We are in the year of the Church that has us listening to the earliest, shortest, no frills Gospel written by Mark, reported to have served as secretary for the disciple Peter.
Mark omits reporting Jesus’ Birth, His visit to the temple at the age of twelve, and he makes no mention of relatives or home.
Mark’s opening line reads: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” and then jumps right into an inaugural ceremony staged as Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, followed by a forty-day retreat into the beast infested wastelands where he was tempted by Satan;…and sustained by God’s servants, angels (who) waited on him.
Mark makes no mention of a tension-filled exchange between “The Tempter” and Jesus that is dramatically played out in the word-pictures in the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke.
Mark moves on to write a travelogue of Jesus’ mission starting in Galilee with the proclamation: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.” repent, and believe in the good news.”
Mark does something else that sets his Gospel off from the others. Before we are out of the first chapter, he shows a scene in which the forces of evil know Jesus and name Him, “the Holy One of God.”
But others, down to Jesus’ disciples Whom He calls to follow Him and take up His ministry, are, as Mark pictures them, clueless to the end.
Terry Eagleton,* a prominent British professor and critic of English literature, has proposed if a huge banner were unfurled from heaven displaying the words: “I’m up here, you idiots!” critics and doubters outside and inside the Christian faith would be awakened to the reality of the existence of God.
Mark directs his Gospel to Christians who are being persecuted and fear their church is threatened with extinction. They are looking for God to step down and solve their problems; they are waiting for God to annihilate all who are determined to destroy them. They who are hoping for that banner to be unfurled, are missing the sight passing before them, standing among them.
Mark pictures them along the sidelines, not seeing the sight of God in their midst, walking every step of the way in Jesus…all the way to the cross.
To read Mark’s Gospel is to find ourselves asking, “Am I as blind, as obvious, as critical, as reactionary as those I see pictured in his Gospel?” “Am I missing the sight of God Who has stepped down to be present in every place and in places where we least expect to be?” “Am I missing the God Who is waiting to be seen as ‘gospel’ in this bad news world?”
Mark starts off with a title he’s the first to use: “Gospel.” “Gospel” *– from the Greek word euangelion which Christians borrowed to use as a kind of shorthand for their story, the Gospel, the Good News of God in Jesus Christ.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, takes the word back to its origin in the ancient world where euangelion –literally, “a pleasing message” was a political term for something like a press release the public would be “pleased” to hear: a royal family member had gotten engaged, or had a baby, or the army had captured an enemy city, or won a decisive victory, an announcement changing political scene or the landscape of public life.
To read Mark’s Gospel is to join the company of a first-century Greek-speaking person in the Roman Empire and read the very first line: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” that, with the words “good news, gospel, euangelion,” announces and reads like an official proclamation of a “regime change” which adds a second level to our questioning, as we ask, “What does this mean?” “What are the changes when God is seen in Jesus Christ?” “What does it mean to our world?” “What does it mean to me? What affect will it have on me?”
Now it’s our time to pick up the Gospel according to Mark and make it our Lenten assignment to:
First, read from the beginning to the end and make a note of the word-snapshots of Jesus and write a caption under each one, describing the come-down-to earth God seen in Jesus
Second, as reading, from beginning to end, make a note of Jesus’ stories and actions in scenes of healing, at a dinner table where all are welcome, in a picnic where a lunch blessed by Jesus feeds thousands, where the stones of the temple are diminished by the living temple, Jesus Christ, in an upper room where He becomes the living bread and saving cup freely given to His followers and promised to all future generations.
And then there is the cross, the ultimate good news of the extent to which God went to build a bridge to reunite us with God.
See, from beginning to end, how, through Jesus, God’s regime change is on display, and write down the details.
Then, the exam that is our response to the Jesus we meet and the regime change we witness; we already know what the passing grade is. We read it in the Calvary scene where the only one who sees Who Jesus is, is a Roman guard who cries out, “Truly, this man was God’s Son!” The only time in the entire Gospel according to Mark that the question: “Who is he?” is answered!
The late Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Anthony Bloom who introduced us Westerners to the rich prayer life of his tradition told the story* of his life, beginning as a youth who, in spite of his skepticism, accepted an invitation to attend a lecture by a highly respected and very devout theologian in the Orthodox Church.
Determined to dismiss the Christian faith and prove how empty and stupid it was, he decided to use the Gospels as his source and chose Mark’s account because it was the shortest.
As he read, he later wrote:
“The feeling I had occurs sometimes when you are walking along in the street, and suddenly you turn around because you feel someone is looking at you. While I was reading, before I reached the third chapter, I suddenly because aware that on the other side of my desk there was a Presence…I realized immediately: if Christ is standing here alive, that means he is the risen Christ.”
Then and there he answered for himself Who Christ is, God in human flesh, and he went on to live out that commitment in costly ways for 70 years, and to bring many from the sidelines in Mark’s Gospel to confess Him as Lord and Savior and to make the regime His total commitment. ..which is a good reason to read the original, unfinished ending to Mark’s Gospel,
so WE become the ones who add our own story, as in the words of Albert Schweitzer:
“He comes to us...and we discover on our own time Who He is.”
It’s Lent, our time to hear the questions and live answers as we work out way through Mark’s Gospel. Amen.
Note: The asterisk (*) indicates references read in Rowan William’s book, “Meeting God in Mark,” WJK Westminster John Know Press, © 2014.
(Eagleton, P. 43, Gospel, P.6-7, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom story, P. 4-5)
Permission has been requested to quote the noted references, as per the copyright requirement for printing on this webpage .
Make Rowan William’s book your alongside Lenten reading, alongside the Gospel according to Mark. Order copies online at: www.wjkbooks.com