February 4, 2018

In last week’s column I described how the Church has opened up the scriptures for us since the Second Vatican Council. Since the Council, we have a much fuller exploration of the scriptures at Sunday Mass. Over the course of three years we read the vast majority of the most formative scriptures in our tradition.

Since the Council, the Church has divided our reading of the Sunday scriptures into a three year cycle. In Year A, we read primarily from St. Matthew’s Gospel; in Year B, St. Mark’s; and in Year C, St. Luke’s. In each year, during major feasts and seasons, we read from St. John’s Gospel.

One of the gifts of this exposure to all four Gospels is that various portraits of Jesus emerge. We tend to think about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus by putting together the testimony of these four Gospels, plus the letters of St. Paul and other books included in the New Testament. By putting these writings together, we construct a view of Jesus that is gleaned from various points of view.

If we read carefully, we realize that the Evangelists (another way of referring to the Gospel writers) have different vantage points from which they give their testimony of the Good News. These differing vantage points come because these sacred writers are writing at different times and for different communities of Christians in the first century.

Most scholars agree that St. Mark’s Gospel was written sometime in the 60s, or early 70s, some thirty or so years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. The original audience for St. Mark was probably Christians living outside of the Holy Land, perhaps in Rome.

During the time of the writing of the Gospel, Christians in Rome are experiencing persecution under the Roman emperor Nero. St. Peter and St. Paul are martyred during this time, and St. Mark is aware of this context as he writes the first Gospel.

His Gospel begins differently than Matthew and Luke’s Gospel, which will follow in the 70s and 80s respectively. With Matthew and Luke, we begin with the stories about the birth of Jesus. But in Mark’s Gospel, the story begins with his baptism and the start of his public ministry.

St. Mark makes clear from the very beginning that he is writing to share glad tidings. His Gospel begins, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” In this first sentence, St. Mark tells us who he is writing about and why he is writing.

The word “Gospel,” is the English translation of the Greek word “evangelium,” which means “good news.” So, St. Mark tells us in the first sentence that he is about to describe good news. This good news is about the person of Jesus, who he gives the title “Christ,” meaning, “Messiah,” or “anointed one.” He also goes further and identifies him as the Son of God. So, right from the very beginning, we, the readers and hearers of his Gospel, know who Jesus is.

St. Mark is writing (as are all the New Testament writers), with the knowledge of the resurrection of Jesus. But the inspired story that they tell, the Good News that they share, are about the words and deeds of Jesus that brought his original disciples to believe in him. So, they tell the Good News in an ordered way that will help readers (and at the time of the writing of the Gospel, almost exclusively “hearers”) to come to deeper faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God.

As we hear and reflect on Mark’s Gospel this year, may we, like Christians have for thousands of years, come to a deeper faith in the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

God Bless,
Fr. Gary Lazzeroni