Study Guide

Gospel of Mark Sadness

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Jesus said to them, "The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day." (NRSV 2:19-20)

And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? as long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days. (KJV 2:19-20)

Mark's Jesus sure likes figures and veiled language. Wait, you want to decipher it? Then some big questions need to be answered. Who are the wedding guests and the bridegroom, really? When will the bridegroom be taken away? What event is in view here?

When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." (NRSV 5:38-39)

And he cometh to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and seeth the tumult, and them that wept and wailed greatly. When he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." (KJV 5:38-39)

Don't try this at home. At least Jesus has the power to back it up.

And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me." They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, "Surely, not I?" (NRSV 14:18-19)

And as they sat and did eat, Jesus said, Verily I say unto you, One of you which eateth with me shall betray me. And they began to be sorrowful, and to say unto him one by one, Is it I? and another said, Is it I? (KJV 14:18-19)

By now, we know that Jesus is an extremely accurate prophet (see 11:1-6 and 14:12-16), but the disciples just don't get it. It doesn't matter, though, because according to Mark, the prophecy has already been fulfilled (14:10-11).

They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. (NRSV 14:32-33)

And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane: and he saith to his disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray. He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. (KJV 14:32-33)

The mournful mood of the disciples (14:19) starts to affect Jesus, too. This sadness actually creates a sense of solidarity between the leader and his followers. Do you think readers are supposed to respond in the same way? Have they?

And he said to them, "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake." (NRSV 14:34)

And saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch. (KJV 14:34)

Sound familiar? You've probably been spending a lot of time reading up on Psalms. These words remind us specifically of Psalms 42:5-6, 11; and 43:5, which are Psalms of lamentation. Why do you think Mark is such a fan of this type of Psalm?

At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, "Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times." And he broke down and wept. (NRSV 14:72)

And the second time the cock crew. And Peter called to mind the word that Jesus said unto him, Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he wept. (KJV 14:72)

Talk about a sad ending—this is the last image of the disciples in Mark. P.S. Did you notice the difference between the NRSV and KJV translation? The Greek verb in question is also used in 4:37 to describe crashing waves. So maybe we should say Peter "crashed and wept"?

And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take. (NRSV 15:24)

And when they had crucified him, they parted his garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take. (KJV 15:24)

Wait a second, this doesn't seem all that sad. But wait—the words sound kind of like Psalm 22:18, another song of lament. We're probably supposed to notice this and understand the overall mournful tone of the crucifixion.

Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!" (NRSV 15:29-30)

And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, Save thyself, and come down from the cross. (KJV 15:29-30)

Here we get another allusion to Psalm 22, this time to 22:7-8. All of these allusions to Psalms really put Mark into a minor key. Play the guitar or piano? Let an E minor rip and you'll get a sense of how to hear this part of the story.

At three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (NRSV 15:34)

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (KJV 15:34)

Wait, why isn't Jesus speaking English? Oh, we kid. But the foreign language here is Aramaic, which Mark translates into Greek for Greek readers and which the NRSV and KJV translate into English for us Anglophones. The words are a near quotation of Psalm 22:1 and the final evocation of this Psalm of lament. They are also Jesus's last words—words of utter sadness and abandonment.

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