Binge-watching the Gospel of Mark?

by | Jun 25, 2021 | Formation, Reflections | 1 comment


A recent study found that while binge-watching a series of TV episodes, people feel “transported” into the world of the show, which increases their viewing enjoyment, makes them binge-watch more frequently and for longer.

Viewers report a greater understanding and knowledge of the show and character development, versus viewers who don’t binge-watch. (Of course, there is the dimension of avoiding commercials.)

Hmm! What might be the differences between our episodic approach to Sunday gospel readings to binge-reading an entire gospel? In theory Binge-reading the short gospel of Mark should only take an hour.

I also wondered about what is lost in reading just snippets. Do we get the over-all message Mark was trying to convey to people facing persecution? Maybe we would appreciate the selective reading better if we knew the over-all storyline.

The storylines of Mark’s Gospel

Basically, Mark, as any good pastor would, uses the stories circulating in oral tradition to help a community understand how the gospel is “good news” … even in the face of persecution.

His basic point seems to be “look at Jesus”. He went through the worst imaginable sufferings… yet he rose to the fullness of life. Hang in there! ‘Those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will save it’ (8:35).

Just as in any great series (I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, Downton Abbey, Bluebloods, etc.) many subplots become more obvious when binge-watching a series.

In Mark’s gospel, we have the often unnoticed contrast between the disciples and “the little people”.

Jesus is never alone in Mark. He is always accompanied by his disciples-in-training. They show great promise, but they never seem to get the message that Jesus must suffer and die.

In contrast, it is ordinary people who come on to the gospel stage but once, and who on each occasion do or say something that can be admired and imitated by the reader. To each of them, we may apply the words that Jesus spoke about the woman of Bethany who anointed his feet: ‘Wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her’ (14:9).

In another contrast, the faith and clear-sightedness of the country people acts as a foil that highlights the cynicism and willful blindness of those who question and reject Jesus. Rather than being open to him, the scribes and Pharisees devote themselves to finding anything that could undermine Jesus.

Mark’s Gospel is a warning about the cost of discipleship. It is also a promise about its rewards. Those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will save it’ (8:35).

Recognizing we live these subplots

In recent years I realized I have selectively identified with the “good guys” in scripture. I now realize that, at various times, I have been each of the characters presented.

As these storylines have become clearer to me I now ask myself when have I been

  • Discouraged when facing suffering because I misunderstood the good news to mean I will not ever suffer?
  • A disciple-in training who showed great promise but was very slow to understand the implications of Jesus suffering and death – even death will be overcome?
  • A believer who is cynical or willfully blind to the Jesus I encounter in the poor?

This Mindwalk was inspired by the following

1 Comment

  1. Ann Mary Dougherty, DC

    I once made a retreat in France that was preached by a Belgian (I think) confrere. He gave us all a small New Testament and had us read half of a gospel every day, so that by the end of the eight days we had read all four gospels from start to finish. That certainly gave us the “whole picture,” rather than just snippets.

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