How important is history, real stuff on earth by real people with God empowering such stuff with salvific power, for Christian spirituality? This is at the heart of this part of Eugene Peterson’s em>Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. To ground spirituality in history, something many today seem to avoid, Peterson looked at the Exodus and now he turns to Mark’s Gospel. Peterson says that the “form” is inspired — that is, turning the story of Christ into a “gospel” is inspired.
His point, of course, is that God enters history and then tells that history in the form of story. “The moment we formulate our doctrines, draw up our moral codes, and throw ourselves into a life of discipleship and ministry apart from a continuous re-immersion in the story itself, we walk right out of the concrete and local presence and activity of God and set up own shop” (182). Well, that about says it all for the one who thinks narrative is the way to express theology. This is not myth-making (Homer) but revealing and engaging story.
But Mark surprises for we don’t get what we want: stuff about Jesus’ personality and appearance. What Jesus says and does and what happens to Jesus — that is the story.
Legend has it that Mark was called “colobodactylus” — stumpy fingers. Well, maybe a clue to his inelegant style of Greek. [I often tell my students Mark was from southern Illinois — no offense for it is my roots; Matthew from the suburbs of Chicago — no offense; Luke from a university on the East coast; and John — from some forest of solitary mystics.]
Mark is fast-paced (“immediately” occurs so often one needs to ask him to slow down sometimes). Lots of characters, but not one of them, not even Peter, takes over the stage. It is all about Jesus. Mark was against celebrity cults — in fact, his way of speaking of the apostles is a tad disrespectful. Go ahead, read the book and you’ll confirm what I say. They never quite get it right.
What stands tall in Mark is Jesus and what is noticeable about him is that he dies. 8 chps of life and then 8 turn toward his death and the last week. This is biblical history and biblical grounding of spirituality in history. That history cuts its teeth on Mark 8:31-34 — the center of Mark’s Gospel. And it is a voluntary death. And it is sacrificial (10:45; 14:22-24). And it is followed by resurrection (three predictions of that, no matter which ending you choose).
For Mark, Jesus’ death is no tragedy. It is history, God’s kind of history. There is no Christian story without the death and resurrection of Jesus. Peterson goes through the 12 scenes: maybe a good section for churches planning Lent and Holy Week now.
In fact, Peterson falls for a chiastic arrangement of the twelve scenes.
1. 14:3-11: anointing
2. 14:12-25: last supper
3. 14:26-42: prayer
4. 14:43-52: arrest
5. 14:53-65: trial
6. 14:66-72: denial
7. 15:1-15: trial
8. 15:16-20: mock worship
9. 15:21-32: crucifixion
10. 15:33-39: death
11. 15:40-41: women
12. 15:43-47: burial
He sees connections between 1 and 12, 2 and 11, 3 and 10, 4 and 9, and 5-6-7-8 as capstone.
Our salvation is rooted in this history, this story of death. It is anchored in chps 8–9 where we find the ascetic and the aesthetic.
Ascetic: we are summoned to say “no” to ourselves. To follow Jesus means not to follow culture. It is death to self, but death to the joy of life.
Aesthetic: we get to say “yes” to Jesus. The beauty of Jesus on the Mountain in Mark 9. The beauty whereof he speaks here is the beauty of God in Jesus (about which John Piper has said more than anyone else). We need a training in perception and an acquiring of the taste of who Jesus is.
Will we be like Peter, who first rejected that ascetic call of the aesthetic of Jesus?
A quote worth remembering: “Spiritual theology is the discipline and art of training us into a full and mature participation in Jesus’ story while at the same time preventing us from taking over the story” (199). That’s cruciform ascetic and aesthetic.
Next Tuesday: Christ Plays, 200-222 (on eucharist).