The narrative structure of Mark’s Gospel has fascinated me for years. Unlike Matthew and Luke, the two Gospels most similar to Mark, Mark does not begin with any birth narrative. Instead, Mark begins with Jesus’ baptism, and then follows Jesus as he proclaims the kingdom of God and offers healing as a sign of God’s coming rule until he reaches Jerusalem, where he is crucified.
Given this structure, it is very conceivable that an early Christian audience of Mark’s Gospel, who are called to follow Jesus, would have recognized the story of Jesus as their own story. Mark seems to serve as a manual of discipleship.
In this sense, the presentation of Jesus by Mark is meant to show him as the example of faithful discipleship. In other words, Jesus is the one to follow, for he sets the example of what it means to live and do the will of God.
One characteristic of Jesus that is communicated by the story is Jesus’ own faith in God. While we tend to focus on faith in Jesus, Mark also places emphasis on the faith of Jesus. All that Jesus does throughout his journey to Jerusalem is made possible by his own faith in God; a faith that is to be emulated by his followers.
Indeed, the power for Jesus to do miracles may be credited to his faith in God to work miracles through him. This is particularly clear in the description of Jesus “looking up to heaven” in Mark 7:34 before healing the deaf mute, an action indicating his looking to God for power to heal the man.
This may also be implied in Jesus’ call for petitioners who seek healing to have faith (Mark 5:36; 9:23). The object of their faith is left unsaid, but it seems likely that Jesus was calling these individuals to have faith in God, or at the very least, to have faith in the power of God at work in him.
In fact, it is unlikely, given Jesus’ submission to God in Mark, that he calls others to have faith in him alone, apart from God. They are to have the same faith in God that Jesus has in God, a faith that recognizes the presence of God in Jesus.
Jesus also expresses faith in his God regarding the threats against him. The story of the disciples caught in the boat on the storm sea in Mark 4:35-41 presents the disciples in great fear over the raging storm that threatens their lives. Yet Jesus is asleep in the boat, implying his own faith in the sovereign power of God.
Moreover, Jesus demonstrates his own faith in the power of God to raise him from the dead, (Mark 8:31; 9:9; 9:31; 10:34; 14:28), and vindicate him in glory (Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62), even though he will be put to death.
Yet, one way of demonstrating Jesus’ faith in God that is certainly important for readers of Mark’s story is to show the significance of prayer for Jesus.
While the places in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus is at prayer may be few, they can be viewed as occurring at significant events in the life of Jesus that reaffirm his own faith in God. In 1:35 Jesus goes to a solitary place to pray just before he goes out to proclaim the gospel. Jesus’ prayer in solitude sets the stage for his powerful proclamation of the gospel, and serves to show Jesus as a model for the disciples’ own prayer and proclamation.
In Mark 6:46, Jesus is again seen in prayer, and his choice of venue, the mountain, indicates that he again finds a place of seclusion. Moreover, the mountain may signify Jesus’ desire not only to be in seclusion, but his desire to be in close proximity to God. His mountain prayer precedes an important event in his ministry, his walking on water, an epiphany before his disciples.
The third and final time Jesus is seen in prayer is the most crucial of the three. The prayer in the garden just prior to Jesus’ death is characterized by his anguish over this ensuing event. Moreover, his call to the disciples to watch and pray, and their failure to follow this command, signifies to the audience that Jesus’ posture of prayer indicates his full reliance on God’s Spirit to empower him for suffering, and it contrasts him with the disciples’ reliance on the “flesh” at a time of testing.
It is true that Jesus’ prayer is offered in hopes that God would rescue him from suffering. Nevertheless, his determination to do the will of God, even if this means to suffer and die, indicates the likelihood that Jesus’ strength in the face of suffering and death is due to his dependence on the power of God through prayer. After coming to find his disciples sleeping yet a third time, Jesus seems to be more determined to carry out the will of God; a true sign of faithfulness to God.
The faith of Jesus expressed through his reliance on God to carry out miracles and his life of prayer is a model faith that the followers of Jesus are to imitate. From our baptism, we are to walk the way of discipleship by not only following the example of Jesus, but by having faith in the God of Jesus.