Hear the Gospel

Experience the Gospel of Mark 2:23-3:6

This passage from Mark is found in the revised common lectionary provided by the Vanderbilt Divinity Library. The text is from the NRSV. You can hear a recording of the reading here.  Title:  The Reader —Mark 2:23 – 3:6


When reading the Gospel aloud, we invite the audience to join us in an encounter with scripture and the experience of life that encounter reveals. We can leave interpretation and meaning to members of the clergy and other scholars. That’s what they do. What we can do, as readers, is offer the audience an experience with scripture: the word, given a human voice.


“One sabbath Jesus and his disciples were going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain…” 


In this reading, Jesus and his disciples are going about the business of quietly remaking the world. There is a sense of quiet movement that is interrupted by the Pharisees. Jesus takes each opportunity to provide the Pharisees with teaching moments. But they appear not to listen and remain silent in response.

As you read scripture aloud, the scene begins to take shape before and around you and you begin to inhabit the narrative. You begin to experience the narrative yourself.  You begin to see and hear things you would otherwise miss and feel empathy for those around you. You’re able to invite the audience to see what you see, hear what you hear, and begin their own experience of the narrative. Reading aloud makes it easier for all participants to share in an experience.


Text Analysis

As readers, we’re not attempting an exegesis of the text.  We challenge ourselves and the audience to hear and see through and beyond the printed words on a page to experience the dynamics of human longing, joy, pain, conflict and struggle in the presence of the divine. We look for subtext.

As I read this passage aloud to myself – in preparation for reading aloud to others — here are some things that stand out to me:

  • Thirteen men, Jesus and his disciples, are making their way through grain fields: not around or along the grain fields – but THROUGH them, going against the grain. “As they made their way…”  suggests that way was not effortless.  They begin to “pluck” heads of grain. Are they hungry? Are they acting deliberately or are they absent minded? They are certainly not mindful that they are being closely observed.


  • But Jesus and the disciples are being watched. They are walking through fields of grain and suddenly, there are Pharisees. Where did the Pharisees come from? What were they doing there in those fields of grain? The Pharisees say to Jesus, “Look…”   They are deliberately WATCHING Jesus, carefully and closely. In the following verses, Jesus enters a synagogue. Again, they are there WATCHING him. They are waiting to see if he will cure the withered hand of a man on the sabbath so that they might accuse him of unlawful behavior.


  • The Pharisees are trying to “pluck” fault from the actions of Jesus and his disciples. They are particular in their references to points of law.


  • Jesus initially responds calmly and reasonably with questions and offers a deeper insight into the application of law. His voice is one of quiet authority.


  • These overtures are met with SILENCE from the Pharisees, which must be frustrating to Jesus in a very human way: giving way to momentary anger. The frustration instantly gives way to grief.


  • When the Pharisees think they finally have what they want, they go out IMMEDIATELY to conspire against him. Silence is replaced by instant condemnation and a rush of footsteps.


What we seek is an understanding of what is really happening in this scene. We less concerned with what it means. We are attempting to bring this scene to life so that everyone who hears it can experience it for themselves.


What stands out to you in this reading of the Gospel? What do you hear as you read it out loud? Each of us sees and experiences the same events a little differently. There is so much going on a once, that we each notice different things.


Reading this Gospel passage aloud

In this reading of Mark, I think it’s the SILENCE that speaks the loudest. It’s moving slowly and quietly through fields of grain. It’s the watching and waiting on the part of the Pharisees. It’s the absence of any response from the Pharisees to Jesus’ overtures. It’s this silence that is felt and ultimately causes Jesus momentary anger. Reading aloud helps you find and feel the power of this unspoken silence.

There is precision in speaking on the part of the Pharisees as they seek to apply the law. They watch carefully, and their words are parsed carefully. They are speaking to their colleagues as much as to Jesus.

Jesus is “grieved at their hardness of heart.” Grief is much deeper than anger. The Pharisees seem blind to his teaching and that must have been disheartening. Is there defiance or resignation and compassion in his voice as he asks the man to reach out his hand? Grief suggests the latter.

When the Pharisees think they have what they want, they go out IMMEDIATELY to conspire against him. Silence is replaced by excited condemnation and a rush of footsteps. And that this trajectory of the reading. It begins in moments of silence and ends in a flurry of excitement

We can search for meaning for a very long time. We can struggle with understanding how we should interpret what we read. But we experience immediately. Reading aloud affords us experiences that we can then savor and meditate on. And once we have experienced something, we have made it our own.

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