I love watching ESPN SportsCenter on Fridays. Why? The Not-Top-10, that’s why. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s where the folks at ESPN gather all the worst plays, the errors, and the epic fails from the past week of sports and highlight those. Now I really like watching those bloopers and mishaps for a couple reasons. First, some of them are just downright hilarious. Second, it reminds us that these professional athletes are still humans. They make mistakes. They don’t always catch the ball. The don’t always run the right plays. They don’t always have it all together.
When I’m reading through the Gospel of Mark, I feel like I’m watching a Not-Top-10 reel. The apostles are constantly made to look like idiots, and things don’t always go as you would expect.
In fact, here are three of the biggest reasons I believe in the historicity of the gospels, at least from a literary standpoint:
1. The embarrassing stories about the apostles. Much emphasis was placed on the apostles, especially Peter and John, during the first couple centuries of the church. So much so that one would expect a great deal of veneration and esteem in the sacred texts of the church. We Americans know all to well that history is not unbiased. American history is written to reflect well upon our founding fathers. Triumphs are highlighted. Failures and shortcomings are briefed over at best, totally ignored at worst. Not so with the gospels and the early leaders of the church. All their flaws and imperfections rise to the top throughout the gospels. They are portrayed as dimwitted, hot tempered, and immature. Not exactly the kind of people you would expect to carry on God’s mission in the world.
2. The value placed on outsiders. Throughout the gospels Jesus encounters gentiles – non-Jews and/or non-believers – who have a stronger faith than his own people. In fact, they often understand his mission better than his own disciples. The woman at the well. The Roman centurion. The Canaanite woman. Even those who were Jews but were treated as outcasts by society showed much greater faith than others. We’re talking about those with leprosy, those with paralysis, the prostitutes, the tax collectors. In fact, the greatest show of faith in the Gospel of Mark is made by the Roman Centurion in charge of Jesus’ crucifixion. He is the first human to acknowledge Jesus as “the Son of God.”
3. The importance of women in the life of Jesus. Women weren’t treated badly in Jewish society. They just weren’t treated all that well. They were still second class citizens. But that did not stop Jesus from incorporating them into his ministry. His financial support came from women. He stayed in the houses of women. He took the good news to entire cities through his conversations with certain women. When all his disciples had abandoned him at his crucifixion, women stood nearby. Women saw where they laid Jesus’ body. And women were the first to hear that Jesus had been resurrected – and they were then told to go tell the men.
It’s no surprise that Paul calls the story of Christ a “stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the gentiles.” To the first century mind, the entire story is complete madness. It’s utterly ridiculous. But that’s the beauty of it. Because even through our own idiocy, God can shine through all the more. If the story had been about the apostles or the gentiles or the women, this movement would have gone nowhere. But the story isn’t about us. It’s about God. It’s not about our failures – it’s about God’s triumph.