Living the Gospel

Feast of Saint Mark, evangelist
April 25, 2023

Today’s Readings:

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, on the feast of St. Mark, our readings instruct and nourish us on how to live the Gospel.

As devout lovers of the Gospel, we have heard this phrase a thousand times: “the Gospel according to Mark…”.

But who was this “Mark”, and how was he motivated to become one of the four Evangelists who have given the Gospel to the ages?

According to Eusebius of Caesarea (260-339 A.D.), Herod Agrippa I, in his first year of reign over the whole of Judea (AD 41), killed James, son of Zebedee and arrested Peter, planning to kill him after the Passover. Peter was saved miraculously by angels, and escaped out of the realm of Herod (Acts 12:1–19). Peter went to Antioch, then through Asia Minor (visiting the churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, as mentioned in 1 Peter 1:1), and arrived in Rome in the second year of Emperor Claudius (AD 42). Somewhere on the way, Peter encountered Mark and took him as travel companion and interpreter. Mark the Evangelist wrote down the sermons of Peter, thus composing the Gospel according to Mark, before he left for Alexandria in the third year of Claudius (AD 43).

Wikipedia on the Historia Ecclesiastica of Eusebius

Peter dictating the Gospel to Mark
This finely-carved ivory from the 7th century
is in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Our first reading from Peter’s letters gives us an intimate insight into the conversations between Peter and Mark as they traveled those roads in Asia Minor. These were real people reflecting on their call to preach the Gospel to all the world:

Clothe yourselves with humility
in your dealings with one another, for:

God opposes the proud
but bestows favor on the humble.

So humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God,
that he may exalt you in due time.
Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you.

1 Peter :5-7

While Peter offers these words for the sake of the churches in Asia Minor, picture him sitting only with Mark as Mark diligently scribes Peter’s words. Mark is a young man, maybe still a teenager. His heart is fired with the story of Jesus to the point that he has left his home to travel and learn from this one man who was closest to Jesus himself.

Peter’s stories burn into Mark’s soul and inspire him. Eventually, his own preaching and discipleship will carry the Gospel to the church of Alexandria years after Peter has died, and to us through the written word he inspired.

Our devout and consistent prayer and study of the scriptures allows us to be transformed by that same Sacred Fire – the power of the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost. We, too, can sit beside Peter and Mark and learn from their ardent spirituality.

Dr. Mary Healy is professor of Scripture at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. She is a general editor of the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture and author of two of its volumes, The Gospel of Mark and Hebrews. She says this:

What we have not fully taken into account is the first evangelisation – the explosive growth of Christianity in the ancient world, when a handful of fishermen, tax collectors, and ordinary people turned the world upside down for Christ, even while undergoing waves of state-sanctioned persecution.

The beginnings of that story are told in the New Testament, and it’s there that we find the secret to becoming the missionary disciples we are called to be.

Jesus appeared to the Eleven and said to them:
“Go into the whole world
and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved;
whoever does not believe will be condemned.
These signs will accompany those who believe:
in my name they will drive out demons,
they will speak new languages.
They will pick up serpents with their hands,
and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.
They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

Mark 16:15-18

I think that most of us, when we read today’s Gospel, do not see ourselves standing with the Eleven, receiving the ability to “cast out demons, …speak new languages,… handle serpents, … and drink poison…”.

But think about it:

  • How are we called to respond with Gospel grace when we encounter the demon of injustice in our world?
  • How are we called to speak new languages of peace, kindness, and respect for human life in a culture that has normalized violence and deception?
  • How are we called to handle and confront meanness, prejudice, gossip, and hatred when these slither like snakes into our conversations and opinions?
  • How do we help ourselves and others recognize and avoid the poisons of a dishonest and manipulative culture when they threaten our familial, economic, political, educational, religious, and medicinal constructs?

Indeed, we are called to love, learn and live the Gospel in our own particular time and circumstances — just like Mark and Peter were. Let’s pray with them today and ask them to strengthen us in a courageous response to that glorious call.

Poetry: Mark – a sonnet by Malcolm Guite

A wingèd lion, swift, immediate
Mark is the gospel of the sudden shift
From first to last, from grand to intimate,
From strength  to weakness, and from debt to gift,
From a wide deserts haunted emptiness
To a close city’s fervid atmosphere,
From a voice crying in the wilderness
To angels in an empty sepulcher.
And Christ makes the most sudden shift of all;
From swift action as a strong Messiah
Casting the very demons back to hell
To slow pain, and death as a pariah.
We see our Saviour’s life and death unmade
And flee his tomb dumbfounded and afraid.

Music: My God, I Love Thee from St. Mark Passion by Charles Wood (lyrics below)

My God, I love Thee: not because
I hope for heaven thereby,
Nor yet because who love Thee not
Are lost eternally.
Thou, O my Jesus, Thou didst me
Upon the Cross embrace;
For me didst bear the nails, and spear,
And manifold disgrace,

And griefs and torments numberless,
And sweat of agony;
Yea, death itself; and all for me
Who wast Thine enemy.
Then why, most loving Jesus Christ,
Should I not love Thee well?
Not for the sake of winning heaven,
Or of escaping hell;
Not from the hope of gaining aught, 
Not seeking a reward;
But as Thyself has lovèd me,
O ever­loving Lord?
So do I love Thee, and will love,
Who such a love hast showed Only because
Thou art my King,
Because Thou art my God

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