John Mark was a Jew and, according to Paul’s letter to the Colossians, was cousin to Barnabas. He accompanied Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary journey. Afterwards, he went to Cyprus with Barnabas and to Rome with first Paul and then Peter. Mark’s gospel is generally regarded as the earliest and was most likely written whilst he was in Rome. It was probably based as much on Peter’s preaching of the good news as on Mark’s own memory. Mark’s gospel has a sharpness and an immediacy about it and he does not spare the apostles in noting their weaknesses and lack of understanding that Jesus the Christ would suffer for the world’s redemption. Sharing in the glory of the resurrection means sharing in the giving of self, both in body and spirit, even to death; sharing the gospel was, for all, in essence both excessively generous and ultimately sacrificial.
O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
who enlightened your holy Church
through the inspired witness
of your evangelist Saint Mark:
grant that we, being firmly grounded
in the truth of the gospel,
may be faithful to its teaching
both in word and deed;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
How shall young people cleanse their way
to keep themselves according to your word?
With my whole heart have I sought you;
O let me not go astray from your commandments.
Your words have I hidden within my heart,
that I should not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord;
O teach me your statutes.
With my lips have I been telling
of all the judgements of your mouth.
I have taken greater delight in the way of your testimonies
than in all manner of riches.
I will meditate on your commandments
and contemplate your ways.
My delight shall be in your statutes
and I will not forget your word.
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
Jesus began to say to the disciples, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.
‘As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.’
In recent times we have been bombarded with many negative statistics suggesting that those who espouse the Christian faith are members of an endangered species. We are told that unless we ‘compromise’ over doctrinal matters that carry the weight of scriptural authority, the Church of Jesus Christ is doomed to extinction. Perhaps we should not be surprised that all this bad press is wearing down many of the Church’s loyal members … even when the facts belie all this negativity.
The imminent demise of Christianity has been a theme that has run throughout the last two thousand years. But … the Church (or Community of Believers) established by Jesus Christ himself lives on.
Today we remember Mark the Evangelist, the writer of the earliest of the four gospels in the New Testament. Mark’s gospel was written between twenty and thirty years after the resurrection, and yet it carries the weight of great authority because of Mark’s close association with the apostle Peter, the rock on which Jesus built his Church.
Mark’s gospel, the shortest of the four gospels, emphasizes the actions of Jesus, rather than his teachings. It is seen as a narrative which encourages its readers to persevere through suffering and persecution. All of this comes to the fore in today’s short reading.
Jesus said: Beware that no one leads you astray. These words have an urgency that still resonates in the twenty-first century. These words should be constantly on our hearts as we read of the ‘necessary compromises’ and the soon to be experienced ‘death’ of the Church. Those who hold this passage dear will also recall more words of Jesus: do not be alarmed.
Jesus’ earthly life was a roller coaster of acceptance, adulation and rejection. Jesus’ remarkable birth marked the beginning of a journey that would end in the apparent victory of his critics and persecutors, those who saw Jesus and his teaching as a serious threat to their authority and power. Just as faithful Christians have held firm to Jesus’ teaching down the centuries, so his detractors and persecutors have seen their attitudes pass through successive generations. And so I return to my opening words: ‘In recent times we have been bombarded with many negative statistics suggesting that those who espouse the Christian faith are members of an endangered species.’
Today we are being challenged to take the baton that has been passed on to us by earlier faithful generations and keep moving forward in faith. Mark’s gospel is incisive and direct, and it highlights that even Jesus’ earliest followers were as human as us. So … let us cling to Mark’s narrative as we journey on in faith: not being led astray; not being alarmed; enduring to the end.
Prayers of Intercession
Encouraged by our fellowship with all the saints, let us make our prayers to the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Father, your Son called men and women to leave the past behind them and to follow him as his disciples in the way of the cross. Look with mercy upon those whom he calls today, marks with the cross and makes his disciples within the Church.
Your Son told his disciples not to be afraid and at Easter breathed on them his gift of peace. Look with mercy upon the world into which he sent them out, and give it that peace for which it longs.
Your Son formed around him a company who were no longer servants but friends, and he called all those who obeyed him his brother and sister and mother. Look with mercy upon our families and our friends and upon the communities in which we share.
Your Son sent out disciples to preach and heal the sick. Look with mercy on all those who yearn to hear the good news of salvation, and renew among your people the gifts of healing.
Your Son promised to those who followed him that they would sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel and would share the banquet of the kingdom. According to your promise, look with mercy on those who have walked with Christ in this life and now have passed through death.
Prayer for the week
risen from the dead and alive for evermore:
stand in our midst as in the upper room;
speak your peace to our hearts and minds;
and send us forth into the world as your apostles;
for the glory of your name.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.
Set free our spirits from all fear —
the cloud of dark unknowing,
and let the light, the Christ-light show
the pathway of our going.
Make real for us your holding love,
the love which is your meaning,
the power to move the stone of death,
the hope of Easter morning.
Shirley Erena Murray (b. 1931)