For the next 2 months, I’m going to be reading and blogging through the Gospel of Mark. Here’s what you need to know.
These Are Saint Peter’s Memoirs
The earliest tradition we have (dating from the end of the 1st century AD!) links Mark to the Apostle Peter, and Marks’s Gospel is filled with the kind of eyewitness details that one would expect from Peter’s preaching: details that do not make any difference to the plot, but are the kind odd details an eyewitness would remember. For example, when Jesus is about to feed the 5,000, Mark tells us, “Then he commanded them all to sit down on the green grass” (Mark 6:39, emphasis added), or when Jesus heals Jairus’s daughter, Mark, who is writing in Greek, records the Aramaic phrase that Jesus actually used: “Taking her by the hand he said to her, ‘Talitha cumi,’ which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise'” (Mark 5:41). Neither the detail about the green grass nor the recounting of Jesus’s literal words makes any difference to the story; they are the kind of details that Peter the eyewitness would never forget. There are many more eyewitness details like this.
Mark Has Arranged Peter’s Preaching to Make a Point
And yet Mark has done more than just put down on paper Peter’s eyewitness testimony about Jesus: Mark has shaped his material to bring a particular question into prominence. That question is the central question of history, Who Is Jesus? That is the question that Jesus puts to Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29), and it is the question that ultimately every person must answer for himself or herself.
Mark’s is the Shortest Gospel
Mark begins not with the birth of Jesus–as do Matthew and Luke–nor with a meditation on on the cosmic significance of Jesus–as does John. Rather, Mark begins with the wild prophet John the Baptist baptizing the adult Jesus in the Judean Wilderness. From that startling beginning, Mark’s Gospel hurtles forward, skipping over much of the teaching material in the other gospels (there is no “Sermon on the Mount” in Mark, e.g.) and the famous parables of Jesus, all leading up to the horrifying crucifixion of the Son of God. Mark’s is a mysterious, powerful little book.
And so, I’d like to invite you to read along with me each weekday, starting today and finishing on Tuesday, July 2. Each day’s reading will take less than 5 minutes to read–you can do this. To help, each weekday I’ll write a brief reflection on that day’s reading. Here’s today’s:
The baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan by John the Baptist seems to have been one of the spiritual highpoints of Jesus’s life, and the moment when his identity of the incarnate Son of God was confirmed:
9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”Mark 1:9-11
And yet immediately after that moment of spiritual intensity, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the desert to be tested:
12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.Mark 1:12-13
Here’s the point: don’t make the mistake of thinking that the hard times you’re facing mean that the Lord has abandoned you. In fact, it might be because of his love for you that the hard times have come: diamonds are only made when pressure is applied.
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