Let the Reader Understand...

““When you see the abomination that causes desolation standing where it should not” (let the reader understand), “then those in Judea must flee to the mountains!” (Mark 13:14 HCSB)

ApocalypseThat little parenthetical remark, “let the reader understand”, has been the source of a great deal of discussion over the centuries. Where would Markan theologians be without the endlessly useful variations for the titles of their books?

It’s a little bit like that moment in the movie Fight Club where Edward Norton’s character begins to realise the truth about Tyler Durden, the narrative that’s been playing in his head begins to unspool, the screen begins to flicker and it looks like the film strip is whirling off the projecter, the celluloid about to burst into flame.
It’s an interesting moment in the film, the scales drop from the eyes of the main character – and because we see the story through his eyes, we share in the experience of revelation. Fight Club

The really interesting thing, though, is that screen flicker. It makes the characters suddenly come outside the screen. The medium of communication is exposed, the mechanics laid bare for a moment, but the character survives and continues to speak. It’s deliberately unnerving, like being in a room full of statues, thinking you are alone, and someone moves.

Mark inserts editorial remarks everywhere throughout the book. For example, he gives some classic comments on the reactions of Jesus disciples,

“Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here! Let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”— because he did not know what he should say, since they were terrified.” (Mark 9:5-6 HCSB)

It’s impossible to write a narrative without having some kind of narration, the voice over who ties events together, provides insight into the motivations of the characters, and moves the action along. Every narrative has this with the exception of a first person narrative – where the Narrator is the main character.

And that really wasn’t an option for Mark’s Gospel…

What isn’t so common, is for the Narrator to interrupt the main character in the middle of a sentence.

““When you see the abomination that causes desolation standing where it should not” (let the reader understand), “then those in Judea must flee to the mountains!” (Mark 13:14 HCSB)

It’s a drastic ploy for any writer to make, most times the words of the Narrator can wait ’til the character has finished speaking. It’s a truly colossal thing when the speaker is Our Lord…

In reading Mark, it’s a moment when the screen flickers. The mechanics of Mark’s writing are put on view for a moment. The room full of statues – the text which we read as a work of art, held at a distance – suddenly moves. The Narrator steps out from behind the narrative, and pokes you in the ribs.

It has to be in the middle of a sentence to achieve this effect. There is no disrespect intended when Mark breaks in to Jesus’ sentence.
Jesus’ broken sentence has sharp edges, it has a cutting edge – it is not just another (admittedly strange) conversation between the characters in a story. It is an address through the pages directly to the reader.

The words are for YOU.

Mark 13 is known as the Apocalyptic chapter within this Gospel. It’s full of strange language and dark predictions. But there is more going on here than just old fashioned Buffy-the-Vampyre-Slayer weirdness.

‘Apocalyptic’ is a Greek word referring to something being ‘uncovered’ or ‘revealed’. Apocalyptic literature seeks to uncover the spiritual realities behind earthly events. That’s why at the start of the Book of Revelation (Greek name: The Apocalypse) John says, ‘After this I looked, and there in heaven was an open door.’ (Rev 4:1) John is being given an insight into what’s going on behind the scenes. Revelation is a backstage pass to Reality.

Mark 13 is an apocalyse about Jesus’ death. It’s a backstage pass to the Reality of Jesus’ death – the curtains are drawn back, the door stands open. It’s not easy to understand, if you’ve ever pulled apart a clock or a radio you’ll know that the insides of something very rarely look simple on first inspection, but it’s giving behind the scenes information.

It makes sense that at this point Mark the Writer breaks into the narrative. He reveals himself, for a moment his narrative techniques are left dangerously open to view. It is an apocalypse within an apocalypse.

And this double apocalypse has an uncanny effect.

In chapter 13 the narrative breaks out of this world, in order to reveal the Reality behind. At the same time, in the very middle of this movement, it also breaks into our world.

Mark’s direct address lets us know that we are the objects to whom this is being revealed – not just the confusing bits in Mark 13, but the entire narrative. It breaks through our arms-length reading and demands to be urgently understood.

Let the reader understand!!!

*(do you know that there is no such thing as one (1) shenanigan, it’s a plural noun. weird…
**(this has nothing to do with my essay on Mark, just found it interesting)

Show Comments