by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Advent marks the beginning of a new liturgical year during which our Sunday readings feature one of the three synoptic Gospels — Matthew, Mark or Luke. This year, we will be reflecting upon the Gospel of St. Mark.
Mark’s Gospel is the shortest and many biblical scholars believe it was the first to be written. Mark was not an apostle, but he knew the apostles and the early leaders of the Christian community.
From early Christian tradition, Mark the Evangelist is considered to be the Mark mentioned frequently in the Acts of the Apostles.
His mother owned a house in Jerusalem where the early Christians met. Some believe that this was the location of the upper room, the site of the Last Supper and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles on Pentecost.
Mark, a cousin of Barnabas, accompanied Paul and Barnabas on one of their missionary journeys. Mark decided at some point to abandon the journey, causing tension between Barnabas and Paul.
Mark is also referenced in the Letters of Peter. Several early Christian Fathers of the Church in their writings support the predominant theory that Mark’s Gospel is actually based upon Peter’s recollections of the life, ministry, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.
This past Sunday, our Gospel passage consisted of the first eight verses of the Gospel of Mark. Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark’s Gospel provides no infancy narrative describing the circumstances of Our Lord’s birth. Mark begins his Gospel by informing his readers with unequivocal clarity the true identity of Jesus as both the Christ and the Son of God.
“Christ” originates from a Greek word that means “the anointed one.” It is equivalent to the Jewish word, Messiah.
The Jewish people had been waiting for centuries for the coming of the Messiah, who was destined to liberate God’s people from bondage. Jews in the time of Jesus believed the Messiah would liberate them from the oppression of the Romans.
From the very beginning of his Gospel, Mark wants his readers to know that Jesus is someone much greater than the common understanding of the Messiah.
Jesus is God who became flesh. Jesus did not come to throw out the Romans and establish a new Jewish empire. The Son of God has come to immerse himself in our humanity in order that we might share in his divine life.
Mark also immediately presents his readers with the prophetic figure of John the Baptist, who is drawing people from the countryside and even from the city of Jerusalem to the banks of the Jordan River.
John invites those who come for baptism to acknowledge with humility and honesty their sins and, in so doing, to open their hearts to encounter God’s mercy.
Mark’s description of John the Baptist’s wardrobe and diet is reminiscent of the prophet Elijah, who was expected to return to announce the arrival of the Messiah.
John the Baptist makes clear that he is not the Christ and acknowledges that he is not worthy even to do the task of a slave, to stoop and unfasten his master’s sandals.
John tells the crowds on the banks of the Jordan that the baptism of the Christ will not only cleanse one from sin, but will empower recipients with the Holy Spirit. Jesus desires for his disciples not only to share in his divine life but in his ministry as well.
For Mark, the encounter with Jesus Christ is worth everything. He knows that many will experience persecution because of their faith in Jesus as the Son of God.
Our Lord immersed himself in our humanity, just as he plunged into the waters of the Jordan. Jesus came to liberate his disciples — not from the Romans, but from the enslavement of sin and the fear of death.
Jesus desires even something more for his disciples than the awesome gift of sharing in his divine and eternal life. Our Lord wants them to share in his joy and happiness by sharing in his mission as well.
Through the waters of baptism, Jesus wants to open our hearts to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, who will empower us to bring the joy of the Gospel and the mercy of God to others.
Mark believes his message is the greatest possible good news for every man, woman and child. Though many of his contemporaries are experiencing persecution because of their faith in Jesus, Mark does not see this as a reason for despair but, rather, as an opportunity for the disciple to give witness to the hope and joy of being alive in the Holy Spirit.
Our Lord does not promise his disciples that they will be protected from adversity, suffering and death. In fact, Our Lord challenges us to follow him all the way to Calvary. For the disciple of Jesus, our adversities become the very opportunities to make our witness most powerful and compelling.
It is our ability not to become preoccupied with our own suffering and difficulties, but, rather, to be aware and responsive to the needs of those around us that forces the world to take notice.
It is the disciple’s ability to manifest authentic hope and joy that draws others to desire the source of their love, compassion, hope and joy.
This is why for the disciple of Jesus, a persecution or a pandemic is not a reason for discouragement or despair, but is a tremendous opportunity to give witness to the power and beauty of the Gospel.
Mark desires readers of his Gospel not only to know about Jesus, but actually to encounter Jesus — the Christ and the Son of God. Advent is a time not only to remember the coming of the Messiah with the birth of Jesus.
More importantly, it is a special time of grace to recall that the One born in Bethlehem is still with us today.
During Advent, I urge you to ask Jesus to reveal himself to you and to give you the spiritual vision to recognize him in the events, experiences and encounters of each day.
Let our Advent prayer be: Come, Lord Jesus, come and reveal yourself to us so we can be heralds of your joy and hope in a sin-darkened, despairing world.