Magazine article The Christian Century

On Your Mark. (Living by the Word)

Magazine article The Christian Century

On Your Mark. (Living by the Word)

Article excerpt

Sunday, December 8 Mark 1:1-8 2 Peter 3:8-15 Isaiah 40:1-11 Psalm 5:1-2, 8-13

"The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."

LIKE A STARTER'S PISTOL, this brief first verse rings out and Mark's narrative is off and running. We may take the chain of phrases in this verbless sentence simply as a title, the announcement of what follows--the title and then immediately the headlong story.

As so often in Mark, though, we may pause, or go back to what went by so fast and wonder what it meant. Our first thought may be that here is simply a conventional way to say that at just this point we are beginning the gospel story that follows, that Mark's little book is itself "the good news." But might it actually be, as it seems when read in this day's lesson, that the title properly superscribes just this portion of what follows? That the witness of John the Baptist is the beginning of the good news, while its fullness is not to be revealed until later?

If that is possible, then perhaps there's more included under this rubric: maybe it's the whole first half of the book that is "the beginning of the good news." The whole Galilean ministry, the attempt of Jesus to make known the kingdom through his teaching, is, after all, just a start. Arguably too, it's a sort of false start, as his message is repeatedly obscured by the cult of his person and power. Thwarted by the misunderstandings of both crowds and disciples, Jesus will resort to a more desperate measure and will make his turn toward the cross. But that comes later.

Then again, maybe it is the whole of Mark's book, or rather what it recounts, that is being described in verse one. It may all be a beginning, the inception of a gospel not so much contained in these pages as it is meant to be alive in the hearers' present and future. Do we perhaps go back to this story not to look at the past but to think about how it could or should unfold in our own lives?

As I consider these possibilities, I think about how abrupt the ending of Mark is. The white-clad figure at the tomb tells the women that the risen Jesus has gone ahead to Galilee and that his disciples will see him there, but we're not told what happened next. Did the disciples even get the message? Did they stay in Jerusalem playing church, rather than go back on the dusty campaign trail with Jesus? Did they not understand that he had gone back to renew his mission? He was afoot again in Galilee, the servant of the liberating kingdom. He had gone ahead.

There is ample reason to think that Mark believes the disciples got it wrong once again. …

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