John J. Kilgallen | Sep 2 2008 - 10:49pm | 2 comments
Mark’s opening line focuses his reader’s attention upon Jesus. Mark speaks about ’good news’ which has all the richness of ’divine blessing’, since it is God’s joyful message to human beings for their good. In the tradition leading up to the New Testament, such good meant above all forgiveness of sins and reunion with God – eternal happiness. The message is Jesus, Messiah and Son of God; in Jesus we find what is good about God’s intervention in human affairs. Immediately we note that while Jesus is a physical fact which we can touch and hear and see, ’Messiah’ and ’Son of God’ are titles which state who we think Jesus is; they are titles of faith, we say. It is most unlikely that Mark is describing Jesus with titles unknown to his audience. Paul’s letters, for one example, are documents completed some 10 – 20 years before Mark wrote, and these Pauline writings show no hesitancy in saying that Jesus is divine and is Messiah. No, the faith of Mark’s audience already said Jesus was Messiah and Son of God. There must be something else that Mark wants to underline. That is, to what purpose does Mark begin with repeating something his audience already professed? He must mean to show his audience characteristics of these two titles which, while not denying their essential meanings (particularly that is divine), go in a different direction. What then is it about these two titles – Messiah and Son of God – which needs emphasis for Mark’s audience around 70 AD? Let us begin in this and in the next blog with ’Messiah’; then we will look to ’Son of God’. ’Messiah’ means ’anointed’, and, while many types of people are called ’anointed’, in particular is a king known as anointed. It is at the moment of anointment that Messiah (anointed) a ’king’ is made; thus ’king’ and ’anointed’ and ’Messiah’ are interchangeable. The most revered king (or messiah or anointed one) of Israel’s long past was David. Not only was he chosen to be King by God, but God said it would be David’s offspring that would always rule Israel; since David was ’anointed’, his heirs would be ’anointed’. Thus, one can understand why the Messiah, the anointed King of Israel, would also be called Son of David. The tradition defined the king or ’anointed one’ in terms of power (to defeat Israel’s enemies), wisdom (to know what was best for his people) and holiness (to be in union with the loving, protecting God); further, as with all monarchies, as goes the king, so go his people. They depend on his wisdom, power and holiness for their well-being. He is either their salvation or damnation. Mark’s Gospel will give great evidence that Jesus of Nazareth deserved the title ’the Messiah’ or ’the King’; his Gospel leaves no doubt about the holiness, wisdom and power of Jesus. Indeed, the question, "Who but God can do these things?" is most suggestive about this person of such power, wisdom and holiness. Mark takes much time to show that Jesus deserves the title Messiah (king, anointed one, Son of David). But if his audience already knows Jesus is powerful, wise and holy, why does Mark write about it? Does he not want to say something else about this Messiah? John Kilgallen, S.J.