Some thoughts on Mark’s Gospel (M. Powell’s Introducing the New Testament, p. 125-136)
The Gospel of Mark is the briefest of the four Gospels, and much of the best-known and most-loved material about Jesus is missing (Jesus’ birth story, the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Beatitudes, the raising of Lazarus). Mark tells stories of Jesus in ways that seem to emphasize frailty, suffering, failure, and ambiguity. His book is less complex than Matthew’s or Luke’s, and it is less “talky” than John’s. It works as a story told from beginning to end, the sort of story that one might have heard read aloud in a single sitting. It was probably the first Gospel written, most scholars dating it between 65 and 73 during the Jewish war with Rome, just after the Roman persecutions of Peter, Paul and many others. The book is anonymous because there are only guesses at the author’s identity. Mark was a common name. There is suspicion it could be the Mark mentioned in 1 Peter 5:13 or the John Mark mentioned in Acts and some of Paul’s letters. But we do know he is a devout Christian who believes in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, and he was probably writing for an audience of Roman Christians.
When it comes to the Passion, Mark’s Gospel is distinctive. On Easter morning, a group of women come to the tomb where a young man (probably an angel) tells the women Jesus is risen: They went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. It is such an abrupt ending that some Christians added on to it later. The centrality of Mark’s Gospel is the cross. The crucifixion of Jesus is clearly what matters most to Mark. Jesus has not ultimately come to heal the sick or to argue with Pharisees ;he has come to give his life as a ransom (10:45). The cross of Christ serves as the primary symbol for the life of self-denial, service, and sacrifice that Jesus’ followers (That means us!) are called to embrace (8:34).
Points made by Raymond Brown in A Crucified Christ in Holy Week (p. 21-24)
- Begins on a gloomy note, and the darkness will intensify until Jesus breathes his last the next day. In all that time no support will come from those who have been his followers, and he will die alone. The tragedy seems almost too much for Jesus himself.
- Even though he predicted Peter’s denials, he is upset that Peter could not watch one hour with him. Although there is no direct response from God to Jesus’ prayer for deliverance, ultimately Jesus rises resolved to encounter the betrayer, leaving us to assume that he has understood God’s answer to be that he must drink the cup and face the hour that is at hand.
- For Mark (and here he differs from the other 3 evangelists) Jesus’ resignation to his fate may be seen in his failure to respond to the Judas who kisses him or to the bystander who draws the sword and strikes the slave of the high priest on the ear. If the hour and cup could not pass, as Jesus had prayed earlier, let be what God wills.
- The disciple fleeing naked is symbolic simply of the abandonment of Jesus by his disciples. The first disciples to be called left nets and family (1:18, 20), indeed everything (10:28), to follow him; but this last disciple, who at first sought to follow Jesus, ultimately leaves everything to get away from him.
Points made by Garry Wills in What the Gospels Meant (p. 42-47)
- The reason that Jesus was still not being accepted as Messiah is that he was the wrong kind of Messiah. It was bad enough for Jesus to claim to be the Messiah. It is simply insane for him to say that he would suffer death for being the Messiah. The call of this Messiah is a call to suffering. Later Christianities will be ruling, crusading, and triumphalist bodies, sitting on papal and imperial thrones, sending out armies to slay the heathen. Mark’s Gospel could not be further from such distortions of what Jesus said and did and meant.The Messianic community not only suffered because it was like Jesus. It suffered because it was Jesus.
- Mark knows the opening of Jesus’ prayer in the garden, Abba, the Aramaic for “Father,” which he translates into Greek for his readers. When Mark quotes Jesus using his original language, he is close enough to his sources to be giving the Lord’s precise words. He does it here, at the beginning of the Passion, as he will at the end, when he quotes the Aramaized Hebrew of Psalm 22, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani.
- Where do you see yourself in this story? What feelings in your gut are stirred?
- Gethsemane in Hebrew means “oil press”. How does this symbolism speak to you?
- Why do you think Jesus asks to have the cup taken from him?
- Have you ever been betrayed?
1st Reading – Leviticus 13: 1-2, 44-46
Biblical leprosy was any fearful condition that was of unknown origin and could possibly contaminate others. It ran the gamut from acne, psoriasis, boils, ulcers, rashes, even dandruff to serious malignancies. Leprosy was another name for the community’s fear. Lepers were not only sick, but also condemned as sinners. They were called ‘the living dead.’ A healing was considered as difficult as raising the dead to life. (Exploring the Sunday Readings, and Celebration — Feb. 2000)
Have you ever been able to identify with this leper? Perhaps you didn’t have anything visibly embarrassing on your person, but maybe you were self-conscious about something? Or felt the world knew something wrong about you? We sometimes have a little voice inside of us that counts us unworthy, unclean, unlovable. But Jesus saves! We must turn to Jesus’ voice, and He will heal those feelings to worthy, clean and lovable.
2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 10: 31- 11: 1
This reading is dealing with the problem of whether it was all right to purchase meat that had been previously sacrificed to idols. Was it okay for Christians to eat this meat? Some thought it was since the idols were not real anyway. Paul is trying to help this community see that while the meat might be fine to eat, one should not cause undue scandal to those who were more scrupulous. It may be fine to eat as all things belong to God, but if they are aware it is idolatrous meat then it may bother their consciences. Paul is trying to encourage them to do what is just and follow Jesus’ example by being concerned for the well-being of others. God is glorified when we freely live lives of love and service. We become better and so do others! (W. Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series p. 94, and M Birmingham, W & W Year B, 485) Paul more fully comes to explain himself in chapter 13 when he discusses love: “Love is kind. Love is patient. . . . etc.”
Paul has personally experienced the risen Christ; as a result, his life mirrors Christ, who is himself the image of God. Christ has so taken possession of Paul that his own life is now that of Christ. The Christian communities identified with Paul did not have the same experience. His uniqueness as an apostle rested on his direct experience with Jesus. Therefore, he calls on the communities to imitate him as they move toward their sole model, Christ himself, (R Faley’s Footprints on the Mountain, p. 159).
Gerald Fagin SJ says this of glorifying God: The goal or end of life is to praise, reverence, and serve God, and to come to eternal life. All of God’s gifts are means to achieve this goal; we should use them accordingly. “From this it follows that I should use these things to the extent that they help me toward my end, and rid myself of them to the extent that they hinder me.” (Sp. Ex. 23)…it means being so passionately and single-mindedly committed, so completely in love, that we are willing to sacrifice anything, including our lives, for the ultimate goal. It means magnanimous generosity, abandonment into God’s hands, avallability, (Putting on the Heart of Christ, p. 41-43).
The Gospel – Mark 1:40-45
Last week, we learned from Simon Peter’s mother-in-law that when we are touched by Jesus, we must ‘rise up and serve.’ Now we see a leper proclaim freely the good news of salvation (full health and life). We find the love of God in Jesus.
“Moved with pity” – sometimes translated “Moved with anger” – literally this phrase in Greek means to have one’s intestines turn over . . .(“Jesus was indignant”NIV, “Moved with compassion”NLT). Yet, this leper had dared to ignore the law’s strict rule of quarantine. So did Jesus. The passion and sympathy that moved Jesus from deep within showed how he empathized with this man’s plight. Jesus’ passion for the suffering of others challenges us, his followers, to also be stirred and motivated by the same mission. Jesus was willing to touch so as to comfort and heal, touching even those who were condemned as outcasts, (Celebrations, Feb. 2000, 2003; and Quest, Spring, 2006)
Jesus also spoke sternly toward the man commanding him to tell no one anything, but to see the priest. The literal translation of this is that Jesus ‘snorted’ or ‘puffed’ – a way that was often used to confront evil in his culture. Mark’s messianic secret seems to be an important motif here. Fantastic miracles do not seem to be why Jesus came. He came to break down barriers between the clean and unclean – between the insiders and the outsiders. Eduard Schweizer says that Jesus is horrified at the misery of this man’s condition and isolation for it is contrary to God’s plan for creation. Also, of course, there is irony in the way Mark tells this story for the healed man is so full of good news that he cannot be silent! God’s kingdom is breaking through! It is just too good – too real – to be concealed. Wouldn’t it be a shame if we kept such goodness to ourselves? (R. Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu; E. Schweizer, The Good News According to Mark, 58-59)
Society tends to exclude people and treat them as social lepers today no less than in the time of Jesus. At that time, justification could be found in the law for a certain measure of separation. While Jesus shows a basic respect for the Mosaic law, he never fails to respect primarily the worth of the human person as transcending every other religious or social consideration. We have many examples of exclusion of people on the basis of nationality, race, gender, sexual orientation, or social class. It is Jesus’ over-riding love for the human person, virtuous or sinful, without qualification, that is his greatest challenge in any age or culture (R Faley’s Footprints on the Mountain, p. 160).
1st Reading – Job 7: 1-4, 6-7
In this reading, Job is answering his friends who say he is suffering because of his sin. What do you make of his words? What dialogue do you have with God concerning suffering?
“Without reading too much into words spoken by Job out of the depths of his grief, it is worth noting that neither Job nor his visitors invoke the possibility of life after death in a better place than this world as a source of consolation. Sheol is not Heaven (or Hell). It is the repository for “used souls’” since presumably our souls are not subject to physical destruction the way our bodies are. But [the understanding at the time of Job] our souls do not seem to retain anything of our memories or personality. For the biblical Israelite, dead is dead…”. The Book of Job seems to teach us, “It’s not all about you. If at times God’s world causes us grief, from plagues killing thousands to snowstorms ravaging a city, that is a consequence, not a punishment. It was not done with us in mind. The task of religion is not to explain why the water is bitter or to justify its bitterness, but to sweeten it to slake our thirst, not to help us understand the cause of our misfortune but to help us cope with it, (The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person, H. Kushner, p. 59, 186-187).
The mystery of pain…Why does God allow it to happen? There is no satisfactory answer to that question. But as Christians, we believe that violence, suffering and death are never the last word. We have hope. We do not have a God who is removed from our sufferings; ours is a God who has lived a human life and knows suffering. There may not be answers that will satisfy, but for the believer there is God, who is sorrowful with us, who offers us eternal life, and who moves us, through our hearts, to build a more loving and compassionate society. (Fr. James Martin in the New York Daily News after the Newtown school shootings)
2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 9:16–19, 22-23
This is the cost of discipleship. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said:
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate,
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
From Bonhoeffer who wrote The Cost of Discipleship:
“…what we want to know is not, what would this or that man, or this or that Church, have of us, but what would Jesus Christ himself wants of us.” (p. 37)
“Happy are they who, knowing that grace, can live in the world without being of it, who, by following Jesus Christ, are so assured of their heavenly citizenship that they are truly free to live their lives in this world.” (p. 60)
“He who is called must go out of his situation in which he cannot believe, into the situation in which, first and foremost, faith is possible.” (p. 67)
From Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 84: We can never attain to any kind of evangelism or friendship without speaking the same language and thinking the same thoughts as the other man. So long as we patronize people and make no effort to understand them, we can never get anywhere with them. Paul, the master missionary, who won more for Christ than any other, saw how essential it was to become all things to all . One of the greatest necessitites is to learn the art of getting alongside people; and the trouble so often is that we do not even try.
The Gospel – Mark 1: 29-39
Before this passage, Mark tells of Jesus teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum and casting out demons (last Sunday’s gospel), and then the day goes on with this reading –Mark is presenting dramatically a ‘typical’ day in the life of Jesus who is intent upon proclaiming and ‘preaching’ God’s Kingdom. What do we see of God’s kingdom here?
John Pilch points out that in Jesus’ culture Peter’s mother-in-law should have been living in her husband’s family home – or — if he was dead, then, she would be with one of her sons. The fact that she is in Peter’s house suggests that she may have no other living family members to take care of her. This woman may have known a lot more sorrow than just this fever. When Jesus touches her, she rises up with energy and purpose in her life. Jesus seemed to have helped her regain her meaning in life. This was beautifully expressed by her eager service. What do you see in her story?
Jesus’ healing power was not only an historical reality – people were healed, meaning was renewed in their lives, and they were restored to community – but it was also symbolic action. Jesus’ healing miracles spoke to the religious and political conditions of the day; but they spoke in action, not words. To the Hebrew mind-set, miracles were not “proofs” of God’s sovereignty. God created the world and could intervene in it if God so chose. God’s lordship over the world is not proven through miracles; miracles simply recognize the lordship that is already present. (M. Birmingham, Word & Worship, p. 481).
“I’m living in a broken world, and there is holy work to do.” Rabbi Ronnie Cahana