One of the advantages of the lectionary is that each year, over a three year period, we have the opportunity to really sink our teeth into one of the gospels. This year, is the year of Mark, and Sunday by Sunday for most of the year we will hear Mark’s gospel proclaimed. Now as you know, each of the gospels has certain peculiarities and idiosyncrasies. They are not carbon copies of one another, even though many things are the same they sometimes appear in a different order or with a different emphasis. Each of the gospel writers is writing for a specific audience to make a specific point. One of the characteristics of Mark’s gospel is that it the shortest of the four gospels and scholars believe it is the oldest gospel, written down first sometime between AD 64 and AD 72, in other words just 30 or 40 odd years after the events the gospel depicts.
What is fun about Mark’s gospel is how breathless it is. A lot happens, indeed a great deal happens, in just a few short verses. Today we pick up the story in verse 21 of chapter 1. Already in those first 20 verses Mark has pointed us to Isaiah and the “voice of one crying in the wilderness”1; we have met John the baptizer, as Mark calls him2; we have witnessed the baptism of Jesus3 and observed the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness4; we have heard of John’s arrest and the beginning of Jesus’ proclamation of the good news5 and last week we saw the calling of the first disciples: Simon Peter and his brother Andrew as well as James and John the sons of Zebedee.6 Now remember all this has happened in just 20 short verses. Mark’s gospel is no leisurely stroll along the banks of the Jordon River. We don’t spend any time pondering things in our hearts as Mary does in Luke’s gospel. There isn’t any philosophical speculation as in John’s gospel. Instead there is a tremendous sense of urgency as we race from one scene to another with barely time to catch our breath or absorb the significance of what we have just seen. Even the language Mark uses propels us from one scene to the next as heavens are torn open7, the Spirit descends8, Jesus is driven9, John is arrested1 and Peter, Andrew, James and John leave everything “immediately” to follow Jesus without, apparently asking any questions or pausing to pack a bag and say goodbye to parents, siblings, friends and probably even wives. Throughout Mark’s gospel there is a tremendous sense of urgency. That urgency comes across not simply in the pace that Mark marches us through the events, but the response of the some of the other actors in the scene as well. One of Mark’s favourite words is “immediately”.
“And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” 11
“Immediately [Simon Peter and Andrew] left their nets and followed him.”12
“Immediately [Jesus] called [James and John]; and they left their father
Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.”13
For Mark there was no time to loose, and indeed there was no time to loose for Mark’s world had literally come to an end perhaps even while he was setting down his account of the good news of Jesus Christ. In the years following the crucifixion tensions mounted between the Jewish inhabitants of Palestine and their Roman overlords. A Jewish rebellion against the Romans began in AD 66 that was finally and thoroughly crushed by Rome in the year AD 70 with the destruction of the Temple. The world that Mark knew had come to an end. There was no time for pondering or philosophical speculation. There was only time for action. There was only time for deciding. There was only time ‘now’. The people Mark is writing for know this. The Jesus Mark portrays knows this. Even the demons know this.
Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and
he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you
come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus
rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean
spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They
were all amazed, and they kept asking one another, “What is this? A new
teaching – with authority! He commands even unclean spirits, and they
The response to Jesus by both the demons and the crowds was immediate and profound and “at once his fame spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.”15
Many, if not most, if not all of us have lost this immediate response to the proclamation of God’s good news of healing, forgiveness and redemption. The good news has become old news and as such we often read the gospels the way we read a copy of last year’s Boston Globe, it’s interesting and we may have forgotten some of the details of the story but it doesn’t illicit from us an immediate response. Yet the gospels are not the Boston Globe and in fact we are running out of time and the good news of God does demand an immediate response from us. While the Roman legions may not be at the outskirts of Boston ready to destroy all that we know and all that we have, they are in a sense at the gates of our souls and we don’t know when they will breech the walls. In our Rule of Life we say this in the chapter on Holy Death:
The anticipation of death is essential if we are to live each day to the
full as a precious gift, and rise to the urgency of our vocation as stewards
who will be called to give account at Christ’s coming. Remembering that
death can come upon us at any time will spur us to be prepared, by continual
renewal of our repentance and acceptance of the forgiveness of God, to meet
Christ without warning. We shall remember to express to one another those
things that would make us ready to part without regrets, especially thankfulness
The people who first read Mark’s gospel knew this sense of urgency. They knew that at anytime the Roman legions could swoop in and all would be lost, all would be over and so their response to the good news of Jesus was immediate. There was no time to loose. Jesus knew this and comes preaching with power and authority; the demons know this, and flee at once in terror; the disciples know this, and follow immediately.
But the question is, do we know this? Is the gospel of Jesus Christ good news, or is it old news? Does it demand from us an immediate response or do we just saunter into the kitchen for that second cup of coffee as we linger over last year’s newspaper a little longer?
If the gospel is for you good news, then you already know what to do. You need today to find that person in your life and say to them: I love you, I’m sorry, I forgive you, thank you. If the gospel for you is old news, well, the coffee is always on at Starbucks.
So what is it? Good news or old news? And what will it be? I love you, I’m sorry, I forgive you, thank you or will it be coffee at Starbucks? Do you want to leave room for milk in that? Or do you want to leave room in your heart to hear someone say to you: I love you, I’m sorry, I forgive you, thank you.
The coffee is on at Starbucks, but so too is Jesus knocking on their door of your heart.
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