Fear and courage in Mark’s Gospel

I recently reread the Gospel of Mark and noticed, with appreciation, how many of the people in this Gospel, including Jesus’ closest disciples, are shown as confused, uncomprehending, and fearful. Fear, then, became a theme for me in this rereading, partly prompted by Rowan Williams’ book, “Meeting God in Mark“.

I made the lists below, using David Bentley Hart’s translation of the New Testament. I’ve listed all persons who are depicted, in this Gospel of few words, as showing fear, courage, or some mixture of both.


  • The disciples in the storm-tossed boat are “afraid, enormously afraid” (4:41)
  • An impure spirit possessing a man in Capernaum cries out when Jesus approaches, “Did you come to destroy us?” (1:24); impure spirits that gaze upon Jesus fall down before him and cry out, “You are the Son of God” (3:11); the impure spirit Legion, when the man it possesses runs up to Jesus and prostrates himself, cries out, “What do I and you have to do with one another, Jesus, Son of the Highest God?” (5:7), and it begs not to be sent “out of the land” (5:10)
  • The people living in the region of the Gerasenes implore Jesus “to pass on beyond their borders” (5:17)
  • Jairus’ household tries to dismiss Jesus, but he tells them, “Do not be afraid, only have faith” (5:36)
  • Herod “was afraid of John” the Baptist and “was very much at a loss when listening to him, yet listened to him with pleasure” (6:20); he becomes “distressed” at the request of Herodias’ daughter (6:26)
  • The disciples rowing a boat in a storm think Jesus is a “phantom” when he approaches them; they are “distressed”, but Jesus says “do not be afraid” (6:49-51)
  • Peter, James and John become “extremely afraid” at the Transfiguration of Jesus and the appearance of Moses and Elijah (9:6)
  • The disciples are afraid to ask Jesus what he means when he says the Son of Man will be delivered to death and rise again (9:32)
  • “those following along were afraid,” as Jesus approaches Jerusalem (10:32)
  • “the chief priests and the scribes,” after the cleansing of the Temple, “sought a way by which they might destroy him; for they were afraid of him, for all the crowd was awestruck at his teaching” (11:18)
  • “the chief priests and the scribes” ask Jesus about his authority and cannot answer Jesus’ counter-question about the Baptist, because “they were afraid of the crowd, for all held that John truly was a prophet” (11:27-33); Jesus tells them the parable of the murderous tenants, and “they both desired to seize him by force and were also afraid of the crowd” (12:12)
  • The disciples become “distressed” when Jesus predicts that one of them will betray him (14:19)
  • Jesus himself “began to be overwhelmed and to suffer distress” in Gethsemane, and he says, “My soul is in anguish, to the point of death” (14:32-34)
  • The disciples “abandoning him all fled away”, though one cuts off the ear of the chief priest’s slave (14:47-52)
  • Peter denies knowing Jesus (14:66-72)
  • Pilate, “deciding to appease the crowd, released bar-Abbas to them” (15:15)
  • “Mary the Magdalene and James’ Mary and Salome”, after hearing from an angel that Jesus is raised and going to Galilee, “fled from the tomb, for trembling and bewilderment had taken hold of them; and they said nothing to anyone; for they were afraid” (16:1-8)

Perhaps fearful:

  • Satan, the Accuser (1:13)
  • Jesus’ mother and brothers, “summoning him” from outside a house (3:31)

Not too afraid to approach Jesus:

  • Crowds of various sizes (e.g., 1:32, 2:13, 3:8-10, 3:20, 4:1, 5:21, 6:34, 6:54-56, 8:1, 9:15, 9:25)
  • A leper kneels before Jesus and asks to be healed (1:40)
  • Friends of a paralytic (2:4)
  • The man freed from Legion (5:18)
  • Jairus, seeking to save his dying daughter (5:23)
  • The woman with a flow of blood reaches Jesus and touches his cloak, though she is “afraid and trembling”; she falls down before him (5:33)
  • “the Pharisees and some of the scribes coming out from Jerusalem gather about him” (7:1, et al); Pharisees and Herodians approach Jesus with a question about Caesar (12:13); Sadducees approach Jesus to challenge him concerning resurrection (12:18); “one of the scribes” approaches with questions about the commandments, and Jesus tells him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God” (12:34)
  • a Syrophoenician woman whose daughter is possessed by an impure spirit casts herself down before Jesus (7:25)
  • friends of a deaf man living in the Decapolis (7:32)
  • a man whose son has long been abused by a deadly spirit “mute and deaf” (9:17); this father says, when Jesus asks him about his lack of faith, “I have faith; help my faithlessness!” (9:24)
  • Parents wishing for Jesus to touch their children (10:13)
  • A rich young man runs up to Jesus and kneels before him, but retreats “in sorrow” when told what he must give up (10:17-22)
  • James and John approach Jesus with a bold request (10:35)
  • A blind beggar outside the walls of Jericho cries out, “Son of David, have mercy on me” (10:48)
  • A woman approaches Jesus in Bethany and anoints him with precious oil (14:3)
  • Judas and “a crowd with swords and bludgeons” arrest Jesus (14:43-46); Roman soldiers kneel at his feet and crown him (15:17-19)
  • “Mary the Magdalene and Mary the mother of James the Small and Joses, and Salome,” and unnamed others “who had come up with him from Jerusalem,” follow Jesus to the site of crucifixion (15:40); “Mary the Magdalene and Joses’s Mary” later watch where Jesus is entombed (15:47)

Parents approaching Jesus on behalf of their own children appear a few times in the list above:  Jairus, the Syrophoenician mother, the father whose boy has a deaf-mute spirit, and the parents seeking Jesus’ touch.

Not afraid when Jesus approaches:

  • John the Baptist (1:9)
  • Simon, Andrew, James, John (1:16-20)
  • Man with a withered hand (3:3)
  • A household with a small child, in Capernaum (9:33-36)
  • Crowds on Palm Sunday (11:8-9)
  • The disciples who meet the risen Christ (16:9-14)

Not too afraid to do something for Jesus or in his name:

  • A man whom the disciples rebuke for exorcising in Jesus’ name (9:38)
  • Simon the Cyrenian is impressed into service to carry Jesus’ cross (15:21)
  • Joseph of Arimathea, “taking courage,” “went in to Pilate and requested the body of Jesus” (15:43)
  • “Mary the Magdalene and Joses’s Mary”, who “watched where he was laid” (15:47), come to the tomb with Salome and Mary the mother of James the Small to anoint Jesus (16:1-2)
  • The disciples proclaim the risen Christ and the “good tidings to all creation” (16:15-20)

Honorable mention to the disciples of John the Baptist who come and take away his body and bury him (6:29).

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