If you were commissioned by God to send a letter of hope to a group of Christians facing a martyr’s death, what would YOU write? Mark, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, answers this question by writing a “gospel” that demonstrates how to communicate with compassion, urgency, and hope to a people in need.
You see, the gospel of Mark is a story of concern. It may very well be that we have read the “gospels” in the wrong way; or, at the very least, failed to grasp what they are all about. I believe, as do many scholars, that Mark would be surprised that we read his writing as a biography, or as history. Each “gospel” (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) was shaped by specific cultural, social, and religious “happenings” — that affected them, and the ones that first read their writings.
The “gospel” of Mark is written as a story (and a very good story), with an economy of words and a very direct style. It is not a story that can be labeled as fiction, because it happened. It is the story about Jesus, the Son of God. The story was written to encourage the Christians in Rome, during the persecution of Nero. The key to the story is: For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45).
There is a relationship between Mark, and discipleship, that is often overlooked. Mark presupposes that the best way to challenge the readers (his audience) to faithful discipleship is to tell them the story of Jesus. He very clearly depicts that the way of Jesus, as the way that his disciples are called to follow. Only a clear and correct understanding of Jesus, can produce a clear and correct understanding of what it means to be a disciple.
The intimate relationship between Jesus and his disciples, that is portrayed in Mark, forms the underlying structure for many passages. It also provides a basic link between the ancient writing and our lives today. This “gospel” is written for disciples of every age, and a concern for disciples permeates the entire gospel — from the call of the first four (1:16-20), to the final message (16:6-7, 15-18). There is an open-endedness about this gospel that invites us to identify with those first disciples, and to follow in their footsteps, as they follow in his.
Mark is very relevant to our day, and our situation. There are themes and counter themes that run through the book — power, conflict, suffering, misunderstandings. Did you hear that: POWER, CONFLICT, SUFFERING, MISUNDERSTANDING — that’s the stuff we read about every morning, and then hear on the evening news.
Mark’s emphasis on the costly service, suffering, rejection, and death of the Son of God (vindicated by his resurrection); serves as a healthy corrective to the idea of “cheap grace”, that seems to be so prevalent in our culture. Being a Christian is not easy and simple! Being a Christian involves serving and suffering — the way of the cross: Then he called the crowd to him, along with his disciples, and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)
(It is m prayer, that the story of Persis and her life, tragedy, fears, hopelessness, and renewal through Mark’s gospel; help you to get a better understanding of what Mark’s gospel is all about. May you read the book again with fresh eyes, and see the masterful story that Mark weaves for his audience. Bill)