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What kind of animal is this creature? Identity and interlude, Mark 8—10

So, everybody misunderstands Jesus during the first half of this gospel – his family (3.21–35), the crowds (4.10–12), the Gerasenes (5.17), his own home town (6.1–6), the religious leaders (7.6; 8.11–12) and even the poor disciples (8.17–18). However, this is hardly surprising: Jesus bounds on to the stage from nowhere and, once he has arrived, he does not make things very clear. The parables are such favourite stories to us today that the ‘meanings’ are clear; but to the first listeners, they would have seemed like riddles. Wandering teachers in the East, then and now, use riddles to force the hearer to think new thoughts in new ways – and Jesus was an expert riddler, that ‘they may indeed listen, but not understand’ (4.12). He was a master of irony – ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ (3.4) – and paradox – ‘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’ (8.45). Thus, Mark’s Jesus strikes amazement, fear, and awe into people (e.g. 1.22; 2.12; 5.15; 6.2; 7.37), an inscrutable and enigmatic figure. If the text is transparent to the reader, it is because Mark wants us to understand what he is saying; within his text, the evangelist portrays Jesus baffling opponents and disciples, family and crowds, alike…

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