My favorite Gospel writer is St. Mark.
Mark does not go around the barn to find his nose. His prose is spare, direct, clear, dramatic. He leaves symbolism to John, empathy to Luke and quotations to Matthew. Mark accomplishes in 16 chapters what Matthew squeezes into 28, Luke in 24 and John in 21. John is Melville; Mark is Hemingway.
The first half of Mark finds Jesus wandering around Galilee, preaching the Kingdom of God, healing the sick and feeding the hungry, gathering disciples and fending off adoring crowds. In the second half of Mark the pace and urgency of Jesus quickens. His face is on Jerusalem; the crowds winnow away; his conversation is about death.
When I read Mark I am drawn into the life and work of Jesus. I sit in slack-jawed awe when he calms a sea-storm with a simple “shalom.” My anxiety over simple needs is eased a little when I read how he fed so many with so few provisions. I am heartened to learn that he uses clumsy, often dense disciples to advance his mission. In Mark I see there is a place for me.
The hero of Mark’s story is Jesus. The point of the story is salvation. The way this happens is Jesus’ death. Mark tells us about a sacrificial, voluntary, life-giving death.
In Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Eugene Peterson captures the essence of Mark’s story of Jesus: “This death, in all its details, has penetrated the Christian imagination as nothing else has. Music, art, literature, drama, architecture. But most of all its effects continue to be on display in the unnumbered men and women who daily give up their own attempts to save themselves, trying to make something out of their lives on their own terms, and take up Jesus’ cross and follow him. St. Mark has given us the story of Jesus’ death in such a way that it continues to resonate and reverberate in our lives as nothing more nor less than salvation.”
Three-fourths of this year’s Lenten season is taken up by March’s 31 days. It is a good time for spiritual reading. I plan to re-read Mark’s story of Jesus. Half a chapter a day will do the job, or a couple of hours at one sitting. Will you join me?
Originally published in March 2012 in the Explorer.