Today is the Feast of St. Mark, the Evangelist. In honor of St. Mark, I’m posting the chapter on the Gospel According to Mark from my book, Thy Word, An Introduction to the Bible for People in the Pews.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MARK
Mark 2:1-12 Mark 10:32-34
Mark 8:27-33 Mark 10:42-45
Mark 9:30-32 Mark 15-16
According to the tradition of the early Church, the Gospel According to Mark reflects the story of Jesus as given by Peter, the chief apostle, to John Mark, cousin of Barnabas and fellow worker of Paul. St. Jerome, who lived in the fourth and early fifth centuries, wrote, “Mark the disciple and interpreter of Peter wrote a short Gospel at the request of the brethren at Rome embodying what he had heard Peter tell. When Peter heard this, he approved it and published it to the churches to be read by his authority…” The tradition goes back even farther, however, and is mentioned by Papias, bishop of Hierapolis in the first half of the second century. Today, most scholars of the Bible find little reason to discard the tradition attributing the Gospel to John Mark, or its connection to Peter. Most scholars also agree that Mark was the first of the four Gospels to be written, probably in Rome just before or soon after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in AD 70.
Mark can be divided into two parts. The first part, chapters 1-8, answers the question, “Who is Jesus?” Jesus performs powerful deeds: He heals the paralytic (2:1-12), gives sight to the blind (8:22-26), frees those possessed by demons (5:1-13) and even controls nature (4:35-41). Jesus proclaims a “new teaching” (1:27). He teaches as “one having authority” (1:22), and not like the religious teachers of His day. He even claims authority to forgive sins, which only God can do (2:5-7, 10-12). In short, Jesus is One Who has power and authority. Mark answers the question, “Who is Jesus?” by showing us that Jesus is the One with power over sickness, demons and nature, and with authority to forgive sins and teach about the kingdom of God.
But this power and authority, while astonishing and exciting the crowds, makes the religious and political leaders angry. Even His own disciples misunderstand Who Jesus is and what His mission is about. In the second half of Mark, from chapters 8 to 16, Jesus must help His disciples understand His identity and mission, and He must suffer at the hands of His enemies.
The second half of Mark answers the question, “What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus?” It begins with Jesus and the disciples on their way to the town of Caesarea Philippi (8:27-33). Jesus asks them, “Who do people say that I am?” Answers vary: “John the Baptist” or “Elijah” or “one of the prophets.” Jesus then asks, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter responds, “You are the Messiah.” Does Peter finally understand? But wait … shortly after this profession of faith, we find Jesus rebuking Peter, even calling him “Satan.” What happened? Peter’s profession of faith in Jesus as the Messiah is followed by the first of three prophesies by Jesus of His suffering and death. Peter cannot grasp how God would allow His anointed One to suffer and die. So, he rebukes Jesus, telling Him that this must not happen. Jesus, in turn, rebukes Peter for tempting Him away from God’s plan of salvation, just as Satan had done in the desert (1:12-13).
People want a worldly savior, a savior of power, wealth and fame; a savior who will defeat the enemy by force, slay the oppressor and gain liberty for the people. But, the power of this world can gain, at best, freedom in this world. Not a bad thing, but not the kingdom of God, which is freedom from the chains of sin, and the gift of eternal life! When Jesus heals the paralytic (2:1-12), before He frees the man from the chains of his paralysis, He frees him from the chains of his sins. The man’s paralysis is no obstacle to heaven, but his sins are.
After the second and third prophecies of Jesus’ suffering and death (9:30-32; 10:32-34), His disciples again fail to understand His mission. They argue about who is greatest among them (9:33-37), or try to negotiate special privileges (10:35-41). Jesus explains that status and privilege, while greatly desired in this world, do not matter in the kingdom of God. “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (10:42-45). Jesus will lose His life, handing it over as a ransom for all of us. Those who follow Him, who would be His disciples, must take up their crosses alongside Him and give their lives for His sake and His mission: to save all people. This is what it means to be a disciple.
Mark wrote his Gospel to a church in Rome that was facing persecution. Many were being martyred because of their faith in Jesus. Others surrendered their faith when threatened with suffering and death. Mark wrote to inspire with courage the followers of Jesus to take up their crosses, as Jesus had, and offer their lives for the gospel. Jesus walked ahead of the disciples on the road to suffering and death. He will walk ahead of us now. As disciples, we are to follow Jesus on the way. His way is suffering, but suffering unto glory.
WHAT DOES THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MARK TEACH US ABOUT JESUS?
- Jesus is the One Who possesses the power and authority to bring forth the kingdom of God.
- Jesus brings God’s salvation, not by the power, wealth or fame of this world, but by the sacrificial love of the cross.
- As disciples of Jesus, we follow Jesus in His examples of suffering and sacrificial love.
- Jesus’ way is suffering, but suffering unto glory.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.