Comfort my people, comfort them.
Like the other 3 gospels, the one that we read from today – which we announce is “according to mark” is anonymous. The tradition that has named the author as Mark, or John Mark, dates to the second century. From the third century, it was believed that Matthew wrote his gospel first, and that this was the reason it was read / heard first. That meant Mark was a summary of parts of Matthew – leading to Mark often being neglected and left unstudied. But all recent scholarship identifies that Mark is the earliest of the gospels to be written, created the Gospel paradigm and thankfully it is now being studied much more. It has a beauty all of its own. The focus is very much on the action of Jesus answering the question in the first section (ch 1- 8a) ⇒ who is this man? We don’t have all of the speeches or many of the parables of Jesus. It has the sense of a messenger just returned from an amazing event and Mark wants us to know all of the wonders of what has happened. His favourite word is ethos (Greek) which we translate as “immediately” or “suddenly” (used around 40 times). Jesus doesn’t waste time and moves constantly from one thing to the next.
The gospel is centred (chapters 8b – 10) on a brief journey from Galilee to Jerusalem (via the very northern area of Caesarea-Philippi) where the disciples are confronted by the question of who Jesus is for them. In the final section in chapters 11-16, we discover how Jesus becomes the king in his final week in Jerusalem.
The only time that Mark offers his understudy of who Jesus is is in the opening line of the Gospel – otherwise he lets us see how others react and relate with Jesus and we can draw our own conclusions from the action given to us. The beginning is stark yet beautiful: “The beginning of the Good News about Jesus, the Messiah, the son of God.” Then we are given a quote from the prophet Isaiah – and also Malachi – which we heard already in our first reading from Isaiah 40:1-8. After the long period of disobedience and rejection of God as Israel’s God leading into the Exile in Babylon, Israel is finally able to return. This second major section of Isaiah (chapters 40-55) is written more than a century are the first 39 chapters. The tone is now much more about the compassion of God – an appropriate theme as we continue to move through this season of Advent.
Sunday Advent 2B. Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11; Mark 1:1-8