The National Catholic Review
Mark’s Gospel has been called "The Gospel that tells of Jesus who announced the Kingdom of God. Certainly, the Gospel does tell that story. It emphasizes, at least for awhile, the wondrous deeds of Jesus. These are miracles that seem only possible if God does them – indeed, the conscious history of Israel strongly suggests that it is God, and no mortal, who performs them. These deeds underscore and give credibility to the eventual claim that Jesus is Messiah and Son of God. Similarly, Jesus’ wisdom, which confounds the best of Israel’s professional interpreters of the Mosaic Law, argues in its own right that the word of Jesus is trustworthy and indeed the way to human perfection and the fullness of life. The glimpses Mark offers of Jesus’ holiness – whether it be his prayer or his obedience or his general demeanor and conduct – also witness to the validity of his message: the Kingdom of God is at hand. But this description of the Gospel story must take into account a peculiarity that goes beyond Jewish traditional models and expectations. Mark insists on presenting a Jesus who repeatedly asks: "Do not tell anyone about me". Further, the more Mark presents the wondrous aspects of Jesus, the greater the conflict when his insists on describing the trial and death of Jesus, preceded by many threats to his life. Finally, whereas the Gospel does focus on Jesus, it does not ignore discipleship, with its dangers and dedication, and the role of the Twelve Apostles. The one guide Mark gives us that is most influential in understanding his thought is his first verse: the Good News about Jesus Messiah and Son of God. It is under these two titles that Mark wants to present Jesus, and it is these two titles Mark wants to explain to his reader, precisely through a chosen group of stories that will bring out the meanings of Messiah and Son of God. It is for the disciple to understand how the Messiah can die so tragically, the Messiah who, by definition, will bring to Israel the fullness of God’s love for her. To understand the mix of power and impotence, of wisdom and apparent foolishness, of holiness and the charge of criminality – this is the challenge to the disciple, particularly one who will not always enjoy the assured beneficence of the Messiah and Son of God. Even apart from persecution for one’s faith (as seems to be the case of Mark’s reader), the disciple is to lead a life which is willing to carry the cross in moral matters, particularly in love of neighbor and humility. Most of all, the unifying factor among the contradictions of Jesus’ life is obedience to his Father – which will be what unifies the disciple’ life as well. All Mark’s readers were already baptized into the name of Jesus, which means they already professed him to be Messiah and divine Son of God. But the obedience lived by Messiah and Son of God is the most basic revelation Mark wants to give to his Christian reader; all disciples are to understand the full meaning of the one they follow, so that they may follow carefully in his footsteps. Mark’s Gospel had great influence on the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Each of these had his own message to give, and his own manner to give it. But they borrowed heavily from Mark, so that the faithful, obedient Messiah and Son of God lives beyond Mark’s Gospel and shapes the choices and manner of life and hopes of every person who believes in Jesus and wants to follow him – to the end. Mark’s reader never hears or sees Jesus risen; no one does. We live on faith – to the end. John Kilgallen, SJ