About this Devotional Guide
Most biblical scholars agree that St. Mark is the inventor of the gospel literary genre. He takes the Greek word “euangellion,” literally “the good news,” (from which we get our word “evangelical”) and applies to God’s Son Jesus what had previously been a laudatory word about Caesar Augustus, the bringer of the Roman peace (Pax Romana) through military might.
For most of the Christian era, St. Mark’s gospel was not as highly regarded, because it was the shortest and gave far less detail than St. Matthew’s and St. Luke’s, the other synoptic gospels, which see the Good News about Jesus in very similar ways. More recently scholars have come to appreciate that St. Mark’s gospel not only sets down the basic chronology which St. Luke and St. Matthew follow, but his brevity and faster pace is deliberate. St. Mark wants his readers to hurry to the cross where a Roman centurion declares at Jesus’ death: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” The subsequent chapter 16 on the resurrection ends rather abruptly in v. 8, with its original misunderstood conclusion. Readers asked St. Mark to add the familiar longer ending.
Some newer Bible scholars, who operate more in the academy than in Christ’s Church, function as forensic pathologists of the Bible, treating God’s Word as a corpse to be autopsied and reduced to interesting factoids or even as a body of evidence to be used against Christian faith or even Christian morals. The worst of these begin with St. Mark’s text and then dismiss variations found in St. Matthew or St. Luke as mere literary creations. St. John’s soaring gospel, then, gets caricatured in less than flattering ways. All of which says more about the scholars than it does about God’s Word. If you have been confused by them, let them be what they are...and let them go. Listen to Jesus!
Because St. Mark’s gospel is the primary source of this year’s Gospel readings (with occasional detours to St. John or St. Luke), it will be fruitful for us to read it in a more focused, thoughtful, and faster way than the path we follow during the 52 weeks between the First Sunday of Advent and Christ the King Sunday. You will remember that the season of Lent was created by the Church as a time to prepare candidates for Holy Baptism at the Easter Vigil. Modeled after the forty days the Lord Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness where He was tempted by Satan (and a brief echo of Israel’s 40 disobedient years in the wilderness; Israel is called God’s firstborn son in Exodus 4:22), Lent is meant to be for the baptized an intensive period focused on repentance and, thus, a time of baptismal renewal. What better time to read St. Mark’s story of Jesus with our eyes focused on His journey to the cross?
This Lent you are being challenged to read a daily portion of St. Mark’s Gospel, to meditate upon and discuss the accompanying question or questions, to offer a prayer, and to demonstrate gratitude for God’s grace by making a token act of sacrifice. Couples and families might use this guide at mealtime. Singles might invite a friend or co-worker to share this daily discipline. Those separated by distance might engage in a phone, e-mail, or Facetime or Skype discussion.
In whatever way you choose to use this guide, ask the Holy Spirit’s help to make this Lenten devotional reading as routine for you as eating, brushing your teeth, or other necessary acts of self-care. Growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ is not our work and does not earn us salvation. Rather, God is at work in Word and Sacrament to draw us from death to life until we are wholly His. And, yes, Bible reading, prayer, and worship take discipline.
No coach puts a brand new athlete brimming with desire, but having no practical knowledge of the sport, into a big game. No music teacher books Carnegie Hall for a brand new musician who wants to be able to play but does not yet know how. No choreographer puts that new dancer without any experience into the biggest performance of the year. You get the idea! It takes knowledge, experience, and discipline to become all that God is calling us to be.
I hope this little devotional reading guide for St. Mark’s Gospel will be a great beginning for the new or immature Christian. I trust that maturing Christians will also, as the old prayer says, “see Jesus more clearly, love Him more dearly, and follow Him more nearly, day by day.”
Pr. Samuel D, Zumwalt, STS