I’ve begun memorizing the Gospel of Mark.
I’ve spent the first half of my life memorizing the latter half of the New Testament. I’ve been a man of “Letters.” Somewhere along the line over the first decade or so of my walk in Christ, I received the definite impression that the New Testament Epistles were the pinnacle of all revelation and Paul the ultimate master of theology. So I memorized them all. I memorized and meditated and recited my way right through the 87 chapters of the Pauline Epistles, the 13 of Hebrews, and the 21 chapters of the General Epistles.
And then, almost as an afterthought, I tacked on the three chapters of the Sermon on the Mount.
I still recite and meditate in the Epistles – this month it’s been Titus. And as I have simultaneously and more intensively meditated through the words of the Sermon on the Mount over the summer I found myself awakened to this simple but deepening realization: am I perhaps ready at last, now in the latter half of my life to delve into the first half of the New Testament like that?
How odd, when you really think about it, to dub Paul the “master theologian” and treat the Gospels, to treat Jesus, as mere background to get to the “good stuff” – you know, the stuff of atonement and propitiation and predestination et al; the land where free will and divine sovereignty battle it out; the land of tulips and of those who would pluck them. The glorious land of systematic theology – of trying somehow to explain just what it is that happened in the 89 chapters of the four Gospels on a cosmic, theological, wide angle scope. And of course, taking our lead from Paul, we have continued the tradition, multiplying words and books and volumes of explanation, going so far as to convene councils to get it all down and sort it all out – as well as to sort anyone disagreeing with the resulting explanations right out the door.
Then, of course, the latest official explanation becomes the litmus test for whether one was in or out, heavensent or hellbound. And the funny thing about the latest explanation: it always lays claim to being the most ancient all along. Going back to the sweater analogy, those three competing stores in the mall of Christendom all claim that their sweater is the original style worn by Jesus and the apostles themselves. And then, of course, new franchises continue to pop up on the scene claiming to have discovered the real and definitive theological sweater, completely missed by all the others.
And I hear Paul scolding us. Scolding me.
“Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.”
Paul and every other epistle writer merely point back to the Fountainhead from which they flowed. It really is all about Jesus. Imagine that. Every page, every word of inspired commentary on the life of the Alpha and the Omega was only meant to take us back to His feet, to hear and learn and receive from Him; to know Him; to not merely understand and slice and dice a theological system or explanation of justification by faith, but to experience it as we behold His face, to find simple trust and thereby “be transformed from glory to glory.” All who went before Jesus and all who follow in the sacred text are but pedagogues leading us right back to Christ, right back to the shores of the lake, right back to the mount as we become His climbing companions, right back to the cross and to the empty tomb. They are all friends of the bridegroom bidding us to listen for His voice. They are all mere voices in the desert preparing the way for the One whose sandal straps they are not worthy even to stoop down and untie. Pauline theology along with our various takes on it and all the historic theologies derived from it in the seemingly ever expanding mall of Christendom all ultimately cast their crowns at the feet of the Man from Galilee, and will bid us to take our place at His feet like Mary and choose the better part – the part of simple trust in Jesus expressing itself through love.
And so I’m memorizing the Gospel of Mark.
Hopefully I’m ready.