Monday, May 2, 2011

St. Mark the Favorite

My favorite gospel account is that of Mark, whose feast day we celebrate today. (It’s usually April 25, but Easter Week got in the way, so our buddy had to wait for his party.) There are lots of reasons I like Mark. We don’t know much about him—might be John Mark from Paul’s letters or might be someone else entirely. He adds a few odd details in his gospel account that others haven’t included—like the naked man fleeing from the Garden of Gethsemane after Jesus’ arrest. But the real reason I treasure Mark’s gospel account is that he gives us the absolute core of the good news—the earliest and simplest account—uncorrupted by later doctrinal additions.
I’m not suggesting that the bits of the story that get added in some of the other accounts (virgin birth, ancestry, post-resurrection encounters) aren’t true. But Mark didn’t need them to tell his story, and that’s what I like about him. He’s the Joe Friday of the gospellers. In some ways that makes him the easiest to read in the 21st century. If the other accounts are true, perhaps we can say that Mark’s account is truer.
In the gospel lesson appointed for his feast day, Mark begins his account of the good news of Jesus Christ. And that’s pretty much how he starts: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God.” What understated beauty! Mark goes on to connect the life and ministry of Jesus with the prophets (Isaiah), to highlight the role of John the Baptist as the forerunner (though without mentioning his cousinship with Jesus), and to demonstrate Jesus’ amazing victory over temptation (though without personifying Satan).

There are, of course, reasons to fall in love with Luke’s compassionate Jesus or to revel in John’s transcendent Jesus. But for me, Mark does it in a way that draws me in most fully. We need all four accounts of the gospel—the one Gospel is the four accounts—but it’s ok to have a favorite. You can probably tell a lot about me from my favorite—some good, some not so good. I might tend to eschew the phenomenal in favor of the rational, but Mark isn’t all stick-in-the-mud. The good news of Jesus Christ as conveyed by Mark is still powerful and miraculous, but it also lets the story speak for itself. For me, given the death and resurrection of Christ, all else is possible—no matter how outlandish—but, at the same time, given the miracle of Easter, what else do you need?

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