Here Begins the Gospel of Mark
We begin our daily reading of Mark’s gospel today: 1:21-28. The celebrant can include Monday’s gospel, the calling of the fishermen to maintain the fullness of the story. The ‘very beginning’ of the gospel was heard this year on the 2nd Sunday of Advent, with the opening verse: “Here begins the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”.
Imagine if you were a first century Christian and gathered where the gospel of Mark was known and read, and someone came to you asking why you believe in Jesus. You might give him the gospel and say, I believe Jesus is the Son of God and he brings the good news of hope and salvation. You can read the story of Jesus, here, in the writing of Mark. Perhaps Mark’s gospel could be used in that way; opening the book may open the door that will lead to faith.
But the gospel is more. It makes Jesus present to the community that celebrates around the table of the Eucharist. This Word of God gives life to the community that finds meaning in its written words through the Holy Spirit.
The first verse tells us simply, ‘Jesus is the Son of God’. It seems to say it all.
As we read the Gospel of Mark, we see Jesus named as the Son of God used when he dies upon the Cross. A Roman soldier, the centurion in charge, declares, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God’. How could he know that? He may well have heard of Jesus reputation, witnessed a dignity in him, certainly witnessed the ugliness of those mocking and showing hatred, yet feelings of compassion or respect for this crucified man would not account for declaring him, ‘Son of God’.
It is in the silence, the surprise of grace, that just as in God’s plan the Baptist would prepare us for the Lord’s coming, so a Roman soldier will prepare us for Jesus Victory. The soldier and we who read Mark see Jesus in death emptied and a poor sharer like us in our human condition of death. God’s grace turns that awful reality into the silence of the empty tomb. Jesus who spoke to Abba in the Garden of Gethsemane and died feeling abandoned by the Father is not abandoned, but raised to new life, Son of God.
In today’s gospel we hear the first of several times when Jesus is identified as ‘the holy One of God’, known by the unclean spirits, the demons. They are silenced by Jesus.
No one can say that Jesus is the Son of God until the solemn pronouncement by the soldier at Jesus death. This is part of the beautiful writing and plan of Mark.
Even we who know from the very beginning the ‘secret’, we need the silence that Jesus calls forth from those who know. Why? Because we need to ponder the mystery, to ask for the grace that the words generously invite us to receive, to walk with the Word made flesh guided by the sacred word that we read. This is what Mark invites us to do as we once again take up his Gospel and accompany Jesus through his written word. For the grace to drink deeply and receive refreshment from the Well of God’s Holy Word in this year ahead, we pray.
Fr. William Murphy, CP is a member of Immaculate Conception Community in Jamaica, New York.