No commentator has adequately been able to 'explain' it. 'The difficulty about 4.24 still remains; [Mark] must have brought it in, though it is hardly relevant, because he wished to use the latter saying [v.25]'.1 Most commentators look outside the text to an alleged source in the scattered sayings of Q in order to expand upon their difficulty in commentating upon it and their difficulty in understanding it within its context.2 A number of commentators have drawn attention to its obscurity.3 Several have assumed that its rewrite in Matthew 7.2 and Luke 6.38, where it is understood as a proverb about judgement, is the closest we get to understanding Mark's original intention.4 So that, overall, this verse could be said to sum up Mark's clumsiness as an editor.5
What I wish to draw attention to are three ambiguities in this verse and how the writer relates (and represses) them through his style. For the verse has a distinct rhythm that arises from the writer's use of assonance, alliteration and balanced clausing.
First, there is the problem of understanding the character of the en, which is often interpreted as an instrumental dative. But I would suggest that the en bears something of a locative connotation also — that the measure (or the
1 E. Best, Mark: The Gospel as Story (Edinburgh: T. &. T. Clark, 1983), p. 126.
2 See Hugh Anderson, The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1981); Rudolf Pesch, Das Markusevangelium, Teil 1 (Freidburg: Herder, 1976).
3 D.E. Nineham, The Gospel of Mark (London: A. & C. Black, 1963); Eduard Schweitzer, The Good News According to Mark, tr. Donald H. Maduig (London: SPCK, 1971).
4 C.E.B. Cranfield, The Gospel According to St Mark, rev. edn (Cambridge University Press, 1972); Morna D. Hooker, The Gospel According to St Mark (London: A. & C. Black, 1991).
5 'Mark is not sufficiently master of his material to be able to venture on a systematic construction himself'; R. Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, tr. John Marsh (Oxford: Blackwell, 1963), p. 350. This is partly true, but for reasons other than Bultmann considers, as we shall see.
measuring) is understood both instrumentally and as a state or condition that can be inhabited.6 The measure is not simply an object to be applied (in order to facilitate judgement), it is a state within which we are already located. It is an active state which, should we continue to participate in it, will affect where and who we will be.
Secondly, there is the difficulty of identifying the umin, the you that is the subject of the sentence. The umin is always already within the process of a measuring that is locating and identifying it. Who are the umin? Jesus, who is set apart (kata monas), is speaking in the midst of his twelve appointed ones, but at the request of 'those around him with [sun] the twelve' (4.10). Umin could then refer to several communities of listeners, including the congregation of the church listening to the reading of the gospel. The Markan text is scattered throughout with what might be called suspended pronouns, pronouns referring to subjects that are not stably identified (see 1.45, 2.15 and 3.2 for others). This umin reaches out concentrically, passing through and beyond several referents. It is always being added to (and prostethesetai carries with it the sense of 'to continue to do something').
Thirdly, there is the question of the verb 'to measure'. What is the act of measuring within the context of understanding parables; within the context also of listening as an act of obedience (akouete)? Listening for what, to what? We hear not a proposition but a carefully orchestrated set of phonemes. The verse performs far more than it states. What we obey is the call to perform (by listening) the rhythm of the sentence. What we obey is the call to participate in, by responding to, a poetic economy, a metre. Metron can, of course mean 'metre' — metre in the context of melos (tune) and rhythmos (time) in classical poetics. And the sentence has a distinctive anapaestic rhythm.
The effect of these three ambiguities is to render prepositional logic subservient to (because subverted by) rhetoric.7 Of course the sentence refers to
6 In The Greek of the Gospel of Mark (Philadelphia, Penn.: Scholar Press, 1961), John Charles Doudna draws attention to Mark's 'extensive use of the local sense' (p. 25) of en and the dative. In 1.23 and 5.2 it is used with the sense of 'in the power of ...' or 'in the possession of ...'. Though he does not include 4.24 (which he classifies as an instrumental dative), within the context of the Gospel, where there is a correspondence between the Spirit that drives forward and the pace of the narrative, perhaps we can see in 4.24 that the involvement with 'measuring' and its promotion is driven by a power (an important Markan word) both beyond and within the 'measuring' itself.
7 The first commentary in English, as far as I am aware, that analysed Mark's gospel in terms of its 'rhythm' was Austen Farrer's A Study in Mark (London: Dacre Press, 1951). It is a complex study of cycles, patterns and numbers, which sometimes makes highly tenuous connections, but nevertheless it remains important and insightful. It anticipates by almost thirty years Jean-François Lyotard's observation in The Postmodern Condition (Manchester University Press, 1986), that 'Narrative form follows a rhythm; it is the synthesis of a metre beating time in regular periods and of accent modifying the length and amplitude of certain of those periods' (p. 21).
an intelligible object and process; it is not nonsense. But its reference is neither simple nor single and, in the absence of a determinative context, its semantic openness promotes a crisis of representation. For its meaning cannot be decoded; we understand nothing specific beyond the fact that it seems to describe an apodictic law (moral? spiritual? existential?) of response, of responding. It points to, without elaborating, an economy of response. It presents and performs the experience of circling back upon oneself, of being caught up with a repetition of what one is already familiar with. We are already 'measuring', we have already measured, as we participate in the ongoing process of Mark's narrative that bears us towards some promised eschatological judgement — that future, final and absolute measurement.
What we have in this little phrase, I suggest, is a parable of the readers of/listeners to the Gospel, who correspond to the ones who sat and listened to Jesus himself. It is, in cameo, the mimetic process whereby the hermen-eut, the one engaged in hearing and re-creating the story, moves out towards that which has already been given and will now be reappropriated anew. The 'measuring' is the act of engagement in an economy of response. The 'measure' is the rhythm of the mimetic process (linked to metre) that enables one to judge and to understand, but not as one who is outside; only as one who is inside, who, by participating, moves towards that which will be given to him or her. Mimesis is the measure. Jesus kata monas does not simply speak but generates the call to be involved, to interpret, interpret from within the process. The call is therefore an empowering — of the twelve, those vaguely suggested ones who are with the twelve, the writer himself, Mark's own listeners (the Christian Church in its local particularity and its universal extension). We are all caught up in the representational process, within a mimetic schema that calls forth and calls for interpretation and reinterpretation. Mimesis, I suggest, is the nature of revelation itself (a revelation inseparable from its mediation).
What follows in this chapter is an argument for the rootedness of both the character of Mark's Christ (who has been sent as God's representative) and the character of Mark's Gospel in a theology of mimesis and poiesis.8
8 Past readers have identified some correlation between Christology and narration. R.H. Light-foot, in his suggestive The Gospel Message of St Mark (Oxford University Press, 1950), repeats a phrase used in connection both with Christ and with the Gospel. For, while acknowledging that 'the Person [ofJesus Christ] and the portrait [is] deeply human it is true, but also profoundly mysterious and baffling' (p. 3), he also recognises that 'the book ends as it began, with extreme abruptness; and indeed from first to last it is mysterious and baffling' (p. 14). Nevertheless, Lightfoot, like many others, failed to follow through and delineate this correlation. The Gospel itself identifies the correlation far more explicitly in 8.35 (emou kai tou euangeliou) and 8.38 (me kai tous emous logons).
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