The Gospel of Mark, the first of the four gospels, written sometime between the year 65 to 70 AD. Each year it’s read on weekdays, from chapter 1-9, following the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus until Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. This year it’s also read on Sundays through the year.
Mark’s gospel begins. not with Jesus’ birth, but with his Baptism, announced by John the Baptist.After his temptation in the desert, Jesus immediately goes into Galilee proclaiming the kingdom of God is at hand.
In each weekday reading Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God, first in Galilee and then in Jerusalem, by miracles and powerful signs. He also faces growing opposition that eventually brings him to death.
From its very beginning, Mark’s Gospel offers intimations of the tragic mystery of the Passion of Jesus. Coming from the Jordan River where he is baptized by John, Jesus is led “at once” by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. “ He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.” (Mark 1,13) In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus constantly faces the forces of evil and death.
Almost half of Mark’s 16 chapters describe the final period of Jesus life, when he went up to Jerusalem and suffered, died and rose again. As chapter 8 ends, Jesus asks his disciples who people say he is. “You are the Messiah,” Peter answers, but Jesus announces he must go up to Jerusalem and be rejected and killed and raised up. Peter will have nothing to do with it. In response, Jesus calls him “Satan” and tells him he’s thinking as man thinks and not as God does.
In God’s thinking, Jesus, his Son, must die and rise again. All who follow him must do the same. Peter’s not alone in not understanding God’s thinking; all the disciples, including us, are slow to understand. Our lack of understanding is emphasized in Mark’s gospel, which some have called “A passion narrative with an extended introduction,”
Many commentators say that Mark’s Gospel was written in Rome for the Christians of that city who suffered in the first great persecution of the church by Nero after a fire consumed the city in 64 AD.
I lived in Rome for a few years in the Monastery of Saints John and Paul on the Celian Hill. The monastery was built over the Temple of Claudius; its gardens were once part of Nero’s gardens. From its heights you could see the Circus Maximus a short distance away where the great fire of 64 AD started and the extensive area that burned in the fire, up to Tiber River. Probably over a million people were affected by it.
The Roman historian Tacitus says that Nero blamed the Christians for the fire and had many of them arrested and put to death in his gardens and at the Vatican circus across the city.
I was living in the gardens where some of those early Christians were put to death, I believe. On the other side of the Colosseum, a short distance away, was the Roman prefecture and prison were many of them would likely have been held and sentenced. The Church of St. Peter in Chains stands there today.
I narrated a video about that church and the early persecution which may help you understand the church Mark wrote for. The persecution must have had a devastating affect on the Christians of Rome at the time, innocent people completely taken by surprise by this brutal injustice. They didn’t understand it at all. Neither did his first disciples understand, Mark’s gospel says.
Wonderful background Fr. Victor. Puts you in perspective for the days to come before we begin the Lenten season.