As Ordinary Time begins after the Christmas season we’ll be reading from the first 10 chapters of the Gospel of Mark at daily Mass till the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Even if you can’t get to daily Mass, read along with the daily lectionary. It’s a wonderful way to pray.
The medieval artist who painted the portrait above of Mark, sees him as an old man, adjusting his spectacles and getting down to work, while a lion, a traditional symbol of the evangelist, gets ready to roar.
A roaring, fast-paced story– a good way to describe Mark’s gospel–. “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.’” Think of loud trumpets, drums and clanging symbols. We’re reading it in slow motion. It’s meant to be read fast, one story building on the other.
Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God, first in Galilee and then in Jerusalem, by miracles and powerful signs. The “wild beasts” he faced in the desert (Mark 1,13) face him now in human form, but he boldly goes his way, with a lion’s courage.
The Acts of the Apostles says that Peter knew John Mark. After his escape from jail ” he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who is called Mark, where there were many people gathered in prayer.” (Acts 12,10)
Mark accompanied Barnabas and Paul on a missionary journey (Acts 12:25; 13:3; 15:36–39) and later sources say he was Peter’s interpreter.
From all those sources Mark must have assembled his gospel. He heard the stories about Jesus told by the Christian community at his mother’s house, He listened to Paul and Peter. From all of them, he wrote his gospel, the first to be written, around the year 70.
Many commentators say Mark’s Gospel was written in Rome for the Christians there who suffered during the first great persecution of the church by Nero after a fire consumed the city in 64 AD. Now they faced the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple.
They were asking the same question the disciples of Jesus were asking. “Who are you?” “You are the Messiah,” Peter answers, but 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.
Mark’s Gospel concludes with the story of the Passion of Jesus. Jesus dies and rises again and all who follow him do the same. But Peter finds it hard to understand; all the disciples–us too– find it hard to understand. Mark’s gospel repeats again and again–we don’t understand.
Some say Mark’s gospel is “A passion narrative with an extended introduction.” In the next weeks we are reading the introduction, from chapters 1-10.
His first disciples didn’t understand the mystery of suffering already present in these chapters, Mark’s gospel says. The Kingdom of God comes anyway, in fact, it’s at hand. We pray to understand it.