The Hidden Humor of Mark’s Gospel


Happy Low Easter everybody!  Our Low Easter Celebration began low but ended fairly high which I badly needed.  I hope yours went fantastic as well.

As promised, here is the follow up to my post from last week about Mark’s gospel.  I continue to have amazing discussions with those who watched my performance and were inspired.  I hope to do it again some day.

In those conversations I have remarked several times how much fun Mark was to memorize and perform.  Mark is full of intense action verbs that lend themselves to sweeping arm gestures.  More than that, Mark is funny.  It is a hilarious book.  While I cannot now discuss that humor in depth, here are 11 or so of my favorite bits of humor from the book:

I do add one caveat.  I am not entirely sure all of these were meant to be funny or even were funny in the 1st century.  But all of them are funny to my 21st century ears.

  1. A Demon in a Synagogue? (Chapter 1):  This first one isn’t laugh out loud funny but it is a wonderful bit of irony that kicks off Jesus’ ministry.  With all the emphasis in 1st century Judaism about purity and keeping things holy, especially on the Sabbath, its pretty funny that a demon somehow still sneaked into synagogue.  Lepers weren’t even allowed in but somehow a demon got through.  But I can’t judge.  Some of the churches I’ve been to have had their fair share of demons too!
  2. Simon.  .  .the Zealot? (Chapter 4):  I have heard some great sermons on Jesus’ 12 apostles as they are listed in the gospels.  Mark wins for most creative and ironic listing.  First, Jesus renames Simon, giving him the name “rock” or as I like to say, “Rockface!”  Then the sons of Zebedee are given a name in an obscure dialectic which Mark translates, “Sons of Thunder!”  You can hear that in a guttural sports announcer voice.  But he saves the best for second to last.  Simon the Zealot, which is a nice way of saying “terrorist.”  Yep Simon the violent terrorist.  Is this a group of responsible, well dressed clergy members or Robin Hood’s band of merry men, or worse, Peter Pan’s group of lost boys?  “You’re ROCKFACE!  You two are Thundersons!  And you are an evil zealot who wants to cause terror wherever you go?  Well we may as well take you!”
  3. Who Cares about Pigs? (Chapter 5):  This is probably the best told story in Mark’s gospel.  The entire narrative is dripping with humor and irony which leads up to the devastatingly sad ending.  First off, this guy is possessed by a legion of demons which are giving him both super strength and super crazy.  Second, the demons ask to go into pigs and Jesus lets them!  Third, pigs are unclean food and if you farmed them and made money off of them you were highly suspect.  Your vocation was right down there with prostitute.  All of these realities make this story so funny on many levels.  But the ending is heart breaking.  The people are terrified of Jesus’ power, and mad about losing their 2,000 pigs.  So they beg him to leave.
  4. “He couldn’t do any miracles.  .  .except to lay hands on a few sick people and cure them!” (Chapter 6:5):  I love that little line from the narrative about Jesus’ hometown.  Angry though Jesus was, of course he went ahead and healed a few people.  He wasn’t completely heartless!  I’ve had those days where I am so angry I can’t do anything, except give my waiter a big tip, giggle with my children, clean the house for my wife and have a pleasant conversation with a stranger on the side of the road.  But I am still ANGRY!  This line is even funnier since it is followed by a very snide retort, “And HE was amazed at THEIR lack of faith!”
  5. “When Herod heard John the Baptist talk he was greatly perplexed.  .  .but he still enjoyed listening to him!” (Chapter 6:20):  This probably ranks as my favorite.  My two year annual review was a month ago and my board said something almost identical to my DS about my sermons.  “We have no idea what he is talking but man, those sermons are fun!”
  6. The Pharisees wash their cup furniture! (Chapter 7): In the entire prologue to Jesus’ instruction about “clean and unclean” Mark is heartlessly sarcastic.  The Pharisees are portrayed as absolute morons and this culminates in that line above.  Some translations say “kettles” but a few early editions of Mark replaced it with “cup furniture.”  For the record I observe those traditions too.  It’s called a dishwasher!
  7. Even the dogs under the table get the children’s crumbs. (Chapter 7:28):  This is a weird passage and has been interpreted various ways.  Jesus’ sing song rebuke to the Greek woman is almost cruel, since she is on her knees begging him to heal her daughter.  But this very well may have been a popular song that the Jewish people sung as a taunt against Greeks.  Jesus’ motives are anybody’s guess but regardless, the woman’s reply is incredibly witty and profound.  You can almost hear Jesus laughing as he says, “For such a reply you may go!  The demon’s left your daughter!”
  8. Peter didn’t know what to say at the transfiguration.  He was so frightened! (Chapter 9):  Again I can relate.  The best thing, of course, is to say nothing at all because fear and talking don’t go well together.
  9. Shoving a camel through the eye of a needle (Chapter 10):  Jesus loved exaggeration and this is a very funny one.  I just love picturing it in my head.  Before you all start talking about rock arches and gates named “Needle” that was a completely unfounded myth.  Jesus really meant a sewing needle.
  10. Jesus curses a fig tree.  .  .and his disciples heard him say it! (Chapter 11): We have all thrown temper tantrums in public and so can relate.  It is even funnier when the next day Jesus uses it as an object lesson about prayer.  “Remember that one time I sassed a fig tree?  Well you should pray more!”
  11. Which is the greatest commandment? (Chapter 12):  This is like asking someone with a PhD in Mathematics, “What is 2+2?  I bet you’ll never guess!”  Every single Jewish person living during that day knew what the greatest commandment was.  All day the authorities pestered Jesus about widows and brothers, paying taxes and proof of authority.  The fact that they are now resorting to such easy questions shows how completely lost they all were to find anything wrong with Jesus or his teaching.  Mark adds to the irony by telling us that after Jesus hit the easy ball, “nobody dared ask him any more questions.”

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