Saint Mark and Holy Scripture

The Evangelists St. Mark and St. Luke by Matthias Stom, 1635

Today, we celebrate the feast of Saint Mark the Evangelist, who is symbolically depicted in Christian literature and art by a lion.  Saint Jerome reports that “Mark the disciple and interpreter of Peter wrote a short gospel at the request of the brethren at Rome embodying what he had heard Peter tell.”  In his first letter, Peter calls him “my son” (1 Pet 5:13) and he is mentioned in various letters from Saint Paul (Col 4:10; 2 Tim 4:11; Phlm 24), who was also in Rome when Peter was there, both being martyred during the persecution of the Emperor Nero.  Moreover, tradition holds that he is the same Mark whose mother Mary took in Peter after he was released from prison by an angel (Acts 12:12).

Accordingly, we can see that Mark knew well the challenges of proclaiming the Good News in difficult and hostile times.  Many scripture scholars believe that one goal of the Gospel according to Mark was to bolster the courage of Jesus’ followers to remain faithful witnesses in the face of persecution  This message is still timely today.

Part of the opposition, if not hostility, that our Catholic faith faces today is because our society places so much emphasis on individual choice and preference.  Unfortunately, that same mindset is too often applied to God’s word. The assertion is made that everyone should be free to interpret the Scriptures in his or her own manner. The temptation is to open up the Bible and come to a purely personal interpretation.  Yet, history has demonstrated that if instead of seeking a definitive, authoritative interpretation, it is left to each individual’s opinion, the message of the Bible is fragmented into a never-ending variety of conflicting and even contradictory opinions – all proclaimed as God’s word and will.  Communion and unity in the One God are destroyed.

On the other hand, it is evident that God’s word was entrusted to the whole Body of Christ.  Thus, we must read and study Scripture with the Church, which is guided in this interpretation by the Holy Spirit.  We are really not supposed to be in a position of having to figure out Scripture all by ourselves and determining what it means. We have a 2,000-year lived tradition to help us do that.  That is one of the reasons why there are Bible study programs at many of our parishes, where people can come together in the continuity of the Church.

When conducted with the Church, the prayerful study of the Bible by groups or individuals becomes an occasion for God’s continuous grace and enlightenment.  One fruitful thing that people might consider doing – something which would be especially appropriate as part of the renewal of faith in this Year of Faith – is to open the Bible, perhaps the Gospel of Mark, take a sentence or two, read it, and carry that with them to reflect on in the course of the day.  In the busyness of life, find a moment to pause and reflect on a spiritual gem, for example, while you are waiting in traffic.  Let it be a source of spiritual nourishment.

One of the key themes of Mark’s Gospel is a sense of urgency.  The word “immediately” is used again and again.  Prominent also are the many miraculous healings by Jesus.  Here we are invited to be urgent in our own lives, seeking the healing grace of Jesus.  In our present day, this message is greatly needed and, like Saint Mark, we too are called to proclaim this Good News to the world.