Reversal In Mark’s Gospel: Studies in Mark, Pt. 91

It is not uncommon when reading a Lukan commentary or article, to find that commentator repeatedly pointing out that Luke loves role reversal. One of the best examples that persons often point to in Luke’s story is that of Lazarus and the rich man. As the story goes, Lazarus is poor here on earth where the rich overlook him. However, in the next life, it is Lazarus who is higher in rank than the man who had previously been wealthy.

While it is commonplace to find such statements among Lukan scholars, it is rarely (if ever) pointed out that in Mark’s narrative, this also happens quite frequently. This notion of reversal, which I refer to in literary terms as “cruciality” is sometimes easy to spot and other times more difficult. This device of pivot, which produces a radical reversal or complete change of direction can be used by a speaker or author to illumine the material on either side of the pivot. Just as well, the cruciality can have major narrative as well as social & theological implications.

In Mark’s story, cruciality can be seen a number of times within chapter 1 alone. We all know that John was a revered man and this is proven alone by the fact that so many people were heeding to his message. Indeed, he was even dubbed Jesus’ “forerunner”. However, in Mark’s story, there comes an abrupt end to John’s popularity and efforts once “the greater one” steps on the scene. In fact, there is a total role reversal, a reversal which John himself acknowledges when He refers to Jesus as “one greater than I” (1.7). To be sure, the roles are reversed when John is arrested and Jesus assumes the Baptizer’s role of preaching and discipling. While many have written about John's statement, I'm not sure that much (if anything at all) has been made of the fact that cruciality is at work here. Why is this important? Well, because it actually (and especially from a literary standpoint) illumines that much more the change of roles that is about to take place! (Much more could be said on this but it's after 1am as I'm writing this and I'm quite tired...maybe I can spell it out more later!)

Elsewhere, in Mk. 1.40-44, there is a less explicit instance of cruciality when Jesus encounters a leper. Now, when he meets the leper, he meets a man who is confined to his own solitary space. This is the opposite of Jesus’ circumstances because Jesus is able to move about freely and to go where He pleases. Yet, when Jesus heals the man, the roles are reversed. Mark even reports that after the man went and told all the people about Jesus, Jesus became so popular that He couldn’t travel anywhere without being bombarded. In a slight turn of events, the former leper can now go where he wants and do as he pleases while Jesus begins to experience confinement. Mark says that now Jesus can only go out to the “ermoi” (wilderness and solitary places).

Throughout Mark’s narrative, many of these reversals can be found. It is not my aim to show or share all of them here but rest assured, there are many. Instead, my goal in writing this post is to kind of steal some of Luke’s thunder if you will, when it comes to encountering cruciality in the text. In short, maybe it’s time for a role reversal in how, as readers of these text, we tend to attribute this technique to Luke over Mark.

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