Have you seen the recent movie Sully? How about the Netflix series The Crown? Ok. The not so recent Memento? If you haven’t seen any of these that’s alright. I’ll bet you’ve seen others that create suspense. For those of us that like suspense movies we should like the way Mark chooses to tell his version of Jesus’s story.
Suspense creates excitement and anticipation. Suspense makes us anxious to know what’s ahead in the story or how the story will end. For those that have seen Sully, many likely didn’t know that pilots Sullenberger (Sully) and Skiles underwent investigation because they crash-landed on the Hudson rather than making an emergency landing on the nearest alternative airstrip. The pilots defended themselves by proving that the Hudson, even though it would never be their choice, was the only potentially safe zone for the rapidly descending passenger jet. The heroism Sullenberger is now known for wasn’t luck unless you define luck as the residue of design. In other words, Sully made calculated decisions that no autopilot could have made in that narrow window of time. Sully navigated a plane through the web of New York’s skyscrapers and pulled off an amazing landing in freezing water.
There are a lot of flashbacks in the movie Sully. Even though the movie portrays the aftermath, the rescue of everyone on board that flight, the audience is taken back and forth between the then present investigation and the events of the quick and traumatic ascent and descent. Flashbacks keep the viewer in suspense. Suspense is created as the hero of the story is scrutinized. Was Sully somehow at fault? Was there a nearby airstrip available after all that would prove Sully to be negligent? The flashbacks are also used to inform viewers and keep them engaged in the major aspects of the case. They also provide critical questions that viewers must be able to answer about Sully in order to illustrate that this incredible landing and rescue was in fact heroic.
Mark won’t provide us with a two-hour cinematic experience (that would be amazing though). Even if he could it wouldn’t be enough for us as an audience to capture the nuances of Jesus’s story the way he wants. This is one story where the book version is much better. It allows us to “be there” within significant moments which must be scrutinized and processed. For example, Jesus sends the twelve out so that they should proclaim that people should repent in Mark 6:7-13. The apostles return 16 verses later in 6:30. Mark 6:14-29 is inserted in between, which includes the death of John the Baptist which may seem like a random flashback. This scene offers insight into Herod’s birthday party. It includes John’s tragic death and John’s disciples come and take his body and lay it in a tomb. This may seem like Mark includes ‘filler’ while the twelve are going out and returning to tell Jesus all they had done and taught. But is it filler? Could it be informing Mark’s audience (and us) about a significant development in the story of the hero? R.T. France explains that the ‘flashback’ provides Mark’s audience with more context of the mission of the twelve. Their mission will see similar opposition to John’s and their hero (Jesus) will indeed suffer the same fate as John. In Mark 6:16 Herod said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” Mark inserts Herod’s statement which forecasts Jesus’s resurrection. Readers are provided with a key development in the story whereas a casual reading of this pericope will miss the connection.
Perhaps Mark has inside knowledge from Peter. Imagine several dinners with Peter as he retells countless details of his experiences with the disciples and Jesus. Would you not be on the edge of your seat? Would you not include key and captivating nuances to your version of the story in order to answer major questions about Jesus, nuances that only you’ll be able to provide?
Mark’s Gospel includes suspense (as we’ll also see in following episodes). This may seem indulgent for a writer of a gospel but Mark isn’t producing a modern day movie or a series on Netflix. Mark is narrating a story about divine heroism. He allows us to be there at dinner with him and captures our imagination while he recounts the strange yet compelling way Jesus becomes King and actually rescues the world.