July 9, 2014
Dear brothers and sisters,
I wrote my last reflection on April 30 on the last passage in John’s gospel. That marked the end of reading and writing about the gospels for me which I had begun on August 2, 2011. I began with the question: Who was this man Jesus? My understanding has certainly expanded, but more importantly my relationship with God through the person of Jesus has become personal. It has been a remarkable journey that has had a profound impact on my life in ways that I could not have anticipated. What I have come to realize in my heart is that God loves me just as I am unconditionally and with an incomprehensible abandon. As a result, I am joyful. It’s not a feeling; it’s a kind of steady state of being.
I determined that I was being called to begin at the beginning with the first gospel — Mark. So, here I go on the next stage of my spiritual journey starting with Mark 1:1-3.
The gospel of Mark is the shortest of the four gospels. The title “According to Mark” was a later addition perhaps to distinguish him from John Mark who appears in Acts and several of Paul’s letters according to the New Jerome Biblical Commentary. It is thought that Mark was a Gentile and coworker with Peter which stems from an association made by Papias, the bishop of Hierapolis around 130 CE. Traditionally Mark is considered to have written the good news of Jesus’ ministry in Rome after Peter’s death sometime around 64-67 CE before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. However, some modern scholars believe that the gospel was written shortly after the fall of Jerusalem and perhaps in a region closer to Jerusalem.
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ [the Son of God]. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’”
Some early manuscripts do not contain the phrase “Son of God.” Also, the scripture that Mark attributes to Isaiah is actually a conflation of Malachi 3:1, Isaiah 40:3, and Exodus 23:20 according to the New American Bible. The passage from Malachi reads, “Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me.” Malachi later identifies the messenger as Elijah. From Isaiah: “A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!” Isaiah is referring to the return of the Israelites to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon. The passage from Exodus is not quite as directly quoted, “See, I am sending an angel before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared. Be attentive to him and heed his voice.” The place God has prepared is, of course, Israel, the promised land.
The beginning of the good news is that this is God’s plan. This is evidence of His love for His chosen people and, as Mark will point out, for all people. God had used His prophets to proclaim His word and will use John the Baptist, His last prophet, in the same way. As the passages from the Hebrew scriptures show, God provides salvation from slavery, from exile, from wandering in the desert. His love for us is ever abiding. Now he has chosen to give us His word not through his prophets but directly in the person of His Son. That is good news indeed.
God is about to make His relationship with us very personal. When I first wrote on this passage last year I quoted a finding from the Pew Research Center’s U.S. Religious Landscape of 2008 which reported that only 60% of Catholics surveyed believed in a God with whom a personal relationship was possible. That’s what God’s intention was in sending us His Son, to make it possible for us to relate to Him personally, to know His love and care for us as a personal reality. It took me a long time to realize that that is what the good news is all about. It’s when I finally understood that that I became a joyful person. How could I not be? God loves me unconditionally and abundantly with no ifs, ands, or buts. As St. Augustine wrote, “God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love.” That’s the good news that Mark is about to tell us through the life and ministry of Jesus, Son of God.