of her need.

The blind beggar Bartimaeus also had an urgent desire for healing, but where the woman tried to stay unnoticed, the beggar decided to be bold. His narrative is found in Mark 10:46-52. There are a couple of points of note in this narrative; first, Bartimeaus is paying attention, even in the midst of his own infirmity. He is listening, and when he discovers that it is Jesus passing by, he takes the next step. Obviously, this blind man had been keeping his ears open, for news of Jesus’ miracles must have spread far enough throughout the land.

Secondly, Bartimaeus’ faith was not timid; he took a risk. He kept shouting to get Jesus’ attention, and it worked. He has no guarantee of success, but he is willing to risk trouble to gain the possibility of an audience with Jesus. Thirdly, when he was granted that audience, he didn’t hesitate to ask for what he wanted. Bartimaeus doesn’t launch into a lengthy account of his personal history; he simply wants to see again. And when Jesus heals him, we see the fourth point of note: he follows Jesus upon receiving his sight, even though Jesus told him that he could go. There is a connection to Christ with this kind of bold faith.

The connection to God is one that Jesus Himself talks about in the final narrative being examined here, the faith of the Son. It’s found in Mark 11:21-25, and Jesus seems to be talking about the possibilities of faith. The structure of Jesus’ words here reads like rhetoric to me: He seems to be making the point that faith isn’t just for purely spiritual things that have no bearing on the real world. Rather, Jesus points out that faith is a real-world thing, with real world implications. I’m sure that Jesus isn’t advocating the use of faith as the method of geological rearrangement; but He does seem to be saying that the tasks that His followers will face are all sufficiently addressed if done so in faith.

Significance of Faith in Mark

Mark’s theology of faith seems connected to action; the faith shown in the different snapshots is one that makes a difference in everyday life, whether or not it is in the midst of sickness or storm, bleeding or blindness, circumstance or sin. The faith shown in Mark is accessed by people, but provided by God. God is the one in whom the power rests, so that any necessary action is able to be taken for the glory of God.

Implications of Markan Faith in Life

I understand that Faith as shown in Mark underscores the need for faith to be an every day, immediately accessible reality. It cannot just be a matter of the mind (although it is that as well); faith needs to be lived out in the daily grind, mixing with the sweat of work, the tears of sadness, the goosebumps of fear, and the flush of joy. The people of God are to live a life of partnership with God – “whatever you ask for in prayer… it will be yours”. Not that God is a slot machine for our own petty wants, but rather that God is a good Father who delights in meeting the needs of His children.

God values US. It’s not about our ability to follow correctly or not; we already know that God gave His Son for us, so that we could be reconciled to God. This isn’t due to any inherently good nature in us, or any built-in ability to please God; rather, God has chosen to save us based on who HE is, not who we are. And the Markan accounts of faith reinforce that picture of a good God who desires to bless those whom He has created.

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