Reflections on the Gospel According to Mark
An On-line Project lead by Father Tony
Last week in our Introduction to the Project, I provided a brief commentary on the origins of the gospels. This week we move straight into Mark's Gospel starting from the Prolougue in Chapter 1, Verses 1-13.
Those verses are reproduced below. The verse numbers are indicated by the small red numbers within the text. I also provide commentary
which is shown in italics. We conclude this part of the Project with a set of questions which I ask you to consider.
As before, if you have questions or observations, you are welcome to contact me by email:
And if you want to continue reading Mark's Gospel just click the button.
Or, if you want a quick overview of the 16 Chapters of the Gospel you can view the video below. It runs
for about 10 minutes. Then below that we will look at the first 13 verses of Chapter 1 in a bit more detail.
The Holy Gospel According to Mark
The Proclamation of John the Baptist
1:1The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
- In this short verse, the use of expression "the beginning" has two meanings. Mark tells his readers
that they are at the beginning of a story, but he also looks back to another story – in Genesis
(Book of Genesis starts "In the beginning .."). The beginning of God’s creating presence. A new creation
is at hand.
The "good news" is a message of freedom from captivity, specifically demonic control. The liberation is being brought about because a new era has dawned in which the rule of God (kingdom) is usurping and replacing the regime of Satan. The announcement of the good news and the liberation itself is the work of God’s Messiah. It involves reconciliation with God on our part.
We are told that Jesus is the Messiah (Christ), the Son of God. ("Messiah" in Hebrew, "Christ" in Greek, both mean “anointed one”).
2As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
- In vs 2-3 we hear God’s voice, in scripture, announcing a messenger to prepare the way of the Lord.
God is announcing that he will send a messenger to prepare the way of the Lord.
The quotation is a composite one taken from the Old Testement Books of Isaiah, Exodus and Malachi. It is not a mistake on Mark’s part. Composite quotations attributed to a single author were not uncommon at the time.
4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the
forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem
were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed
with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.
7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down
and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
- Verses 4-6 Introduce John the Baptist as the forerunner who is to fulfil God’s promise in preparing the way
told in vs 2-3.
His attire – he is clad in camel hair and leather belt (a description from prophet Elijah 2nd Kings 1:8) –
King Ahaziah Elijah the Tishbite – John cast in the role of the returning Elijah.
His attire – he is clad in camel hair and leather belt (a description from prophet Elijah 2nd Kings 1:8) – King Ahaziah Elijah the Tishbite – John cast in the role of the returning Elijah.
- John the Baptist sets in motion the long awaited liberation in Isaiah. John is proclaiming a baptism of repentance - prepare a way, human hearts changed, converted and open to receive the message and ministry of the Lord. The Baptist now speaks announcing the coming of the “stronger one” before whom he is totally unworthy. The stronger one “will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” He is preparing the way for “the Lord.”
The Baptism of Jesus
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
- Jesus, the main actor in the story, is introduced. He is baptised by John and as he comes out of the water the heavens
open and the Spirit with which Jesus will baptise descends upon him from above. A divine voice speaks directly to Jesus:
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Jesus alone (only in Mark) sees heavens torn open and Spirit coming like dove (Gen 1:2) – Jesus emerging as start of New Creation. Son/Beloved/Well Pleased.
Through the baptism, Jesus identifies with sinful and repentant crowds. Solidarity with sinful humanity here anticipates a more radical entrance into the sinfulness and alienation of the world that he will make in the passion and death on the cross. He will die bereft of divine comfort and with a cry of dereliction on his lips.
This will be followed by another rending of the barriers between heaven and earth.
The temple curtain that walled off the Holy of Holies as divine dwelling place will be torn in two from top to bottom (Mark 15:38) and Jesus’ divine sonship again revealed, not from heaven, but from the Roman centurion who had supervised the execution.
The Temptation of Jesus
12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
- The Baptist disappears and the presence of Jesus dominates. The divine Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness.
While he is present there for forty days, Satan tempts him, he is there with wild beasts and the angels minister to him.
Abraham and Job in the Old Testement were both tested and Israel was tested for 40 years in the desert. Jesus reliving this.
In the desert he lives a life that parallels the lives of Adam and Eve before the entry of sin. The hint of a new creation in v 1 ("the beginning") returns in vs 12-13. In Genesis we hear of Satan’s victory and hostility and fear in creation. Here the situation is reversed. He was with the wild beasts. (Other biblical stories – Isaiah 11 “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat; The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them”.)
Although appearing only towards the end of the prologue, Jesus has already been presented to the reader. He is the Christ, the Son of God (v 1), the Lord, (v 3), the stronger one (v 7,) the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit (v 8). God’s voice has assured the reader that he is the Beloved Son of God, and that God is well pleased with him (v 11). He is filled with the Holy Spirit (v 10) and driven into the desert to reverse the tragedy of the Adam and Eve story, to re-establish God’s original design (vs 12-13).
Mark wants the reader to arrive at the end of the prologue well informed about who Jesus is, but as yet unaware how Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Lord, the stronger one who baptises with the holy Spirit, and how in his person God’s original creative design is to be restored.
All early Christians knew that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, and they may well have questioned how such an end could be pleasing to God. Mark has written a story that attempts to respond to that question.
What must be noted is that fact that what is said in vs 1-13, the prologue, is directed only to the reader. This literary technique privileges the reader. Throughout the Gospel of Mark, the one who has read or heard vs 1-13 knows the secret of who Jesus is and what he has done.
The various characters in the story: The Pharisees, the crowds, the Romans, and especially the disciples, have not read the prologue. For most of the narrative of the gospel Mark does not explicitly direct his words to the reader (see, however Chapter 13:14). However, at the end of the story (Chapter 16:1-8), Mark the storyteller will return to focus his attention on the readers and their understanding of the person of Jesus as the vindicated Son of Man, and point to their identification with the experience of the disciples and the women in the story. Mark will subtly ask them where they stand as they hear: “and they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Chapter 16:8).
Points to ponder:
- Is your faith Good News for you, or is it a weight on your shoulders?
- Where do you see Good News in today’s Church events (community?/parish?/World)?
- Do you share John the Baptist’s mission to proclaim Christ’s coming into the world? Do you do this with words or by the way you live?
- “He will baptise you.....” What is baptism all about for you?