Weekdays after the feast of the Baptism of Jesus till Tuesday before Ash Wednesday we’ll be reading at Mass from the first 10 chapters of the Gospel of Mark. The medieval painter (above) sees Mark an old man, adjusting his spectacles to get down to work; a lion, a traditional symbol of the evangelist, waits ready to roar.
Actually, that’s a good way to describe Mark’s gospel– a fast-paced, roaring narrative. “After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.’”
Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God, first in Galilee and then in Jerusalem, by miracles and powerful signs. He continues to face “wild beasts” as he did in the desert, (Mark 1,13) but now they’re in human form, yet he boldly goes his way, with a lion’s courage.
Jesus asks his disciples in chapter 8 who do people say he is? “You are the Messiah,” Peter answers. When Jesus announces he must go up to Jerusalem and be rejected and killed and raised up, Peter will have none of it. In response, Jesus calls him “Satan,” he’s thinking as man thinks and not as God does.
In God’s thinking, Jesus, his Son, must die and rise again and all who follow him must do the same. Peter’s not alone in not understanding God’s thinking; all the disciples, us too, are slow to understand. Mark’s gospel emphasizes we don’t understand. Some say Mark’s gospel is “A passion narrative with an extended introduction.”
Many commentators say Mark’s Gospel was written in Rome for the Christians of that city who suffered in the first great persecution of the church by Nero after a fire consumed the city in 64 AD. We can hear that story prompting Mark’s story.
The Roman historian Tacitus says that Nero blamed the Christians for the fire and had many of them arrested and put to death in his gardens and at the Vatican circus across the city.
The persecution must have had a devastating affect on the Christians of Rome at the time, innocent people completely taken by surprise by this brutal injustice. They didn’t understand it at all.
His first disciples didn’t understand the mystery of suffering either, Mark’s gospel says. The Kingdom of God comes anyway, in fact, it’s at hand.
Let’s follow him.