Often in our reading of scripture we miss the foundational realness. Because we have been taught to give the surface level words the most authority, we often miss the real and deepest meanings. The deepest truths and realities of life are what the scriptures seek to reveal, and such insights are usually found in the implied meanings (or maybe it’s better to say Mark’s applied meanings). Let me say it in a different way; if we are not seeing/hearing Mark’s symbolism as signposts pointing us to the primary story, we will likely miss Mark’s invitation to discover his real and intended message. For if we only read Mark (and surely we know this is also true for nearly all the bible) with literal eyes, we will walk away with a very distorted understanding of what Mark is seeking to reveal.
Mark 5 is an obvious illustration of such symbolism and provides a meaningful insight into Mark’s revelation of how the way/life of Jesus confronts and challenges the dominant status systems. The first story in chapter five looks through the experience of a Legion (The running boar was the mascot symbol of the 10th Legion, an elite Roman military team. This detail shapes the foundational realness of this story.) The story of the Legion is told through the freedom of a particular man, and that one also represents all of those who suffer the anguish and dehumanization of military training and war (5:9). The recognition of a particular person is exactly what Mark hopes we will see. For, it is often the case that we dismiss the inherent dignity of others by identifying them by what uni-form they are wearing (more likely what uniform we put upon them). Jesus surely could have confronted the Roman Legion as a whole, condemning their deeds of violence and oppression, yet, Mark demonstrates that Jesus sees the individual as a victim of the sin-system and restores the dignity of yet another human one.
Immediately following that story is the “interrupting” story of the woman who suffered the abuse of the medical system for twelve years (5:26) and the twelve-year old daughter of Jairus (5:39). It would be wise to look for the dehumanizing systems in both stories, as it seems to be Mark’s theme. The abusive medical, patriarchal, and purity systems that dismiss the dignity and agency of women are certainly at work. And perhaps the consequences of the ruling class system, religious privilege system, elite family-image systems are being revealed in the “starvation” (5:43) of the twelve-year old girl. The interpretive lens allows us to see such powers at work, then and now.
All three of these particular stories help reveal the larger and foundational story….that is…Jesus’ interruption of the debt/shame-systems through the recognition and restoration of the dignity of persons. Jesus’ refusal to “other” people into any form less than their inherent and beloved God-Image is what Mark is inviting us to see and hear. And it is this humanizing and dignity-lifting work that anyone following the life/way of Jesus is invited to join.
*These reflections on Mark are written as a recap summary on the weekly discipleship discussions of The Gathering Community. The Gathering Community is a group of seekers who are “relinquishing what has failed (which we will likely treasure) and receiving what God will give.” (WB) Currently we are traveling through the book of Mark, receiving good news for our wearied world and selves.