O Lord, help us to understand your heart behind the words!
A straightforward reading of Mark 3 and 4 can miss understanding the tone of Christ’s words and the invitation behind them.
Examples from Mark 3 and 4…
- What tone of voice, pauses and inflections did Jesus use in Mark 3:28-30 (ESV)? “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”
- When Jesus says in Mark 4:9-13, 21-25, 33-34, “he who has ears to hear, let him hear,” is he setting up a callous rule that disallows freedom of choice? The hortatory, subjunctive mood used here makes a difference because that mood suggests there is something yet to happen, commands the direction that action should take, and requests or calls one to take action. We might say that the meaning is simply “If you want to hear, listen!” and “All things and persons who would stop the one who would listen, I command you now, ‘Back off!'”
KEY QUESTION: Does the context gives us justification for such an understanding?
Jesus’ tone of voice IS important, and it seems the context of His statements both near and far help us to hear His voice as it speaks personally to us in the passage.
It makes a difference if Jesus is speaking dispassionately as we so often read His words, or if we understand Him to be making observations on the reality of our situation from an empathetic viewpoint WITHIN our situation. Does He not speak completely truthfully yet with a love-filled voice when commenting on our reality within a broken world — speaking with a broken heart, softness of voice, and a deep understanding of the horror that those resisting him with hostile and evil intentions are choosing to bring on themselves?
The answer is “Yes!” – given the context provided by the first two chapters of Mark (in which we see Jesus stepping into the middle of our humanity to heal, call to repentance, and call us to follow Him as the King of God’s eternal kingdom); and given the context of the rest of the Gospels (Matthew 12:15-21,18:10-14, Luke 19:41-44).
Jesus often spoke boldly and matter-of-factly about the reality of a matter, but he never spoke out of malice, or angry frustration from having taken a personal offense. Incredibly, He ALWAYS speaks from a posture of truth with complete empathy, deepest understanding, and a readiness to forgive if at all possible (Matthew 11:28-30, John 3:16-21, Ephesians 4:14-32; Hebrews 2:9-18; 1 Peter 2:9-10, 18-25, 3:8-18).
The best smiles hide the deepest scars and the kindest hearts have felt the most pain. Jesus has the best smile and the kindest heart imaginable.
And that’s the tone of voice we must bring to our reading of Mark 3-4, and every other statement attributed to Him.