Thanks to modern biblical studies, we know a great deal about the bible. For example, we know the approximate dates when the Letter of Peter and the Gospel of Mark– which we’re reading this week at Mass– were written. The Gospel of Mark was written around the year 70 and the Letter of Peter in the years 70-90.
The year 70 is important because the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its temple that year and took away its treasures and many Jews who had not been massacred as slaves. By the year 81 the Emperor Domitian had the Arch of Titus built at the entrance to the Roman Forum in honor of his brother, the general who crushed the Jewish rebellion. On the arch are scenes of Titus’ army returning to Rome with the treasures of the temple and Jewish slaves. It’s a statement proclaiming Roman might and a warning to anyone who doubted it.
A few years before 70 Peter and Paul, the leading figures of Christian expansion in the empire, were put to death and Christians suffered a fierce persecution in Rome under Nero.
Not a good time for Jewish Christians driven from their homeland or Gentile Christians embracing a new faith. Wouldn’t they have questions? Wouldn’t they have their fears?
Mark’s gospel reading for today begins “The disciples were on the way, going up to Jerusalem,and Jesus went ahead of them. They were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.” (Mark 10,32) Mark makes sure his readers know Jesus’ disciples “were afraid.” Like James and John, the sons of Zebedee, they expected places in a kingdom, instead they would share in the sufferings of Jesus.
The Letter of Peter reminds its readers that “perishable things like silver and or gold,” the Roman measure for victory, count for nothing compared to the “the precious Blood of Christ” poured out for them by the “spotless unblemished Lamb.”
The time they were written puts another dimension to our readings.