The Gospel of Mark
The outline of the story
The movements in the Gospel from place to place give us the outline of the Gospel. After the opening announcement (1,1-4), the story begins with John baptising in the Jordan, in Judea. It then moves to Galilee (1,15) where Jesus remains until the end of chapter 8, except for a brief trip northwards to Tyre and Sidon (7,24-31). In chapters 9 and 10, we follow Jesus travelling towards Jerusalem where he arrives at the beginning of chapter 11. After a period of teaching, mostly in and around the Temple, the story of the Passion is told in chapters 14 and 15.
You may have noticed how there were two healings of a blind man in the Gospel (8,23 and 10,46). The section in between is dominated by the theme of journey or way - with the climax of the blind beggar Bartimaeus receiving his sight and following Jesus "on the way" (10,52). Very often this is a detail which is lost by the translators ("on the road" in 10,52, for example, just reduces an important theme to a geographical note). Don't worry if you missed this, we will be returning to the point in due course.
Finally the Gospel announces that the risen Jesus is returning to Galilee (16.7). This now raises the question of the end of the Gospel.
The Ending of the Gospel
You will have at least noticed some confusion at the end of the Gospel because your Bible gives several endings.
You may have picked up that the Gospel originally ended in a very puzzling fashion in 16,8. Here we see the women running away from the tomb "for they were afraid". As we will be seeing, this is the end of the Gospel story which we are reading. Some think that a proper ending to the Gospel might have been lost somewhere or somehow but there is no evidence for this. The story we have ends in 16,8 however strange that may seem to be as a final resolution.
There are various endings to the Gospel provided in our Bibles which are traditional attempts to bring it to a more satisfactory conclusion. One of these, 16,9-20, is regarded by the Church as part of the canonical Gospel. These verses are clearly an artificial assembly of resurrection episodes taken from the other Gospels. That they are regarded as canonical does not affect us ending our story at 16,8.
As a footnote, these added verses, 16,9-20, were one of the few readings from the Gospel of Mark provided in the so-called Tridentine missal. That's an indication of the low esteem of this Gospel in the tradition of the Church. Perhaps in your first reading you have picked up one possible reason for this.
Characters, good and bad
The central character of the story is of course Jesus himself. This story is the good news of Jesus, Christ (anointed one) and Son of God (Mk 1,1).
Immediately after arriving in Galileee, Jesus calls his first four disciples. The disciples are therefore present throughout the public of ministry of Jesus. Characteristic of the disciples is their complete failure to understand what is going on. Time and again Jesus says to them "do you not understand?" One reason, maybe, why the Church made little use of the Gospel of Mark is that this is not a flattering portrait of the great Apostles.
The principle "bad men" are the Jewish leaders who from early on ally themselves with the secular supporters of Herod to destroy Jesus (3,6).
In addition, there are a whole host of minor players like Bartimaeus (10,46) whom I mentioned above . These minor players generally show belief in Jesus and show considerable courage in doing so (10,48). Along with Jesus himself, they are in many ways the true heroes of the story.
By "plot" I mean the unfolding and development of the story through a variety of conflicts until a resolution is reached at the end.
The basic plot of the story of Mark's Gospel is clear: the Jewish leaders seek to destroy Jesus and eventually they succeed in doing so. Jesus dies an agonising death by crucifixion making the great cry of abandonment "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (15,34).
Jesus'enemies seem at that moment to have won the victory and so the plot has come to its resolution.
Yet at that moment it all unravels very quickly for them. First, we have the centurion proclaiming that the dead Jesus hanging on the cross was truly the Son of God (15,39). Then there is the announcement by the young man at the tomb that Jesus has been raised (16,6). A new resolution, conclusion, to the plot and the story has now occured and there is a complete reversal of expectations. Yet the enigmatic conclusion (16,8) also leaves the plot wide open at the end.
Remember that this is just a preliminary look at the many issues of the Gospel which we will be exploring in greater detail as we read.
We can now return to the main page.