Going to Jerusalem
The Mysticism of Mark's Gospel
In this week's gospel story of Bartimaeus, do you notice that Jericho is mentioned twice? Why this emphasis? And why is the story set in the context of leaving Jericho?
Jericho symbolises a place of entrapment and blockage. Its walls appear unassailable. The city is "shut up, inside and out." (Joshua 6:1) In the old stories Jericho is actually in the Promised Land, but it is a barrier to the people of God entering the land. It must be passed by and left behind. Crossing the Jordan is not enough on its own; there is more to do in life.
All of Mark, to this point, has been to prepare us for the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. It brings us to the scandal of Jesus' death, that inconceivable redefinition of what power and glory mean. These things are to be turned upside-down compared to the way of the world of Jericho: "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all," said Jesus. (Mark 9:35)
To see, and be made well, like Bartimaeus, who sprang up and left behind his only security, his cloak, we must follow Jesus into Jerusalem. But Jerusalem, too, is a symbolic city in the drama of Mark: it is the symbol of all Israel's hopes for fulfilment in its life with God.
We know that by the time Mark was writing his gospel, Jerusalem's destruction by the Romans was a forgone conclusion, if indeed, it had not already happened! Yet Mark was telling his people that Jesus was calling them to the city of destruction, to the place of death.
In the call to follow Jesus alongside Bartimaeus, Mark is confronting us with the inevitable fall of our City; the Jerusalem of our own life, the great walled and protective city of our self which we have constructed (even as we sought to follow Jesus.) Mark calls us to face our death, which is also a foregone conclusion.
Here there is a great mystery: we must go beyond the Jerichos; the places which seek to build artificial securities, and which deny our mortality with affluence and comfort. We must go on to Jerusalem, the city of God. It is in trusting Jesus for this journey, says Mark this week, that we are "made well." (Mark 10:52)
But we will not find some "religious insurance policy" in this following. Indeed, in some sense our death is hastened: "For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it," he says in Mark 8:35.
Somewhere in the upending of our human desires for power, and significance, and glory; somewhere in the decision to pay the cost of serving; somewhere in holding our life lightly, and in letting go of our desperate "amygdaline" need to survive at all costs; somewhere in walking toward death, we find freedom and true humanity and life. It might be called a journey to resurrection.
(A newsletter article based upon Seeing through the metaphors.)