The Gospel of Saint Mark

As the last of these short summaries of the books of Holy Scripture, here’s the essay on the short Gospel, Saint Mark’s own effort, perhaps written in Rome, where Mark was a disciple of the Apostle Saint Peter, before Peter dispatched him to Alexandria in Egypt to found the Coptic Church. It’s interesting how the Coptic Church began as a daughter of Rome, before achieving its autonomy and becoming one of three great patriarchates in the East, alongside Constantinople and Antioch. It seems to me sometimes that Mark modelled on Saint Matthew’s Gospel (which traditionally was the first of the Gospels, although not all Scripture scholars think so), but purposely shortened it while perhaps receiving some input from the Peter himself. So, to summarise… there is no infancy narrative here, for Mark begins with the ministry of Saint John the Baptist and runs straight into the baptism of Christ and the desert temptation over forty days and nights. Christ enters Galilee, when Herod has arrested and imprisoned John. His first call is:

“But when John had been put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God’s kingdom: ‘The appointed time has come,’ He said, ‘and the kingdom of God is near at hand; repent, and believe the Gospel.'”

Gospel of S. Mark, 1: 14-15

Christ calls Simon Peter and his brother Andrew and sets up his first base at Caphar-Naum, from which they launch a preaching ministry to the surrounding towns and villages. Miracles abound. Matthew-Levi is called from his tax-collectors desk, and the orthodox Jews take offence at Christ’s mingling with publicans and sinners, and his general laxness with respect to the detailed Jewish observances of the time:

“Thereupon the scribes and Pharisees, seeing Him eat with publicans and sinners in His company, asked His disciples, ‘How comes it that your master eats and drinks with publicans and sinners?’ Jesus heard it, and said to them, ‘It is not those who are in health that have need of the physician, it is those who are sick. I have come to call sinners, not the just.’ John’s disciples and the Pharisees used to fast at that time. And they came and said to Him, ‘How is it that thy disciples do not fast, when John’s disciples and the Pharisees fast?‘ To them Jesus said, ‘Can you expect the men of the bridegroom’s company to go fasting, while the bridegroom is still with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot be expected to fast; but the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them; then they will fast, when that day comes.'”

Gospel of S. Mark, 2: 16-20

This is a repeated accusation, and occurs again in chapter seven; Christ was determined to make his point. The Sabbath was made for man, He said, not man for the Sabbath. The supreme law is the salvation of souls, and the prescriptions of the Law of Moses were also at the service of men. His popularity had begun to grow and he drew disciples from as far away as Jerusalem in the south and Tyre and Sidon in the north-west. He climbed a mountain-side and, from that position of authority, summoned the rest of the Twelve:

“Then He went up on to the mountain-side, and called to Him those whom it pleased Him to call; so these came to Him, and He appointed twelve to be His companions, and to go out preaching at his command, with power to cure diseases and to cast out devils. To Simon He gave the fresh name of Peter; to James the son of Zebedee and his brother John, He gave the fresh name of Boanerges, that is, Sons of thunder. The others were Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananean; and Judas Iscariot, the traitor.”

Gospel of S. Mark, 3: 13-19

The parables begin in chapter four, with the story of the sower of the seed, followed by the sowing of the weed by the enemy of our souls, and the image of the mustard seed. The miracles continue to abound as He calms the storm, and exorcises the demons out of the man in the Gerasene country. Returning to the Capharnaum area, He brings Jairus’ daughter back to life and then returns to Nazareth, where the natives cannot understand the behaviour of their own Carpenter. So He leaves, and begins to send the Twelve out in pairs with apostolic authority. His fame spreads and Herod, hearing of Him, suspects that John the Baptist (whom he had had killed) has returned to life. The apostles return with tales of their missionary work, and Christ arranges a private prayer-retreat, but is foiled by his growing crowd of disciples:

“And now the apostles came together again in the presence of Jesus, and told Him of all they had done, and all the teaching they had given. And He said to them, ‘Come away into a quiet place by yourselves, and rest a little.‘ For there were many coming and going, and they scarcely had leisure even to eat. So they took ship, and went to a lonely place by themselves. But many saw them going, or came to know of it; gathering from all the cities, they hurried to the place by land, and were there before them.”

Gospel of S. Mark, 6: 30-33

Christ takes pity on the people and teaches them, then feeds all five thousand of them with five loaves of bread and three fish, and disperses the people while the Twelve go across on a boat to Bethsaida. Having said His prayers, Christ takes a stroll across the sea to Bethsaida and gives the apostles a bit of a shock. After a short mission in the Genesareth area, and further attacks from the Pharisees and scribes about the poor observance of traditional rules, Christ made a quick trip to the Phoenician lands of Tyre and Sidon, where he heals the daughter of the Syro-phoenician lady. He returns to Galilee and heal the deaf and dumb man. He holds another giant teaching session, and feeds fourth thousand with seven loaves of bread and a few fish. The next stop is Bethsaida again, where the blind man was healed. Christ and the Twelve then go further up the Jordan valley to Caesarea Philippi and Peter makes his great confession, although Mark doesn’t tell us of the immediate commission given to Peter to be the foundation of the Church – maybe this was according to Peter’s own wishes. Now, Christ begins to talk about His upcoming sacrifice: 

“Then He said to them, ‘And what of you? Who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered Him, ‘Thou art the Christ.’ And He strictly charged them not to tell anyone about Him. And now He began to make it known to them that the Son of Man must be much ill-used, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be put to death, and rise again after three days.”

Gospel of S. Mark, 8: 29-31

The Transfiguration follows, where Christ takes up his mantle of light and is seen by the three chosen Apostles, Peter, James and John, to be conversing with Elias/Elijah, representing the Prophets, and Moses, representing the Law. This is possibly an attempt to put new heart into these men, for He tells them again of His upcoming torture and death, and His resurrection. There follows the healing of a young demoniac, whom only Christ was able to cure, for the possession was strong and, as Christ said, required much prayer and fasting. 

” When He had gone into a house, and they were alone, the disciples asked Him, ‘Why was it that we could not cast it out?’ And He told them, ‘There is no way of casting out such spirits as this except by prayer and fasting.'”

Gospel of S. Mark, 9: 27-28

Back in Capharnaum, He gives the Apostles final instructions about the humility necessary for the leaders of the Church, the rewards of the Apostolic ministry and the penalties for Church leaders abusing their authority. Then begins the procession to Jerusalem, with the increasing challenges from the Pharisees and the growing fear of the disciples. Christ told the Twelve once more of his upcoming Passion, in greater detail; and his Resurrection.

“And now they were on the way going up to Jerusalem; and still Jesus led them on, while they were bewildered and followed Him with faint hearts. Then once more He brought the twelve apostles to His side, and began to tell them what was to befall Him: ‘Now, we are going up to Jerusalem; and there the Son of Man will be given up into the hands of the chief priests and scribes, who will condemn Him to death; and these will give Him up into the hands of the Gentiles, who will mock Him, and spit upon Him, and scourge Him, and kill Him; but on the third day He will rise again.'”

Gospel of S. Mark, 10: 32-34

They arrive at Jericho and Christ acquires a new disciple, the blind man Bar-Timaeus. Christ now began prepare for His entry into Jerusalem and sent disciples off to fetch a young colt that had never been ridden. His new base for the brief Jerusalem ministry is Bethany, where he had his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus. He seems to have spent the days teaching in the Temple precincts and the evenings and nights at Bethany. The Sadducean priests and the scribes and elders of the people challenged His authority, but He brushed them aside. There followed the parable of the vineyard dresses who would not deliver the fruit of the vineyard to its owner, and they try to pit Him against the Romans by attempting to get Him to challenge the tax system. Unable to successfully challenge His understanding of the Law, they simmer on in silence. Meanwhile, Christ predicts the destruction of the Temple and of the Holy City, which would take place within a generation or two, and the persecution of the Church:

“As He was leaving the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Look, Master, what stones! What a fabric!’ Jesus answered him, ‘Do you see all this huge fabric? There will not be a stone of it left on another; it will all be thrown down.‘ So, when He was sitting down on mount Olivet, opposite the Temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked Him, now that they were alone: ‘Tell us, when will this be? And what sign will be given, when all this is soon to be accomplished?’ ‘Take care,’ Jesus began in answer, ‘that you do not allow anyone to deceive you. Many will come making use of My name; they will say, Here I am, and many will be deceived by it. When you hear tell of wars, and rumours of war, do not be disturbed in mind; such things must happen, but the end will not come yet. Nation will rise in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, there will be earthquakes in this region or that, there will be famines: all this is but the beginning of travail. But you will have to think of yourselves; men will be giving you up to courts of justice, and scourging you in the synagogues, yes, and you will be brought before governors and kings on My account, so that you can bear witness to them; the Gospel must be preached to all nations before the end. When they take you and hand you over thus, do not consider anxiously beforehand what you are to say; use what words are given you when the time comes; it is not you that speak, it is the Holy Spirit. Brother will be given up to death by brother, and the son by his father; children will rise up against their parents, and will compass their deaths; all the world will be hating you because you bear My name; but that man will be saved, who endures to the last.”

Gospel of S. Mark, 13: 1-13

Then comes the dreadful Passion itself, as Mary anoints Christ’s head and is attacked for it. Christ defends her and the traitor apostle Judas runs off to arrange his act of betrayal. Meanwhile, the disciples arrange the last supper and Christ institutes the Holy Mass and the party departs for the Mount of Olives and Gethsemane. The arrest follows in short order, and the Apostles disperse, Peter denies Christ and dissolves into tears. Christ is almost acquitted for lack of evidence of sin, but quickly declares Himself to be the Son of God and is sentenced to death for blasphemy. Pilate, the Roman governor, is unable to understand Christ’s determination to not defend Himself, and sentences Him to death to please the people. He was crucified near midday on that fateful Friday and hung for three hours, dying at 15.00. The veil in the Temple is torn down as the heart of God is revealed and the old religion is brought to fulfilment. The Body is entombed before the onset of the Sabbath by Saint Joseph of Arimathea. The women return after the Sabbath observance, on Sunday morning, to complete the anointing of the Body and find angels, the disciples in various places seen Christ alive once more, and the now-Eleven Apostles receive the commission to preach the Gospel everywhere and baptise people unto salvation. The last words are these:

“And so the Lord Jesus, when He had finished speaking to them, was taken up to heaven, and is seated now at the right hand of God; and they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord aiding them, and attesting His word by the miracles that went with them.”

Gospel of S. Mark, 16: 19-20
back to the Gospel of S. Matthew | Gospel of S. Mark | on to the Gospel of S. Luke