Herald of Hope

On April 25, we will celebrate the Feast of St. Mark, Evangelist. Mark appears in various places in the New Testament. The Acts of the Apostles speaks of “John also known as Mark,” in whose mother’s house Christians gathered in prayer. (Acts 12:12) Mark was a cousin of Barnabas, and he accompanied Paul and Barnabas on a missionary journey after the Council of Jerusalem. (Colossians 4:10; Acts 12:25) He is mentioned in the letters of St. Paul, as well as in the first letter of St. Peter. (2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24; 1 Peter 5:13)

Papias, the Bishop of Hierapolis, in Asia Minor, an Apostolic Church Father who died in the year 130, spoke of Mark as the interpreter of St. Peter’s preaching, a view that was held by other writers, as well. Papias cites someone known as “John the Elder” who held that Mark wrote down the teachings and works of Jesus as related in St. Peter’s preaching.

The Gospel according to St. Mark is believed to be the earliest compilation of the Good News of Jesus. It was probably written about 70 A.D., around the time of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. It was likely written in Rome for a Gentile Christian audience to equip them to remain faithful in the face of persecution. In Mark’s Gospel, Aramaic phrases are interpreted, and Jewish customs are explained to an audience, which would largely be unfamiliar with these things.

Mark’s Gospel centers on the mystery of Jesus’ identity. He is portrayed as the Messiah who preaches with authority, heals the sick, forgives sin and interprets God’s Law. Jesus preaches about the Kingdom of God, which is breaking into human activity, bringing about a reversal of human values. He welcomes the marginalized, forgives sinners and casts out unclean spirits. He teaches that the Kingdom of God enters the world and shows itself in service and self-giving acts, and he models it with his life.

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ ministry of teaching, preaching and healing takes place in Galilee, with occasional trips into Gentile territory. His central message was, “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15b) It was a simple message. The time has been fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is near. God is not far off in the heavens — God is here, in our midst. He desires to pardon us, inspire us and transform us.

The kingdom that Jesus is describing has no geographical or political borders. His message is preached with urgency — now is the time to change your heart and to change your way of thinking to be able to enter into a new way of living in the world. “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” We must reject sin, bad attitudes and destructive thoughts. We must live a new life, a life of love and sacrifice. Jesus gives us the Good News. God is near and he desires to heal us and save us.

The Gospel relates that when Jesus entered the synagogue in Capernaum to teach the people, they perceived his way of teaching to be distinct from that of the scribes because he taught with authority. His teaching was authentic. (Mark 1:21-28) He was not worried about the opinions of others; he simply taught the truth and focused on the Kingdom of God.

Mark’s Gospel does nothing to mask the tension between Jesus and the religious authorities of his day. For example, while most of the religious leaders saw it as unlawful to cure on the Sabbath because no work was permitted on that day, Jesus saw the Sabbath as a time to bring healing and wholeness to those who suffered.

This Gospel records just one trip of Jesus and his disciples to Jerusalem where our Lord completed his mission.

On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus began to teach his disciples about the path that he would take to bring about the salvation of the world: “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” (Mark 9:31) The disciples did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask questions.

Instead, they began to argue among themselves as to who was the greatest. The disciples still had the notion that Jesus was going to establish himself as an earthly king. They had power, privilege and wealth on their minds. But Jesus, knowing what they were arguing about, said, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)

Jesus, the Master, saw himself first and foremost as the servant of all. Jesus gave of himself fully throughout his mission of teaching and healing. He taught his disciples not to lord it over others, but to be of service to them. He taught them that if they want to be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, they must be the least among their brothers and sisters.

Mark’s Gospel describes in detail how, in Jerusalem, Jesus suffered and died by order of Roman military authorities. On the third day, he rose from the dead. When he appeared to his disciples, he commissioned them: “Go out into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15)

Mark’s Gospel is a fast-moving narrative proclaiming that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God. Through his Death and Resurrection, he achieved victory over sin and death. The Gospel calls us to have faith, bear our crosses and follow Jesus.

How can we celebrate the Feast of St. Mark, Evangelist? Perhaps one of the best ways is to pick up the Bible and read the Gospel of St. Mark. You may want to read it in its entirety or read parts of it that you find particularly inspiring. The words of the Gospel are meant to challenge us and motivate us to follow the ways of the Lord: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” (Mark 1:15)