Atonement in Mark’s Gospel (William C. Placher)

“The Gospel narrative is thus one in which Jesus takes on our sins. We are characters in this story, and Jesus is. Neither the Father nor the devil is. Thus the two classic theories of the atonement both go beyond what Mark offers us. In contrast to Anselm, Mark does not present a “Father” who accepts the death of his Son as recompense for human sin. If anything, Mark’s story would imply, as Barth says, ‘primarily it is God the Father who suffers in the offering and sending of His Son, in His abasement.’ At the same time, there is no devil in this story by whom we are entrapped and who has any legitimate rights over us.”

– William C. Placher, Mark (Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible), 233.

Did Mark’s Jesus HAVE to Die on a Cross?

Did Jesus, in the Gospel According to Saint Mark, have to die on a cross? Brian K. Blount, in his remarkable book Invasion of the Dead: Preaching Resurrectiondoesn’t think so.

He argues that the real action of God through Jesus in Mark is the inauguration of God’s kingdom over and against the forces of the world. While his ministry and life does make suffering necessary and inevitable, he claims that:

“Theoretically speaking, God’s invasion could occur, and in fact does occur in Mark without a cross moment. To be sure, death is necessary – it is an obligatory prerequisite for resurrection – but death on a cross? Consider the narrative presentation. God’s invasion ignites in that striking moment when Jesus tears into the narrative world and engages John the Baptist at the Jordan. God’s invasion flares divine intent for the future when Jesus turns up missing from the tomb. If, theoretically speaking, Jesus had died from cancer, or old age, or a broken heart, the invasive realities of the incarnation and the empty womb would remain real and viable. The cross showcases more about us than it does about God. It confirms the deadness that writhes within us and fights desperately against the promise of future life that Jesus reveals in his present behavior. Given who humans are – the living dead – and who Jesus is, the representation of future life in the midst of a present age consumed by the influence and power of death, the cross becomes an apocalyptic inevitability. Because of us. Not because of God. Because of what we are. Not because of who God is. Who God is stands exposed the moment Jesus is revealed as God’s Son and God’s mission is revealed as Jesus’ ministry. Who God is stands clarified the moment the man in the empty tomb alleges that Jesus’ promise to rise from the dead and restart his ministry through his disciples was fulfilled. In Jesus’ coming, God is the one who breaks in on the powers of death who rule this present age. God is the one who offers a preview of future life to the living dead who populate this age in Jesus’ ministry. God is the one who raises up a working demonstration of that future life in Jesus’ empty tomb. In a desperate, futile attempt to counter all of these revelations of “life,” the living dead offer up a cross.”

Do you agree with Blount? What are your thoughts on this quote?