The Gospel According to Mark
The gospel readings for Sunday Mass are arranged on a three-year cycle called A, B and C. The Gospel of Matthew is read in Year A, Mark in Year B and Luke in Year C. The Gospel of John does not have its own year; instead it is read every year on some Sundays of Lent, on Holy Thursday and Good Friday and during the Easter season.
The gospel reading for each Sunday is a section of about 10 verses that follows on from the reading of the previous week in a semi-continuous way.
2009 is year B, the year of Mark’s Gospel. Although the year of Mark began on the first Sunday of Advent last year, not much has been heard of Mark so far because stories from Matthew, Luke and John that are not in Mark’s account were read during Advent and Christmas. Even last Sunday, the gospel reading was taken from John, as it is on 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time every year.
Mark’s account is succinct and fast-moving. Unlike Matthew and Luke, it does not begin with the birth of Jesus but with his baptism as an adult. Because Mark’s Gospel is so brief, there is not enough material to ‘fill up’ the entire year. For five weeks, from the 17th to the 21st Sunday, it is supplemented with passages from chapter 6 of the Gospel of John.
Matthew is the first gospel in the bible because when the New Testament was formed it was believed to be the oldest of the four. Since the Gospels of Matthew and Luke clearly draw heavily on the text of Mark, it is now accepted that Mark’s Gospel was written first.
Traditionally the four evangelists are symbolised by the four “living creatures” that surround God’s throne as described in Revelation 4: 6-7: a man (Matthew), a lion (Mark), an ox (Luke), and an eagle (John). The lion signifies the royalty of Christ and is associated with Mark because he informs us of the royal dignity of Christ.
Three major themes appear in Mark: the identity of Jesus, the nature of the kingdom of God and the characteristics of genuine discipleship.
Mark’s main interest is the person of Jesus himself. He follows Jesus through his public ministry in Galilee, outside Galilee and finally in Jerusalem itself immediately before the passion. The question “Who is this Jesus?” dominates the first half of Mark’s Gospel. Mark depicts Jesus as a teacher with a special type of authority, a miracle worker, and a healer, someone who is the fulfilment of the ancient promise of a Messiah, though different from what his contemporaries expected of a Messiah.
Peter’s confession of faith when the fundamental question is posed to the disciples: “Who do you say I am?” is at the heart of Mark’s Gospel.
Jesus announces the fulfilment of all expectations and hopes. All that the prophets had to say about the coming of the Messiah and the establishment of God’s sovereignty has come true in himself. Jesus is saying, “I am the fulfilment of God’s promises, I am the Kingdom of God, I am the Good News to believe in”.