The Gospel Readings at Sunday Mass - 18th January 2015

The Gospel readings for Sunday Mass are arranged in a three-year cycle called A, B and C. The Gospel of Matthew is read in Year A, Mark in Year B and Luke in Year C. The Gospel of John does not have its own year. Instead it is read in every year on some Sundays of Lent, on Holy Thursday and Good Friday and during Easter.

The Sunday Gospel readings consist of consecutive passages taken from the Gospel for the year. These selections (“pericopes”) are segments of about 10 verses that follow one after the other in a semi-continuous way.

In this Year B of the cycle of Sunday gospel readings, most of the book of Mark will be read, from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in chapter 1 through to the discourse on the coming of the Son of Man in chapter 13.

It is an interesting exercise to look at those passages that are omitted from the Sunday readings, such as the first half of chapters three and five of Mark and the story of the beheading of John the Baptist in chapter six.

Since the Gospels of Matthew and Luke clearly draw heavily on the text of Mark, it is now accepted that Mark’s Gospel was written first.

Mark’s account is succinct and fast-moving. Unlike Matthew and Luke, it does not begin with the birth of Jesus but with his baptism as an adult. Because Mark’s gospel is significantly shorter than Matthew’s and Luke’s, it does not fill up the entire year and is augmented with passages from John for five consecutive Sundays in July and August. The “Bread of Life” passages from John 6 fit well into this part of Mark's Gospel which is concerned with Jesus’ revelation of himself.

Although the year of Mark began on the 30th November 2014 (the first Sunday of Advent), we have not heard much from Mark to date. In fact, of the eight Sundays up to and including today, the Gospel reading has come from Mark on only three. This is because stories from Matthew, Luke and John that are not in Mark’s account were used during the seasons of Advent and Christmas. From next Sunday on, however, we will have Mark’s gospel proclaimed continuously until Lent begins.

Apart from being the shortest of the gospels, there are a number of other features worth noting in this first of the gospel accounts.

Mark's main interest is the person of Jesus himself. Mark depicts Jesus as a teacher with a special type of authority, a miracle worker, and a healer, someone who is the fulfilment of the ancient promise of a Messiah, though different from what his contemporaries expected of a Messiah. Peter's confession of faith when the fundamental question is posed to the disciples: “Who do you say I am?” is at the heart of Mark's Gospel.

Mark presents Jesus’ mission in a nutshell. Jesus announces the fulfilment of all expectations and hopes. All that the prophets had to say about the coming of the Messiah and the establishment of God’s sovereignty has come true in himself. Jesus is saying, “I am the fulfilment of God’s promises, I am the Kingdom of God, I am the Good News to believe in”.

Elizabeth Harrington