BEFORE THE CROSS | Gospel of Mark challenges us to be great witness to Christ

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

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We celebrate the Feast of St. Mark this week (April 25). And this year, we're reading from St. Mark's Gospel on Sundays. It's a good time to ask: What are some of the outstanding features of the Gospel of Mark that serve to guide our lives?

First, the Gospel of Mark transmits the preaching of St. Peter. Mark put himself at the service of Peter, and Peter put himself at the service of Christ. What's the lesson for us? It's not all about me. Each of us is called to put our gifts at the service of Jesus. That's the essence of discipleship. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "Every catechist should be able to apply to himself the mysterious words of Jesus: 'My teaching is not mine, but His who sent me'" (CCC 427). That's true of St. Mark's Gospel. May it be true of each one of us.

Second, Mark's is the shortest Gospel. And not only is it short, it's action-packed. Jesus heals people halfway through the first chapter, shows His divinity by forgiving sins at the start of the second chapter, and the Pharisees are plotting His death by the beginning of the third chapter. Mark keeps us moving from one event to the next, using the term "immediately" more than 40 times in the Gospel. Experts in ancient Greek tell us that his vocabulary and sentence structure are simple and straightforward. His accounts give vivid, first-person witness to events — just what you'd expect from the eyewitness preaching of Peter. The focus of the Gospel is announced in the opening line — that Jesus is the Son of God — then repeated by Peter halfway through the Gospel (8:29) and again by a centurion at the end of the Gospel (15:39). It's almost as though Mark conducted a focus group to sharpen the message. This is a lesson for us, too. Will we learn to be as direct as Mark? Will we get right to the point, and stick to it, the way Mark does? Will we give vivid, first-person witness to what we have seen Jesus do? By following Mark's example, each of us will become a living Gospel.

Finally, nobody gives a more vivid account of the shortcomings of the apostles than Mark. He shows us apostles who fail to understand and misunderstand, who get in the way and run away. That's the kind of humility you would expect from Peter's preaching, and that humility is a good lesson for us.

But there's something deeper there, too. When we look at the apostles in Mark's writings — well, they look a lot like us. We aren't perfect followers of Christ either. But that seems to be an essential part of Mark's message. He's saying: If they started out just like us — poor examples of discipleship — maybe we can end up just like them — great witnesses to the faith, bringing Christ to the world. That's a challenge, and a message of great hope.

St. Mark, pray for us. 

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