As I finish reading through Mark again, the theme of confusion is strikingly clear to me from beginning to end. It’s the black backdrop from which moments of clarity stand out like stars.
I should put together a comprehensive list, but here’s a few:
- Jesus is accused of blasphemy in 2:7 when he heals a man and says, “Your sins are forgiven.”
- When Jesus cries to God in despair just before death, they think he’s calling for Elijah! (15:35).
- In the book’s short ending, women are told that Jesus has risen, but they are so shocked they run away in fear and tell no one (16:8).
It’s no wonder Jesus constantly tells people to keep quiet about him. Hardly anyone in this narrative world understands him apart from demons and the Roman centurion who saw how he died (15:39). But how should we hear that statement from the centurion?
In the end, his disciples ran away from him (14:50). Even his most passionate follower denies him three times, swearing he never knew him, and there’s no restoration scene here like John 21 — no “Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep” scene. The last time we see Peter he is weeping with despair (14:72).
In light of the confusion, darkness, and mockery in this section of the book, the centurion’s tone could very well be sarcastic. Everything from the soldiers is brutal mockery in chapter 15. Nevertheless, the centurion’s confession agrees with the description of Jesus in the opening verse of the book.
Mark 1:1 Ἀρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ υἱοῦ θεοῦ· The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Mark 15:39 ἰδὼν δὲ ὁ κεντυρίων ὁ παρεστηκὼς ἐξ ἐναντίας αὐτοῦ ὅτι οὕτως ἐξέπνευσεν, εἶπεν· ἀληθῶς οὗτος ὁ ἄνθρωπος υἱὸς ἦν θεοῦ … “Truly this man was the Son of God.”
In light of the way it bookends 1:1, it can’t just be sarcasm. The centurion speaks better than he knows. I hear his sarcastic tone, but I visualize the scene with a sort of glitch that cuts repeatedly and quickly to the first line of the book as the words roll off Mark’s pen, Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ υἱοῦ θεοῦ.
Isn’t that sort of the point with the crown of thorns? With the purple robe and the “Hail, king of the Jews”? It’s so impactful because they are mocking what the reader knows to be true. Same thing with the centurion.
I’m sure people have written on this, and these are just my morning reflections. The way confusion serves as a backdrop in Mark is striking to me. Is this more prominent in Mark than the other Gospels? Is confusion a helpful backdrop to the centurion’s statement and even the short ending? What else might it help explain?