Monday, March 15, 2010

The beginning of the good news

St. Mark, Evangelist
April 25

Isaiah 52:7-10
Psalm 57
2 Timothy 4:6-11, 18
Mark 1:1-15

Each evangelist has a distinctive voice in telling the story of Jesus. Each knew the story in a particular way, and wrote it down at a specific time and with an audience in mind. Each had their own idea about how this story was important, and their own style or “flair” in the way they told it.

Mark is known for his suddenness, the way things happen quickly, decisively, even imperatively. Count the times in your translation he marks transitions with “suddenly,” “immediately,” and how many things “must” happen. From almost the first moment to the last, the story moves Jesus through the lands of Israel to Jerusalem. If, as scholars think, Mark was the first to write the story of Jesus’ passion, he is the original source for “the greatest story ever told,” and thus an all-time bestseller.

The Gospel of Mark is full of surprises, and perhaps more than any other canonical gospel, causes its readers to wonder what this story really means. The greatest example might be that strange abrupt ending, where instead of a clear-cut resurrection and a joyful proclamation of God’s conquest of death, there is only an empty tomb, a strange man, and disciples who were afraid to tell anyone what they saw and heard (Mark 16:4-9).

Yet right from the start, Mark should have us scratching our heads.

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ...” [Mark 1:1a, NRSV]

Is this simply a designation for the start of his story: “The book starts here”? Or is he perhaps making a claim that the good news of Jesus begins, not with his birth or younger years, but with the prophecy of Isaiah? Or of John? Or maybe the beginning is this event where Jesus went down to the water and emerged Beloved?

Yet despite all the puzzles lurking in the text, Mark has not given us a mystery to solve, but a gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. The Jesus who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Who would heal the sick and command demons to cease their torment. Who would turn to his Father in prayer, and not simply announce, but live a new kind of kingdom.

Perhaps the “beginning” Mark refers to really points to that cryptic ending [Mark 16:9]. The whole story Mark tells is the beginning of the good news. The good news begins when God’s messengers – Jesus’ disciples – carry the Word forth.

Of course, Mark really means that you can be good news. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’” (Isaiah 52:7, NRSV).

Artwork:
Artist unknown. Red Lion, Herald of St. Mark.
Agnolo Bronzino, St. Mark (detail), c. 1525.
Andrea Mantegna, St. Mark the Evangelist, c.1450. Photo by Alexander Heimann.
 

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