Ephesians 4:7-8, 11-16
There’s a cartoon with Jesus talking to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, who are sitting in a circle. One of them is looking out the window, distracted; one of them is dozing; one of them is doodling; one of them is fiddling with his tunic. Jesus notices all this, and he says to the group: “Now listen up! I don’t want there to be four versions of what I’m saying….”
Well, we have four versions of the Gospel, all quite similar, and yet each one distinctive. Today we honor the witness of one of these Gospel writers, Saint Mark. Mark was not one of the original 12 apostles; however Jesus also appointed a wider circle of 70 disciples, believed to have included Mark.[i]Information in the New Testament about his life is sketchy, though we know that Mark was a fellow missionary at various times with Saints Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy.[ii]We can infer Mark had a close relationship with Saint Peter, who writes about “my son Mark.”[iii]And according to the Acts of the Apostles, his mother’s house in Jerusalem was a center of Christian life.[iv]In Egypt, the Coptic Church remembers Saint Mark as its founder and patron, Mark having been martyred in Egypt in year 68.
In his Gospel writing, Mark keeps a secret. It’s actually Jesus’ secret. In Mark’s Gospel account, Jesus will typically ask something, listen to something, do something like perform a healing or other miracle, and thenJesus will say, “Don’t tell anyone.” In many instances, Jesus insists on silence.[v]And it’s not just with outsiders. The same pertains to his relationship with the 12 apostles. Early on, Jesus asks them, “‘Who do yousay that I am?’ Peter answers, ‘You are the Messiah.’ And [Jesus] sternly orders them not to tell anyone about him.”[vi]
So what’s going on? Why the secret?
We are celebrating today the Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist, the author of what many scholars believe to be the earliest of the four gospels, the Gospel of Mark. Mark’s account of the life of Jesus is usually dated around the year 70 C.E., approximately forty years after Jesus’ death. As a way of exploring its significance, I’d like to pose three questions: First, what is a gospel? Second, what is unique about Mark’s gospel? And third, what does this say about our gospel?
Mark is the only one of the Evangelists who refers to his account of the life of Jesus as a “gospel” – and he does this right from the start. His opening words are “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1). The word “gospel” means “good news,” which is how it is translated in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, from which we read tonight. Mark has “good news” to tell his readers and us about Jesus, whom he refers to as the Christ, the Son of God.