Admitting which book of the Bible is your favorite is like admitting you have a favorite child. You are supposed to love them all equally, but deep down inside you know that there is one that aggravates you less than the others. If I were asked to name that book of the Bible most difficult for me to love, that would be easy. It’s Job. A friend of mine who once described Job as “nauseating.” It is practically unteachable, and perfectly unpreachable. However, the child you are least likely to favor is the one who undoubtedly needs more of your affection, and so the book of the Bible that you love least is probably the one you need the most. Also, confessing that you love one child (or book) more than the others is liable to reveal more about you than the child (or book.)
Acknowledging this, I am prepared to say that the book of the Bible I enjoy the most is Mark’s Gospel. As someone who generally values efficiency and getting-to-the point I find Mark’s economical writing style highly satisfying. He is a story-teller who wastes no time putting us right into the thick of the action with Jesus’ baptism. In this shortest of the four gospels, Jesus is always on the move. Mark uses the word “immediately” or “straightway” almost forty times, giving the sense that Jesus is busy doing so many extraordinary things that He does not even stop to catch His breath. When you read through Mark in one short sitting, you come away with a sense of the urgency of Jesus’ life and work. Jesus never stands still nor passively sits back, but He charges ahead, taking initiative, taking responsibility. In this way Mark’s gospel challenges and inspires me to join Jesus in His offensive against the enemy.
But to say that Mark’s language is economical is not to say that it reads like a USA Today article, without art or literary value. In fact, this gospel is densely-layered with countless inter-textual allusions and symbols. Just look at all that is packed into chapter one, verse thirteen, after the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness. “And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.” A network of connections light up as we remember all the wilderness wanderings and exiles, what happens when you see the number forty, who was tempted by Satan, the various encounters with wild beasts, and the relevance of the ministry of angels. Mark connects all this Biblical history and symbolism with just twenty-four words!
Mark’s writing is so tight and compact that when you get a bit of color, it stands out like a flashing neon sign. In chapter six Jesus feeds the five thousand. Mark mentions that they sat down on the “green” grass, and immediately after that Jesus calms the waters. The imagery is striking. Herod, the false shepherd, has just served John’s head on a platter. In stark contrast, Jesus is the good shepherd who prepares a table before His sheep, making them lie down in green pastures and leading them beside still waters. Therefore we can trust Him, not Herod, to lead us in paths of righteousness. Again, all this is compressed into just a few short verses.
For all its economy and density, Mark’s gospel is my favorite to read and teach. I genuinely do love the other sixty-five books as well, even Job, and for the record my favorite child is whichever one is currently mowing the grass.