The Hidden Question in the Gospel of Mark

My first car was a 1973 VW Bug.  It was sky blue and I loved it.  It had a four speed (manual) transmission and could go anywhere.  Because it had rear wheel drive with the weight of the engine over the rear axle, you really could go off-road.  I drove it down muddy roads and through snow drifts without any problems.

My car had character.  When it rained your pant legs would get wet from the water splashing up through the cracks and holes in the floorboard (you could actually see the road!).  The heat was always on, and you had to loosen six screws just to change the oil.  The wheels were always squatting out, and to defrost the windows I had to use a rag.

On the highway if I floored it while going downhill I could push the speedometer past the “85 mph” limit—and the ride was smooth as glass.  I put a lot of money in that car—but God only knows how many brain cells I lost driving it.  The gas tank was in the front—so as you drove you would continually smell the fumes.

I don’t know what you drive, but every one of us is on the move.  We go to school, to work, to the store, to the doctor’s office, to church, to a friend’s house, etc.   We’re all busily moving here and there—but have you ever stopped to ask yourself where you’re really going?  Better yet, how does your faith in God give you direction?  How does your faith in Christ set the direction?

This is a “hidden question” Jesus is asking each of us in the Gospel of Mark.  It’s a very important question—one with eternal consequence.  The gospel writer Mark makes it simple for us by using the metaphor of being on a journey so we can all answer this question with honesty and authenticity.

In Mark 1.2, we see this question first appear.  The text says, “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way…”

The word in the original language (Koine Greek) for “way” is hodos.  It was often used to refer to a road or pathway.  But it also had a common usage to mean “the way home”.   In a spiritual sense, I think that’s the main sense of Mark’s usage of this word as we shall see below.

After 1.2, the next time this word appears is in 8.27 which reads, “And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi.  And on the way (hodos), he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’”

Here we see the disciples traveling with Jesus, and on the road he asks them a simple question.  Obviously, they weren’t “on the way home”—but then again, maybe they were… keep reading.

Skip forward in Mark to 9.33 and we see hodos appear again.  Mark writes, “And they came to Capernaum.  And when he (Jesus) was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you discussing on the way (hodos)?’  But they kept silent, for on the way (hodos), they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.”

The disciples were jockeying for position in the new kingdom that Jesus kept talking about.  They wanted to outdo one another—so they were arguing about who should be the Prime Minister, Vice President, etc.   I doubt anyone was arguing about the Janitorial position…

This word appears again in 10.32, “And they were on the road (hodos), going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them.  And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.”  What’s different about this verse?  Jesus isn’t walking with them—he’s actually walking ahead of them.  He’s leading the way—and they are fearful for where he is taking them (Jerusalem = the place of extreme danger for Jesus and his disciples).

Moving on, we see the final occurrence of hodos in 10.52.  In healing a blind beggar named “Bartimaeus”, Jesus says to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.’ And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way (hodos).”

Here we find Jesus and his disciples on the outskirts of Jerusalem.  They were passing through Jericho, and Jesus took takes the time to heal a blind beggar.  Notice the subtle change in tone for Mark’s commentary contrasting this new believer in Christ with the timid disciples who seem to reluctantly follow Jesus on his mission.  Bartimaeus is commended for putting his faith completely in Jesus, which leads to action in following Jesus “on the way (hodos).”

If we read this with spiritual eyes, we see Bartimaeus now has true vision—and his new sight enables him to follow Jesus.  It doesn’t matter where Jesus is going.  It doesn’t matter what the costs of following will be (after all, Bartimaeus had already given up his only cloak to follow Christ in this story—a prized possession in the ancient world).  Bartimaeus is on his way home—because home is wherever Jesus is leading.

Did you catch that?  The disciples were always following Jesus, but they weren’t really home until they had abandoned their own understanding to follow Jesus completely by faith.  Ironically, their faith didn’t really come alive until after Jesus had risen and ascended to Heaven (and thus had become invisible to them).   But for Bartimaeus, for the first time in his life—he was home.

Notice the progression in Mark’s gospel of how faith comes home in Jesus.  Ancient prophets talked about it, the disciples wrestled in trying to understand it, but a blind man was able to experience it for himself because he put his faith completely in Jesus to follow him.  He may have grown up in Jericho his whole life—but now he’s finally coming home—because home is wherever Jesus is leading him to be.

Think of your faith as a car.  My old VW Bug was of no benefit to me unless I completely got into it, closed the door, and turned the key.  I couldn’t drive it partially.  I had to be committed.  I had to shut the door, turn the key, and drive.

In the same way, Jesus is asking you a hidden question in Mark’s gospel.  How committed to him are you?  Have you truly sat down, shut the door, and turned the key?  Or, are you trying to do your own thing and follow Jesus at the same time?  Try driving your car that way, and you’re asking for trouble.  Try following Jesus that way and you’ll end up frustrated, confused, and disenchanted.

Application Questions:

1.  If following Jesus is “the way home”, then how does this change what you previously thought was “the way home” for yourself?  How does the world try to offer a different “way home”?

2.  Who do you most identify with:  the disciples who struggled in their understanding of what it meant to follow Jesus?  Or the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, who seemed to put understanding aside in order to completely dedicate himself to Christ?

3.  Bartimaeus is never mentioned again in Scripture.  What do you think happened to him?  His name means “Son of Honor”.  For years he must’ve felt a ‘son of dishonor’—but then one touch of Jesus changes all that.  If you could receive just one touch from Jesus, what do you need?  Ask him now…

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