The pattern continues throughout the Gospel. The Greek word eutheos, translated "immediately,” “straight away,” “at once,” etc. occurs no fewer than forty-two times in Mark and frequently colors the narrative. This and other terms of time give a preciseness and immediacy to important events and also to everyday actions. When Mark tells us regarding Jesus and his disciples that “As soon as they left the synagogue they …” (1:29), he conveys a sense of pressing dedication to what they were doing. When he tells us of the man healed by Christ: “immediately the leprosy left him” (1:42), we see the power that effected not an eventual but an immediate change.
And it is not just Jesus and the disciples that act with speed. Often the agents of evil do also. When John the Baptist is imprisoned, Salome’s daughter doesn’t just ask for the head of John – she asks for it “right now” (6:25). Mark paints a verbal picture of a cosmos in which good and evil are completely dedicated to their goals and the battle between them is being fought not in some distant past or potential future, but constantly in the here and now.
Why does Mark’s Gospel differ from the other three portraits of Jesus in this way? To a large extent, it may have been the result of Mark’s audience. Most scholars believe that the primary original audience for Mark’s Gospel was a Roman one. There is plenty of internal evidence – such as the frequent use of Latin terms (for example, denarius in 12:15, quadrans in 12:42, praetorium in 15:16, and flagellare in 15:15) and details such as Mark’s use of the Roman system of dividing the night into four watches instead of the Jewish system of three divisions (6:48, 13:35) – to suggest this is true.
Mark’s Roman audience lived in a somewhat different world than the largely quiet and pastoral Judea. Romans were used to a faster pace of life enabled by straight Roman roads, organized commerce and efficient messenger systems. In the Roman world, if something was important it would usually be done quickly – and something done quickly was often likely to be important.
But to only see the immediacy of Mark’s account as a product of Roman attitudes and expectations is to miss the point that Mark, like all the Gospels, speaks to a situation that goes beyond this world’s political and social realities – to the underlying spiritual reality of the story he tells. Mark’s use of constantly active narrative showing the dedication and non-stop work of Jesus, along with his frequent use of the “historical present tense,” gives every reader of this Gospel a sense of a story that is occurring in the present – a story that includes continual pointers to the need for dedication and an attitude of urgency in doing the work of God.
Mark is a Gospel of now and his story challenges us to live out our part in God’s calling not in dwelling on events of the past or plans for the future, but in doing what we have been given to do, now.
*Extracted from our e-book Inside the New Testament. Download a free copy here.