Sunday 17th January 2021

Reading: Mark 1:1-11


I mentioned last week that we would go on a journey through Mark’s Gospel over the next month or two. I think we may just follow it through to Easter. Can I begin by correcting myself. It is not, as we often refer to it as, Mark’s gospel but it is The Gospel according to Mark. I said last week you may wish to read the Gospel during your own private devotional time and it brought to mind a story I once read. I am not utterly convinced it actually happened or it is something written to convey a message. It reminded me of a story of university lecturer when the speaking to a class. He said the subject of his next lecture would be the gospel of Mark chapter seventeen and encouraged his students to read it before the lecture. When the class next gathered he asked them if they had prepared for his lecture by reading the said chapter. Everyone of them raised their hand. The lecturer thanked them for their diligence and said, ‘it is to people like you the next lecture on the spirit of truth is addressed.’ There is no seventeenth chapter in Mark’s Gospel. Our reading today is the same as last week when we heard the Moderator of the General Assembly giving a reflection on it. Today we will not look so much at the content of the reading itself as look to it as the introduction to the Gospel. I recently watched one  of the old Columbo films on TV, now before you start calling me out as a heretic, I am not comparing Columbo with the gospels but I did wonder if the writer of these films was familiar with the Gospel according to Mark as the similarities in style are quite evident. We the reader/viewer get to know right at the start what the ending will be. The opening scene could just as well be the closing one. We spend our time with the plotline being unfolded before our eyes. The characters in the film/Gospel are unaware of what we the reader/viewer knows. In the film it is the guilty one who is known to us but kept secret from the others in the film. In the Gospel we all know Jesus is the Messiah but the disciples seem to let this pass them by. The authorship is ascribed to John Mark but his name does not appear in the gospels. It is said that he was the young man who witnessed the arrest of Jesus. According to the book of Acts and other epistles he may have been the son of a woman named Mary whose house in Jerusalem was used as a meeting place for the church there. Along with his cousin Barnabas he travelled with the Apostle Paul to Antioch. Mark was not one of the twelve but his gospel is believed to be the first one written and has all the hallmarks of a first-hand witness account, possibly Simon Peter, from whom Mark gathered his information. The first verse states quite clearly, ‘The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ It is the gospel of Jesus not the gospel of Mark. It is the gospel that does not stand around, it moves with great haste from one situation to another. There is no time to waste no small talk dialogue that adds nothing to the substance of the message being conveyed. There is no room offered for personal reflections by those included in the writing. It is a gospel that flows seamlessly from the vast crowd scene to the individual. From that opening statement it makes no apology for placing Jesus as the main character as it tirelessly follows him from place to place, recording what the author believes to be relevant information for the reader to stay with the storyline. I am sure most of us have listened more carefully to statements being issued by politicians and scientists and possibly even media sources over the last ten months than we have done over the previous ten years. I am also pretty certain I am not the only one who is sometimes left baffled when decisions are reached or announcements are made that appear to have no correlation what so ever to the same source material that is informing these decision makers. Some critics pass the same observation over, what appears on the surface, to be different or conflicting gospel accounts. Truth is that 90% of the Gospel according to Mark appears somewhere, in varying degrees, in the other three gospels. This of course makes Mark the source material from which others have drawn from and expanded on. Mark’s is simply shorter and more concise, the others have the same gospel but their message is to different audiences. I am sure we all know the person who uses 100 words and 30 seconds later we have the gist of the story. I am equally sure we all know the person who uses 1,000 words and 20minutes later we still have no idea where they are going. Different people communicate in different ways. Different people receive information in different ways. For some minimal is ample yet for others every minute detail is required. The author of Mark was most likely writing for a Roman audience as there is no great cross reference to Old Testament laws. In contrast Matthew from the very beginning connects the birth of Jesus to an Old Testament genealogy. No other gospel writer makes more reference to the Old Testament than Matthew. Luke can be read in a much more historical way with lots of detail to places and times and names. Then John very unlike the rest. The assumption is that people will know the basics covered in the first three gospel narratives. John writes to us about light and dark, wisdom and folly, he writes about signs. He writes to challenge the intellectuals of his day. When Mark was being penned the church people were under great persecution. It is recorded in other writings that those in the early church where being set alight at Nero’s garden parties and used as human torches. Peter and Paul had both been executed. This writing that we know as the gospel according to Mark was written around the year 65AD. It was written for the church in Rome. The emphasis was that the kingdom of God had dawned through Jesus. A new Exodus had begun and the kingly messiah had arrived among his people.

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