25 April [St Mark, evangelist]
“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptised will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
Mark had a stormy beginning: he set out on a missionary journey with his uncle Barnabas, and Paul; but he quit after a while (Acts 13:13). Later, Paul refused to take him with him on another missionary journey (Acts 15:37-40). Then there are some years when nothing is heard of him. But when we meet him again, to our surprise he is a prisoner with Paul in Rome (Col 4:10); and Paul makes a few very appreciative references to him in a later letter (2 Tim 4:11). Mark had redeemed himself in Paul’s eyes. See? Even a great evangelist can be in the dog-house for a time. So why not you or I?
Mark’s gospel leaves an impression of breathless haste; it is like a child telling a story. Many sentences begin with “And”; he often uses phrases like “straight away”, “and immediately”; he uses the ‘historic present’ (“Jesus says to them,” not said), which gives a feeling of urgency. The Old Testament took thousands of years to unfold, but the New Testament unfolded in just a couple of years. There is an urgency about the gospels – Mark’s in particular – that makes it quite clear they are not just for reading; they are for doing.
In its original form Mark’s gospel has only a very inadequate account of the Resurrection. It ended at 16:8, “[The women] went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.....” This would be a very great anti-climax to the story of Jesus; the good news would not have gone very far. Scholars therefore talk about “the lost ending.” There is an ending in place, of course. Today’s reading is from that added part. It is regarded as canonical; but the style shows that it was not written by Mark. Good News gets out, one way or another.
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