Mark’s Gospel: A successful prototype

Advent Sunday marks the beginning of Year B during which Mark’s Gospel is read. Pheme Perkins, Joseph Professor of Catholic Spirituality at Boston College and co-editor of the Paulist Bible Commentary, explores some key aspects of Mark.

Locating the evangelist
‘Where is Mark?’ Every ‘Year B’ after our parish lectors, faith formation groups, or religious education leaders receive new lectionary-based workbooks, someone will ask that question. The cover says ‘Year of Mark’, but that Gospel does not feature in the Sunday readings after the second Sunday of Advent until we reach Ordinary Time. ‘Where’s Mark?’ – ‘between Matthew and Luke’ or ‘missing, he didn’t do Christmas’ get puzzled looks. Then Mark fades out from Lent to Pentecost. Except for the first two Sundays in Lent, and Holy Week, the evangelist’s voice is swamped by John’s as well. Mark is half the length of other Gospels. Reading along as though it was the only story about Jesus that they had ever heard is almost impossible for parishioners. Passages from other Gospels find their way into the mix.

When Matthew and Luke took Mark as a prototype for their Gospels, they intended to override its voice. Because presenting the life of a ‘famous man’ required recounting family origins, birth, and early indications that the child was destined for greatness, Matthew and Luke filled that void. Each evangelist used different nativity traditions. Matthew and Luke also expanded Mark’s sparse examples of Jesus’ teaching with such important passages as the Beatitudes (Mt 5.3–12; Lk 6.20–23), the Lord’s Prayer (Mt 6.9–13; Lk 11.2–4) and beloved parables like the Good Samaritan (Lk 10.29–37). As a result, early Christians rarely had copies of Mark. Since over 90 per cent of its content was found in the others, Mark seemed to be an abridged version rather than a first of its kind.

Login for more...