The Year of Mark

The Year of Mark

Each year of the three-year liturgical cycle is dedicated to one of the synoptic gospels. In 2003, which is year B of the cycle, that gospel is Mark. During the year, most of the book of Mark is 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.

However, because Mark’s gospel is significantly shorter than Matthew’s and Luke’s, it is augmented with passages from John for five weeks. From the 17th to the 21st Sunday, the Discourse on the Bread of Life from John 6 is used as the Sunday gospel.

Although the year of Mark began on the 1st December (the first Sunday of Advent and therefore of the new liturgical year), we have yet to hear much from Mark so far. In fact, of the eight Sundays up until today, Mark has been the Gospel reading on only three. This is because stories from Matthew, Luke and John that are not in Mark’s account have been used during the seasons of Advent and Christmas.

Even last Sunday, which was the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Gospel reading was taken from John, as it is in every year of the cycle.

From now on, however, we will have Mark’s gospel proclaimed continuously for the next couple of months. Well, there is one exception, and that happens to be next Sunday. The 2nd February is the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, so Mark will be replaced by the gospel passage from Luke that is set down for the feast.

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

Three major themes appear in Mark: the identity of Jesus, the nature of the kingdom of God, and the characteristics of genuine discipleship.

Mark uses a technique of simultaneously revealing and withholding. There is a sense of ‘seeing but not fully understanding’ throughout the text, which mirrors what being a disciple is like in reality.

The question “Who is this Jesus?” dominates the first half of Mark’s gospel. 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.

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”.

Because we tend to separate the person of Jesus from his message, we need to listen to Mark carefully during the year. Jesus himself is his own message.

Elizabeth Harrington