In my more mature years, I would explain my basic faith position as a “Gospel oriented Catholic”. The teaching of Jesus in the Gospel is my motivation, although I would never claim that I live it well!
In the last year I was introduced to a book by Alexander Shaia called, “The Hidden Power of the Gospels.” He calls them “Quodratos”. It would take too long to give a book analysis, but I thoroughly recommend reading it. He says something in the Preface that I think is profound: “Whether we read the Gospels or pray them aloud or listen to them in Church, they lessen our loneliness, increase our compassion and enliven our faith. No single gospel can accomplish all these things. This is why the vitality of the four is unequaled and critically important. The Gospels teach us that we belong to each other and that we belong to God.”
Shaia emphasizes that the Readings at Sunday Eucharist are in a three year cycle, and embrace the four Gospels. Each gospel was written by a different author, for a specific audience and talk about Jesus as the answer to a distinct set of problems or issues.
This is the year of Mark – with a sprinkling of John. Mark was a companion of Paul and worked with Paul and Peter in Rome. There, along with the early Christians, he suffered under the persecution of Nero and started to question how following Jesus could possibly lead to such terrible sufferings!
Mark set about explaining that Jesus emphasized that he was going to suffer and they should expect it too, but that it would lead to resurrection. Mark’s Gospel asks, “How do we move through suffering?” Three times in Mark’s Gospel Jesus talks of his impending suffering, death and resurrection. Alexander Shaia says, “Mark, directing his Gospel to Christians and under sentence of death uses the metaphor of wilderness and the Jewish equivalents for wilderness – deserts and bodies of water.”
Because he worked with Paul, Mark wanted to explain that Jesus came for the forgiveness of sins. “What is easier to say? ‘Pick up your bed and walk’, or ‘Your sins are forgiven you’?” Mark 2:9-12.
Mark’s Gospel is the shortest and is always to the point. Jesus is very human and exasperated at times with his apostles. “How can you be so dumb?” he seems to say. While the common symbol for Mark’s Gospel is a lion (in the beginning is the account of John the Baptist roaring like a lion in the desert), according to scripture scholar, William Barclay, the symbol of Mark’s Gospel is a man. Jesus was ¬the man. Mark emphasizes the humanity of Jesus.
As we go through this year of Mark we are invited to look at suffering in our own life. If we seek a “prosperity gospel” we are going to have our faith shaken. On the other hand, we will discover Mark’s Gospel to be filled with hope; we will be invited to see the wonderful things Jesus has done for us, and so take our share in suffering for the cause of the Gospel.
Fr Nick Punch O.P.