St. Mark's Entry into Lent
While we have our faces set forward to Ash Wednesday and Lent, it is probably a good idea to take a look at where we've been. Yesterday was the Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time, the last of the Ordinary Time Sundays till the end of May., The Lenten and Easter observances have assigned Scripture readings for those Sunday's (and weekdays) and draw from all four Gospels. We will not be rejoining St. Mark's chronicle until late spring. We actually resume St. Mark’s narrative on the Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time, as Trinity Sunday and Corpus Christi, respectively, supersede the Seventh and Eighth Ordinary Sundays.
We leave St. Mark for now in his Chapter 7, perhaps a fitting place to break the text and move into Lent. According to Father Moloney's commentary, in chapter six the wheels begin to fall off the wagon of what started as a joyful mission of the Heralding of the Kingdom of God. Jesus' signs and wonders evoked very strong reactions. Plots to kill him appear in the religious establishment as early as Chapter 3. On the other extreme the Twelve are feeling their oats as the visible front line of a mission that so far has been cost them nothing and on the contrary has propelled them to more than fifteen minutes of fame. Peter in particular is evolving into Don King, eyeing the gate receipts and expressing frustration with Jesus when the latter goes off to pray. "Where have you been? Everybody is looking for you!" (Note the hyperbole.)
Moloney believes that the breakdown came to a head when Jesus sent the disciples on a proclamation/works crusade. The mission probably went well. Certainly the Twelve thought so, proclaiming all that they have accomplished in terms of signs and wonders. From their self-report Jesus adduced correctly that his men have not grasped the heart of the mission: that it is God working through them, not their own personal charisma or strength that lay beneath whatever good this crusade of the Twelve had wrought.
From Chapter 7 forward, the subtle but ongoing separation begins to become evident to the reader as the unfolding message of the Markan Christ becomes more evident. Three times Jesus will announce that he is to suffer and die at the hands of sinful men; this is too much hard talk for the Twelve, and Peter actually criticizes Jesus for talking in such manner. Moloney observes that the Twelve begin to become indistinguishable from the more peripheral listeners and even the casual observers. This separation will continue up to and including the Passion narrative, when the breech becomes complete: they all flee, alongside a man so eager to make his escape that he fled naked. Mark, curiously, is the only evangelist who includes this naked runner factoid. For centuries the Church tried to decipher this man’s identity, the majority opinion being that the young Mark himself had been the man. Modern scholarship looks at him as a symbol of abandonment, the last remnant of Jesus’ followers; perhaps the Church itself, as Mark’s audience in the late 60’s AD, was apostatizing in large numbers in the face of Roman persecution. To add insult to injury, the original text of Mark’s Gospel (16:8} depicts the women fleeing in anxiety from Jesus’ empty tomb, telling nothing to anyone.
Perhaps a Markan Lent raises the question of what we would do “when the creek starts to rise.” This weekend we heard the news of shootings in Denmark in which one victim was a bodyguard protecting a synagogue. A few years ago I reviewed Paul Johnson’s A History of the Jews (1988) and I noted then that historically the Jews have lived what Christianity has professed. Jewish witness of the Scripture has brought upon itself the derision of outcast which sadly endures to this day. Christianity in the Western World does not need guards at the door because we are in the world as indistinguishable members. We are safe. We are Peter. We will flee trouble before anyone snatches our clothes in a confrontation of faith. Which leaves only a forty day nagging question: are we Christ’s?
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