As 2023 comes to a close, we also come to the end of our Liturgical Year A, which was focused on Matthew’s Gospel. With the Season of Advent approaching, we will enter into the new liturgical Year B in December, with our focus on the Gospel of Mark.
Gospel of Mark: A Brief Overview
Mark’s Gospel is the oldest and shortest Gospel in the Christian scriptures and Mark invented the literary genre we call Gospel: a connected narrative about Jesus of Nazareth that describes his teaching in Galilee and Judea, as well as his passion, death and resurrection.
Mark’s Gospel was most likely written as early as AD 55 to AD 70, prior to the temple’s destruction in AD 70. This Gospel was written to a Roman Christian community made up of both Jewish and gentile Christians. (There were mostly gentiles at that time in Rome). Most Gospel traditions assume Mark was a Jew and he is presenting Jesus in the context of first-century Palestinian Judaism.
Mark presents a very straightforward clear-cut account of Jesus’ life. Often called the ‘Action Gospel,’ Jesus is moving around at a fast pace with very dramatic language, not unlike reading of a newspaper. There is no account about the first 30 years of Jesus’ life, so no birth narrative like Matthew and Luke. It begins with Jesus’ baptism and moves right into his ministry.
The Spread of the Gospel and Community at Large
Mark’s Gospel seems to have circulated quickly throughout the Mediterranean and then was revised and expanded 10 to 15 years later by Matthew and Luke. It is related to the Christian community that suffered under Emperor Nero and information in Mark’s Gospel fits well with the history written by the Roman historian Tacitus.
For much of Christian History, and through the influence of St. Augustine, Mark was considered a poor imitation of Matthew and Luke. In the nineteenth century scholars began to recognize that Matthew and Luke were actually revised and expanded versions of Mark and Mark’s Gospel had been composed earlier than the other two. Now scholars use Mark as a testing ground for applying new literary methods and criticisms to other ancient texts.
As with the other Gospels, the author is not one person, and Mark never claims to be an eyewitness to the events he describes. In the early Christian tradition, someone named Mark has close ties with Paul and Peter. Paul’s letters mention a man named Mark three different times: as one of Paul’s coworkers, as the cousin of Barnabas and in Timothy, Paul urges Timothy to “go and get Mark, for he is useful in my ministry.” They also point out that Mark was a very common name then, so there is still some mystery there.
Themes in Mark
- Suffering and Discipleship: Mark wrote his Gospel in order to inform and encourage followers of Jesus who were suffering from, or being threatened with persecution.
Mark’s Gospel is often referred to as the ‘Gospel of Suffering.’ Mark presents Jesus as a wise teacher and a powerful and compassionate healer, but must be understood through the mystery of the cross and his identity as a suffering Messiah.
- Jesus’ identity as Messiah: To shed light on difficult questions early Christians were facing: how could Jesus be the Son of God if he died a criminal’s death?
- If Jesus was the Messiah, why did he not claim it openly as a messiah was expected to do?
- Mark presents Jesus as fulfilling the hopes of God’s people expressed in the Old Testament.
Some of the Content Unique to Mark’s Gospel
- There is no birth narrative in Mark’s Gospel
- The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
- Mark does not name the High Priest.
- Mark mentions Jesus’ sisters (Mark 6:3); the other Gospel writers do not.
- Jesus is called a carpenter (Mark 6:3); in Matthew he is referred to as the son of a carpenter.
- There is no mention of Samaritans.
- Only Mark refers to Herod Antipas as a king, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke refer to him (more properly) as a tetrarch
A Walk Through the New Testament, Margaret Nutting Ralph
Meeting St. Mark Today, Daniel J. Harrington SJ,
The Spiritual Wisdom of The Gospels, Fr. John Shea