Today’s the Feast of St. Mark. I like this medieval portrait of Mark, the author of the gospel, pouring over some writings. His gospel perhaps? It reminds us that real people like Mark were behind the sacred books we read. The lion looking up at him is the powerful voice of God inspiring him.
He’s an old man, his eyes are going. But he has to be old if he’s a disciple of Peter, as tradition claims. Mark’s gospel appears shortly before or after the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD. Forty years before, around the year 32, Jesus died and rose again. So, if Mark is author of the gospel as tradition claims, he’s in his 70s.
He’s probably in Rome, where just a few years before, in 64 AD, the Christians of the city experienced a vicious persecution at the hands of the Emperor Nero. No doubt they’re still feeling its affects and asking themselves why it happened.
Mark, along with Peter and Paul, must have suffered in that persecution. Tradition claims he wrote his gospel in response to that dreadful experience. We might speculate that Mark came to Rome with Peter. In Peter’s 1st Letter he calls Mark, “my son.” Mark would have heard Peter’s witness to Jesus many times; he knows his story.
St.Irenaeus, an ancient commentator on the transmission of faith in the early church, writes “The church, which has spread everywhere, even to the ends of the earth, received the faith from the apostles and their disciples.” The apostles and their disciples–Mark’s one of them– gave us the gospels.
As Peter’s disciple, Mark’s not just a stenographer repeating Peter’s eyewitness account; he’s adapted the apostle’s story, adding material and insights of his own. Scholars today admire Mark’s gospel and advise reading it carefully. It’s the first gospel to be written, they say, Matthew and Luke derive much of their material from it. Though simply written, the author uses simple details masterfully to tell his story.
Though some scholars question the traditional attribution of the gospel to Mark and its origin in the Roman church, the traditional position still has strong backing. It offers a unique wisdom. We’re disciples of Jesus. How are we going to add our voice to his?
I like the wonderful commentary: The Gospel of Mark, in the Sacra Pagina series from Liturgical Press, by John Donohue,SJ and Daniel Harrington, SJ (Collegeville, Min. 2002). It’s a great guide to this gospel.
You gave St. Mark the privilege of proclaiming your gospel. May we profit by his wisdom and follow Christ more faithfully. Grant this, through Christ, your Son.