[by Barbara Shanahan]
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 85: 9-10, 11-12, 13-14; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1: 1-8
Beginnings and endings give a shape to the readings for this week. How timely as we end an old year and begin a new one. How often in life are endings just new beginnings and beginnings clear endings of familiar things?
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…” Mark 1:1
The Gospel of Mark begins very di erently from the other Gospel accounts. There is no infancy narrative such as we nd in Matthew and Luke. No prologue that introduces Jesus as the preexistent one, the Word of the Father, existing from all eternity with God as in John’s Gospel. Mark’s introductory statement is very simple: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” It may seem rather unimpressive by contrast with the other Gospels, but for all its simplicity, it can draw us in and capture our imagination. The word of God is like that! An encounter with the sacred will always be full of grace and riches beyond imagining. Many words do not make that happen.
For the community that preserved this Gospel there was much to ponder, much they were struggling to understand. Consider the rst words: “The beginning…” One might be tempted to ask: ”so where does it end?” The ending of Marks Gospel (and there are a few endings. See footnotes in your Bible), reveals a similar struggle: “They (the women) went away in fear and said nothing to anyone”.
Does the Gospel end when the story of Jesus is complete or is there a ‘beginning’ within each one of us who take up the story and live it. Are there continuous beginnings as we are always reading it anew?
He next mentions “gospel” or “good news”. We are not told why this is good news and the story that Mark relates of the life of Jesus is hard to think of as ‘good news”, unless one considers the end result of the life he lived. He encountered con ict and opposition, faced frustration, rejection and betrayal and was abandoned by his closest associates and seemingly by his God and su ered execution as a common criminal. But this is “good news” for humankind who stands to gain everything from his acceptance of the Father’s will because by this “will” we have been saved and set free! (See Hebrews 10:10)
Each of the names or titles that are applied: Jesus, Christ, Son of God, carry a weight of meaning that will unfold as the gospel story is told. Who is this one about whom we will be speaking? This is the primary question all the New Testament texts seek to clarify for us: Who is Jesus? The name ‘Jesus’ means savior and presages the goal of the human life he lived among us. ‘Christ’ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah meaning anointed one. Kings were anointed and so this links Jesus with the Davidic dynasty, recipients of a covenant promise, who were charged by God to govern the people in God’s stead. They were to be shepherds like David who would govern gently and bring about peace and goodness. ‘Son of God’ speaks of the unique relationship Jesus had with God and again refers to the promises made to David and his descendants. In the covenant made with the House of David, God says about the king: “I will be a father to him and he shall be a son to me.” (2 Sam 7:14) Psalm 2, a psalm written for the coronation of a king restates this same idea: “You are my son, this day I have begotten you.” (Psalm 2:7) This links Jesus with God’s promises and Israel’s messianic hopes.
In twelve short words, Mark invites us into the heart of the Gospel asking: First: Who is this Jesus? Mark tells us that this one is in continuity with the long story of Israel and the promises God has made. Second: The gospel story also ventures into shaping a Christology that has no precedent except to draw on words from the past that mysteriously become the living word of God for the present and future. Third: He tells us that salvation has been accomplished and this is good news for the disciple who ventures to open the Gospel, keeping its message ever new.
Mark introduces to us the gure of John the Baptist and makes reference to him as “my messenger”… God speaking here! These words although not exactly the words of Isaiah are from a lesser known prophet, Malachi. If you look at where these words are found in your Bible, you will discover that they are found in Malachi 3:1…the very last chapter that concludes the Old Testament writings! As we said, endings are beginnings and form a continuous link with God’s unfolding plan and purpose for his people.