24th May, 2012
BRUCE C. WEARNE
"Hunches about Jesus" was the initial work I developed in what has become an ongoing bible-story telling project. It was initially developed with 'seeding money' from the Australian Research Theology Foundation.
I initially requested money to complete a book I had half-written from my experiences as a Christian Religious Education (CRE) teacher in 1999-2000 at Point Lonsdale and Queenscliff Primary Schools in Victoria.
"It is designed for "good readers", but also for parents who read to their children."
This CRE teaching confirmed my belief that nothing is lost and much is gained when the Bible is read and explained to primary school students in story-telling ways that respect its historical context. The Bible can be compelling and nine-year-olds do not always see it as "daggy religious stuff". My exposition of Mark's Gospel diverged from conventional didactic ways of understanding God's revelation.
Taking small sections of Mark's Gospel at a time, the book consists of over 100 separate "chapters" and if it were to be in book form it would be over 300 pages. It is designed for "good readers", but also for parents who read to their children.
At the beginning is a light introduction to books and stories as part of the life God intends for us. Briefly, Hunches affirms a reading that relates to our every-day experience without resorting to either scientism or doctrinalism. As with the parable of the sower, and other parables, the young reader is invited to develop imaginative responses. I came to the view that Mark's Gospel was written with a significant Galilean "rump" of Jesus' disciples in mind, and this meant that Christian parents need some help in passing the "Jesus story" on to their children and grand-children. Read like this it is no longer an eclectic jumble of anecdotes but a purposively written Gospel, in the first instance written to meet the needs of particular group.
I started writing this book as a "birthday present" for a young friend, Sarah (now 21 years). I'm told she still likes reading; I hope that Hunches has encouraged her to keep on listening to what the Bible tells us. She encouraged me with her initial assessment of various Hunches, and I am hopeful that someday it can be published as a "hands on" book, adorned with illustrations that a Bible story book for children needs to confirm a child's delight of hearing the stories of Jesus. So without further ado...
HUNCHES ABOUT JESUS - WHO WAS THIS FELLOW WHO WROTE MARK'S GOSPEL?
Read the Book of Mark
From what can be gathered from the New Testament, and particularly the book of Acts, Mark was involved, a member of the young church as its membership grew and new meetings places, were set up throughout the Roman Empire and elsewhere. The church was growing. It was like a young seedling and needed careful and ongoing support. Mark also, as a young and inexperienced lad, need careful and ongoing support. So do we all. We are all young and inexperienced for some considerable time before we become able to take on adult responsibility.
THE BOOK OF MARK. PICTURE: Billy Alexander/www.sxc.hu
"But what we can also say is that this Gospel was inspired by One whose message was so straightforward, so immediate, that a child could respond to it. Whoever this person was who wrote Mark's Gospel, he did so inspired by the way Jesus had related to children, related to him."
It is not also easy, and for Mark it was not easy. There were great dangers involved and he found himself right in the thick of the church's work. And so, in time, this young man had a great story to tell. It is quite possible that he was there with the 12 and the others on that terrifying Passover night when Jesus was arrested. After some years he learned to talk about that. He then could give his side of the story about Jesus. But older Christian Rabbis would have had difficulty because they had to learn how to listen to this young man who was an eye-witness of things they talked a lot about. This, I think, is important background that helps us understand the book in our Bibles called Mark's Gospel.
So let's just imagine we could here a conversation between Mark and Paul and his uncle Barnabas in Iconium, walking home after teaching at the synagogue. Mark (or John-Mark as Acts refers to him) is with them. What would they have talked about?
"Rabbi Paul can I ask you a question?" asks Mark.
"Ask away young fellow?" Paul replies.
"More of your questions Mark?" Barnabas turns to Paul, "What are we going to do with him and these questions?" He slaps Mark on the shoulder. "Go on lad. Ask away!"
"Well, Rabbi Paul, you said: 'We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God'. That's what you said, didn't you?"
"Yes, that's indeed what I said."
"Well, I'm just not sure you should say it exactly like that. It's like it but it's not exactly what He taught! He also said other things like, 'Unless you become as a little child you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven …' The people at that synagogue might use your words to pass on teaching that gives a wrong picture of Him!"
"I guess you are right, young fellow, but don't we have to teach these people about the Messiah? He suffered and like Him we have to suffer many hardships."
"Mark, you shouldn't forget that!" Uncle Barnabas was always quick to interrupt if he could offer some encouragement.
"Uncle how could I ever forget?" Mark is becoming just a little distressed. "I was there on that night remember!" He held up his hands to show Paul and Barnabas his fingers.
"Oh Stubby Fingers," Uncle Barnabas quickly saw the point. "What are we going to do with you!"
My first hunch is that what we read in Mark's Gospel has a lot to do with how this young disciple of Jesus had to face up to many things from his own experience. Why wouldn't he have had deep emotional problems resulting from that night? And who could solve those? Remember, you and I have heard about that night knowing what comes next in the story and what happened a few days later! Jesus rose. Sure Jesus was raised from death just as much for Mark as for you and me. But remember, Mark had to live through the situation.
And then he also had to face up to other things, trouble and tension, when he accompanied Paul and Uncle Barnabas on their travels. He may not have been old enough to teach in Jewish synagogues, but he knew, just as well as they did, if not with greater first-hand experience, that the Messiah had come. He was an eye-witness and for those waiting for the Messiah an eye-witness was very important. So, Mark's story would have challenged them; he was there with them and he could remind them of what Jesus had said and done. He could help them keep a check on their own teaching. He may not have been old enough to be a Rabbi but he was also not one of the regular class. He was like the senior student who knows more than the teacher.
But what we can also say is that this Gospel was inspired by One whose message was so straightforward, so immediate, that a child could respond to it. Whoever this person was who wrote Mark's Gospel, he did so inspired by the way Jesus had related to children, related to him. Now, whether Mark wrote this as the result of leaving the work of Paul and his uncle Barnabas to return to Jerusalem, or later when he rejoined those supporting Paul's work, we cannot say for sure. We can say, however, and this is the major hunch that I have developed while reading and re-reading this Gospel: it is a Gospel written with an intimate knowledge of how Jesus was experienced by children.
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