This article is intended to introduce the Gospel of Mark to us as a congregation, primarily because we will be spending most of the year hearing it read during worship on Sunday mornings.
There is a sense of URGENCY in Mark’s Gospel. For starters, it the shortest of the four Gospels (16 chapters), weighing in at a full five chapters than the next shortest, John (21 chapters). No waxing poetic for Mark! While John makes a sort of Throwback Thursday comparison that places Jesus, the Word Made Flesh, back at the beginning of all creation, in the Word God Spoke that brought all things into being, while Matthew and Luke harken back to the beginning of Jesus’ life by telling the story of his birth (along with a couple of genealogies thrown in for good measure), Mark’s beginning is much more to the point:
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Then he quotes some Scripture and moves on to the coming of John the baptizer (Mark’s name for him, not mine), who was sent to prepare the way for Jesus’ big entrance. Get in, say what you need to say, get out. That’s Mark’s style. But notice what he’s doing as well in that one, short sentence. The beginning of the good news. Not the beginning and ending. It’s a subtle reminder to his hearers that this good news (aka Gospel) that started in and through Jesus is still going on today, wherever and whenever today might happen to be. It took root and started in a particular place and time, but it is still going on today—in places and times all around the world. Even – or especially – in your own place and time.
No mincing of words, either. It takes all of 110 words and only 5 verses to dispense with John arrival and preaching, which is roughly between half and one-fourth the words/verses the other three Gospel writers use (Matthew: 270/12, John: 348/18, Luke: 478/20). Get in, say what you need to say, get out. After Jesus is baptized and emerges (victorious, we must presume, since Mark characteristically wastes no words telling us) from being tempted in the wilderness, Jesus preaches his first sermon. All thirteen words of it (fifteen in the original Greek). Imagine me giving a thirteen word sermon some Sunday! (Good old Mark, some of you are probably thinking right about now.) Here it is:
“The kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe the good news!”
Again, note the urgency. The kingdom of God has come near, almost like a comet comes near a planet before soaring off to some remote corner of the galaxy—or even universe. Better catch it before it’s gone! Jesus is God’s comet, swooping in on us here on planet Earth, bringing with him good news of God’s kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven, good news of a new and different kingdom than that of Caesar, the ruling Roman monarch of the time, good news of deliverance for the poor and outcast of society, those on the outside looking in, those oppressed by the evil that seems so strong.
And then there is one. Little. Word. A word Mark uses like it’s going out of style and he has a closet full he needs to get rid of before it does. The word is euthus in the Greek, usually translated immediately or at once in English. It appears 41 times in Mark’s Gospel—11 times in the first chapter alone! And to give you a wider point of reference, this Greek word appears only ten more times in the rest of the New Testament. That means that in Mark’s Gospel, which comprises just 8% of the New Testament, we find a word whose usage comprises 80% of the word’s use throughout the New Testament. You think maybe this is an important word for Mark? “Follow me.” And immediately they left their nets (and for two of them, their own father) and followed. For Mark, the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus falls upon us like a swooping hawk with claws extended, demanding that we give it our undivided attention. From beginning to end Mark tosses us in a speeding car chase, careening from curve to curve, until we are deposited, breathless, outside the empty tomb with the women, staring open mouthed at a young man who is telling us, proclaiming to us, the good news of God’s kingdom that he is risen, that we are to go and tell, to proclaim to, his once and future disciples this very same, life-transforming good news. Immediately.
May the urgency of this good news surround us as we hear Mark tell his urgent tale in the year ahead, especially this month as the journey of Lent begins February 14, when love and ashes meet and kiss each other.
See you in church!