Written Gospel introduces us to the living one

in the beginning
Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.

by Father Mike Stubbs

Previews for movies will sometimes cherry-pick the best bits of the film in order to entice potential customers to see it. In that case, why bother?

On the other hand, a good preview can show a glimpse of the film, without giving it away. There is still something worthwhile to see.

Sunday’s Gospel reading, Mk 1:1-8, gives us a preview of the entire Gospel of St. Mark. It starts out: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.”

We might look upon these words as a sort of title, a label for the written document that follows. After all, when we hear the word “Gospel,” it usually signals for us a written document that includes some of the events of Jesus’ life and his teachings.

Specifically, we have the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But here, as elsewhere in the New Testament, the word “Gospel” means a message which originally was transmitted through the oral tradition and only later written down.

Most likely, St. Paul the Apostle did not have access to any of the four written Gospels.

Biblical scholars believe that they were written after his death. Nonetheless, he constantly referred to the gospel in his own writings, many of which were eventually included in the New Testament, much to the chagrin of our lectors.

It was that same message that lay at the heart of Jesus’ ministry, at the core of his teaching. That is why we later hear: “Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.’” (Mk 1:14b-15).

So, is the gospel of Jesus Christ one which originates from Jesus Christ, as the verse just quoted might suggest?

Or is it a Gospel that tells us about Jesus Christ, as the rest of the written document might lead us to believe? Or, is it both at the same time?

In proclaiming the gospel, Jesus announced the time of fulfillment. We recognize God’s promises as fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

He also announced the coming of God’s kingdom. We hail Jesus Christ as king. So, the gospel that Jesus proclaimed is both from him and also about him. Jesus is the embodiment of the gospel.

The written document which is the Gospel according to Mark wishes to introduce us to the living gospel, to the person of Jesus Christ.

Only then, will we hear what it has to say.

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