In a previous post, I discussed Jesus’ own experience of God through the baptism as we find it in Mark’s Gospel. In my view, it was this experience of God which led Jesus to take on the vocation of God. We might see this even more clearly by understanding that Mark presents Jesus’ own understanding of himself as the one sent from God.
Jesus implies that he has been sent from God in three different statements, in all of which he identifies the purpose for which he has come. Moreover, Jesus defines these purposes in terms the audience would recognize as a divine mission.
In response to the opponents’ question put to Jesus’ disciples on why he eats with sinners and tax collectors in Mark 2:15-17, Jesus responds by analogously portraying his mission as a physician healing the sick and stating, “I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” In declaring his mission in terms of calling sinners, as well as serving as a doctor for the sick, the Markan narrative reflects the events that had taken place earlier in the narrative regarding the paralytic in Mark 2:1-12.
In that scene, a paralytic is brought to Jesus by his friends. Jesus pronounces that the man’s sins are forgiven. The result, after some debate with the opponents, is that the man is healed. Thus the audience is prepared to link together the idea of healing and forgiveness, which is common in the Old Testament (See for example 2 Chr 7:14; Ps 41:4; 103:3; Isa 57:18-19; Jer3:22; Hos 14:4). Only God heals and forgives.
Later in the narrative, this same idea is expressed in Jesus’ ransom saying in Mark 10:45. This saying follows a conversation with James and John concerning seats of authority. Although in the context the saying sets Jesus as the ultimate example of true service, Jesus sees his mission as one of service and his death as a ransom for many.
His statement employs an infinitive in which the purpose for Jesus’ coming is clearly articulated; he has come to serve and give his life. The image is from Isaiah 53 where we read about the suffering servant of God. Jesus has taken on the role of God’s servant and ransom.
One other statement made by Jesus regarding his coming and the purpose of his coming is not as clear-cut as these previous two, but it does seem probable that it contains the same basic idea.
In Mark 1:38 Jesus tells his disciples, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”
At first glance, we may suppose that this is a reference to his coming from Capernaum, where he went in Mark 1:21. Yet, it may also be possible to understand Jesus as referring to his coming from God. Indeed, we find here in 1:38 Jesus express the very purpose for his coming, to proclaim the gospel of God.
The idea of Jesus being the one sent from God is also expressed in Mark9:37. In seeking to make his point concerning the true meaning of discipleship and service, Jesus takes to himself a child. He then states, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever, welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Again, the audience is fully aware who Jesus has in mind when he speaks about the one who sent him. Clearly it is God. Jesus’ statement, however, makes clear that he himself serves as representative for God, for in welcoming him, true disciples also welcome God, the one who has sent Jesus. The person, who then encounters Jesus as the one sent from God, encounters also the God who has sent Jesus.
This is illustrated through the parable of the Wicked Tenants in Mark 12:1-12, when the audience understands the “owner” of the vineyard as God and the “son” of the owner as Jesus. After sending several servants, the owner decides to send his beloved son. In sending the son, then, the owner sends his authoritative representative. What is interesting is that when the son is killed, there are no more servants or sons to send, so the owner himself (God) will come and destroy the tenants.
Through his story, Mark portrays Jesus as the one sent from God. In doing so, he sets Jesus in relation to God as the one who represents God on earth. As God’s son and envoy, who carries God’s authority, Jesus takes on the vocation that is only meant for God. Thus, what Jesus does on earth is to be viewed as God’s actions; actions done for God.