Brendan BYRNE, A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark's Gospel. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2008. pp. 265. $26.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8146-1856-1.
Reviewed by Andrew McCARTHY, Saint Leo University, 15 Maple Ave, Jamestown RI 02835

Two texts for the price of one is what you receive with Brendan Byrneís A Costly Freedom: A theological Reading of Markís Gospel. Byrne offers a very decent basic exegesis of the Gospel of Mark as the foundation for his more notable effort to present a "theological reading" of this Scripture. He does not take up an overwhelming number of sources, but those he does employ are very well chosen, including Raymond Brown, John Donahue and Daniel Harrington, Joachim Gnilka, and Francis Maloney. Byrneís smooth flowing narrative style is only slowed by the extent of pertinent information and analysis that does not owe itself easily to a passive reading. His footnotes both added to the text and often stood alone for their points of interest.

The theological reading of Mark was developed around a 3 story structure. In the first instance the gospel is a story about the revelation of Jesusí messiah status. Once this begins to take shape the second story portends the reality of suffering that will be entailed in following out the will of God, and in the third story there is the expectation of Jesusí triumphant return. While this might be a valuable technique for mapping out the text, it did not always come across as necessary in presenting the central theme about a confrontation with the demonic resulting in increased vulnerability. In particular, the third story did not work as well with the theme as the first two stories.

It is in his work with the demonic that Byrne makes his greatest contribution. Initially I expected this to be a very dark reading of the Scripture when it became clear that there would be a major focus on the concept of the demonic, but he quickly moves the discussion toward a very contemporary outlook on the nature of evil. Byrne points out that there is a distinctive shift in Jesusí ministry from "overt exorcism" to overcoming a limitation to perception. To this end, Byrne identifies a parallel between Jesusí teaching and exorcism ministry, which are both meant to reveal who he is. In each endeavor his activity is life-giving. Those who were possessed of demons have lost much of the life that is within them due to "self-destructiveness and social isolation." Those in need of his teaching are not fully aware of the life that is within them. In either case, Jesus is seen as reintegrating people into the wholeness of life. But then comes the "cost." Just as his teaching puts him in jeopardy for having upset the social-religious status quo, his triumph over evil is only made possible by making himself vulnerable to evil. The author is adept at indicating this situation throughout the Scripture.

Byrne describes the Gospel of Mark as an encounter with absence and chaos. Perhaps we should see this as a complement to the Gospel of John which recalls the divine order instituted in Genesis to counter the chaos out of which our experience emerged. As the disciplesí experience of Jesus continued to take shape through revelatory moments like his baptism in which the heavens open to expose God to the forces of evil, as well as the transfiguration, Jesusí followers begin to realize to "costly nature of their relationship with him. This is presented in two very intriguing interpretations. First, the episode of the rich man who went away sadly looks ahead to the reality that some would reject Jesusí offer of the fullness of life, and then there is the young man who ran off without his tunic during the passion. Byrne explains that this is symbolic of the cost of discipleship which is too much for some to bear. The young man is the un-named disciple who discards his baptismal robe rather than meet the demands of the baptismal promise. A similar notion is found in his parallel reading of the purging of the temple and the withering of the fig tree. Although these appear to contradict much of Jesusí life-giving ministry, in another light we see that anything that is not freely open to life is spurned by Jesus.

With this book Byrne has added an important interpretation of the Gospel of Mark which stands alongside many of the best hermeneutical efforts rather than against them. Presented in this format, the book can be well-used as part of a substantial comparative exegesis project in an upper level undergraduate course, but more likely in a graduate course.

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