The Three P’s of Saint Mark’s Gospel
We can learn presence, prayer, and patience from Mark’s Gospel
We are blessed to proclaim from Saint Mark’s Gospel currently at Holy Mass in these early weeks of Ordinary Time. As we know, Mark is the most bare-bones of all the canonical Gospels and, as I have been told, one could successful read this Gospel in Koine Greek with an understanding of around 80-100 words. The Gospel of Mark is written for Gentiles, non-Jewish Christians. In many ways, it is the exact opposite of Matthew’s Gospel. Just as Matthew’s Gospel has so many little references (and many not so little) to the Old Testament, Mark’s Gospel is totally a beginner’s manual, totally an introduction on the basic level to whom Jesus is and what Jesus is all about!
Mark’s Gospel is clean, clear, and direct. Written around the year AD 70, the Gospel cuts out a great deal of what we would expect in a Gospel. There’s no infancy narrative at all. It begins, rather bluntly, with “This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark’s Gospel is an almost perfect example of what we would call the kerygma — it’s all about what we used to proclaim in English in the old translation of the Mystery of Faith at Mass — “Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again.”
For all its simplicity, Mark’s Gospel is much more complex than it can first appear. There’s always two levels of action going on in the Gospel. There’s the natural level, the events that the Lord finds himself in, and, always, there is the supernatural level. The in-breaking of grace on the natural level is apparent, in Jesus’ gestis verbisque, his words and actions, as he reveals the Kingdom of God — which as we know, is not simply a place or a concept, but indeed Jesus himself. He is the Kingdom, the preacher and the preached, the teacher and what is taught, the messenger and the message.
In all Jesus’ healings (for example, Mark 1-3), which take place on the natural level, the supernatural world gets all stirred up, too. Even the demons recognize who Christ is, way before humans do. Jesus prevented the demons from revealing who he is, because it is not yet his time (Mark 3:11).
Three things, then, for our consideration, as we try to live our lives as Christians, that we can learn from Mark’s Gospel: presence, prayer, and patience.
First, presence: In one section of Mark’s Gospel (Mark 1:29-31), Jesus just shows up at Peter’s house; like a good doctor, this Divine Physician makes a sick call. So much of our lives is merely being present to others, even when it is not the most efficient thing to do. Those in consecrated life, living in community, demonstrate that time and again. This is one of the great gifts of religious life. Being present in community energizes the sister or brother to then go out and give more of themselves away, graciously in Christ. This is also true in our parishes; we are energized by the presence of our brothers and sisters in the local Church community. Coming together as a parish family for prayer, study, and recreation, we then are able to go out to the world and be the presence of Christ.
Second, prayer: Jesus can’t do what he doing without first praying (Mark 1:35-39). He recharges his battery with prayer, going away to a deserted place. In our lives of commitment to daily prayer, especially that of the Liturgy of the Hours, we are given the blessing of prayer of sanctification of not only ourselves, but indeed of the whole world. We go away to a deserted place when we take the time for the Divine Office. This exitus allows us to go and make our redditus to the world in service.
Third, patience: Mark’s Gospel tells of the messianic secret, the fact that only God and God alone can reveal who Jesus is, and that it can only be done when it is God’s time (see Mark 1:40-45). For us who are ordained or in consecrated life, this is visibly demonstrated in obedience to our superiors. I may think that the time is right for me to do this or that, just as Jesus could have just done everything right away, but, ultimately, we follow the will of the Father, as revealed to us through our superiors. This requires a tremendous act of faith in God and the movements of the Holy Spirit in the life of my bishop in my case as a diocesan priest, and in one’s religious superiors in the case of the religious sister or brother. For the married layperson, it requires openness to the will and the needs of one’s spouse and family. For all Catholics, it is openness and attentiveness to the will of God as revealed in prayer, study, and a properly formed Catholic conscience.
Presence, prayer, and patience: Mark’s Gospel offers us all that! Not bad for the simplest and shortest of the Gospels!