The Gospel of simplicity
Fr Jacek Molka
In the canon the Gospel according to Saint Mark was placed as the second book (after the Gospel of St Matthew). The work of Mark is exceptionally brief and short since it has only sixteen chapters. It is characterised by linguistic simplicity and it presents the events from the life of Jesus Christ (Good News about him) rather than it interprets them. Therefore, it seems to contain the most original apostolic catechesis. Moreover, it is assumed to have originated as the first canonical Gospel and was known to both the editor of the Gospel of St Matthew and the Gospel of St Luke. Both authors used almost all Mark's material, making slight adjustments and expanding it in several places.
Author, place, origin and addresses
It is worth noticing that we cannot learn anything of the author from the Gospel itself. He obviously wanted to remain anonymous and focus completely on Jesus Christ, the Son of God (cf. 1:1). In the New Testament texts the personal name of Mark appears several times (for example in the Acts 15:39; 2 Timothy 4:11 or Colossians 4:10). In any case he did not play a key role in the early Christian community. The evidence shows that he was a disciple of both Saint Paul and Saint Peter. He seems to be a man who preferred to stand in the shadow of the famous figures, focusing on the mission of the evangelisation of the world.
The oldest tradition, dated to the 2nd century AD (Papias), confirmed by the Fathers of the Church, shows that Saint Mark was 'Peter's translator' (cf. 1 Peter 5:13) and wrote down the teachings of the Prince of the Apostles. According to many contemporary biblical scholars the author of the second Gospel was some little unknown Judeo-Christian belonging to the second generation of believers. As far as the place of the origin of the Gospel is concerned some scholars point to Alexandria, some to Antioch or even to Galilee (according to the Evangelist Jesus began his ministry there and after his resurrection he was to expect his disciples in Galilee). However, the most documented (attested by the Fathers of the Church) is the hypothesis that the Gospel of St Mark originated in Rome. Referring to chapter 13 one should think that it was written down towards the end on the 60s or the early 70s. Thus it is the oldest known gospel. The addresses of that NT book must have been Christians who had a pagan background. That is confirmed by the so-called inner evidence, i.e. the contents of the text itself (for example the author explains his readers the Jewish customs or gives many topographical details of some places in Palestine). Perhaps the gospel was first directed to Roman Christians. In any case the work of Mark was addressed to a wide audience of Christ's followers.
Division and contents
The scheme of the second Gospel can be presented in many ways. It seems that the simplest one would be to divide it into two main parts, proceeded by a prelude (1:1-13) and an ending (16:1-8, the fragment 16:9-20 was most likely added later). The first part could be entitled 'The authority of the Son of God' (1:14-8:21). It can be further divided into two large sections (naturally, it can be subdivided into literary units): the beginning of Jesus' activities (1:14-3:35) and his teaching in the boat (4:1-8:21 where we read about Jesus in the boat at the beginning and at the end of the text).
The second part could be called 'The ministry of the Son of God' (8:22 - 15:47). One can distinguish two sections embracing many segments: his journey to Jerusalem (8:22 - 10:52) and the time of Passover in the capital of Palestine (11:1 - 15:47).
The Gospel of Mark speaks about the person of the Son of God who is at the same time the Messiah. The author reveals the mystery of Jesus gradually, making readers follow his attitude towards his fellow countrymen as well as relatives and disciples whom he finally reveals himself as God's Anointed One (see 8:29). Then St Mark presents the Son of Man during his journey to Jerusalem where he reveals himself fully to his people. His passion and resurrection becomes the fulfilment of God's plans connected with the announcement of the Good News of salvation to us.
Briefly speaking, the main theological theme of the second NT book is simple 'the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God' (see 1:1). The word 'Gospel' is used eight times, which is not found in any of the three canonical gospels (Matthew gives the word four times, Luke twice and the word is missing from the Acts and John).
The Gospel, as understood by St Mark, is the proclamation of the message that salvation is ours in the person of Jesus. But this is not all. We should hurry up since 'the Gospel of God' urges us that 'the time has come' and 'the kingdom of God is close at hand' (see 1:14).
A true follower of the Lord 'has left' his life for the sake of the gospel (see 10:29) since he knows its life-giving power, which changes his perspective to see the reality. On the other hand, the Church, i.e. the community of men and women, disciples of the Master from Galilee, are to live and proclaim the Good News to the whole world.
Finally, it is worth stressing that the Good News goes together with the person of Jesus Christ and the proclamation of God's reign, i.e. proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is close at hand.