subscribe: Posts | Comments

A Year with Mark: July

A Year with Mark: July

The Gospel readings for this month from Mark 6 are all about the task of proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom – that is, the regime-change which Jesus has brought – and they are mostly about the rejection of this message. First comes the rejection of Jesus at his home-town of Nazareth. Then the disciples are sent out two-by-two. They are sent out with the minimum of kit, perhaps to stress the urgency of their message, perhaps to show that they care for nothing besides the Kingship of God, and can make do with whatever the Lord provides for them. They cure plenty of people and cast out demons, but there is no word of success. They are so exhausted on their return that Jesus takes them off to have a rest, and the crowds are still ‘like sheep without a shepherd’. The most ominous bit does not occur in the Sunday readings: between the mission of the disciples and their return is sandwiched the macabre story of the brutal beheading of John the Baptist as his reward for proclaiming the moral message of Jesus.

This strong emphasis on the dangers of spreading the Gospel is a reminder of the persecution suffered by the first generations of apostles. The ridicule and opposition they encountered are clear from the Acts of the Apostles and from Paul’s own letters. He tells of the beatings he received from the Romans, the floggings he received from the Jews, ‘danger from brigands, danger from my own people, danger from pagans, danger in the towns, danger in the open country, danger at sea and danger from so-called brothers’ (2 Corinthians 12.26). At Rome the Christians were so despised and disliked that the Emperor Nero fixed on them the blame for the Great Fire of 64ad to divert it from himself. Their loyalty to Christ must have separated them from both Jews and Romans. There exists in Rome a heart-twisting early wall-graffito of a crucified man with a donkey’s head and the inscription (in ungrammatical Greek) ‘Alexamenos worships his god’ – perhaps a child’s gibe at Alexamenos, a Christian. Such glimpses are particularly striking if Mark was written at Rome. The threat of persecution and the need to share the Cross of Jesus hangs heavy over the whole Gospel of Mark: each of Jesus’ prophecies of his Passion concludes with an invitation to share it.

There has never been an era in the history of the Church when persecution has been absent, and many of the persecutions have been quite unexpected, as those of the Reformation martyrs and particularly those of Christians in the Near East today. These come on top of the ridicule aroused by adherence to Christian moral standards in family life and in industry, finance and other workplaces. The challenges of representing Christ in the post-Christian world do not become easier.

by Dom Henry Wansbrough OSB

Leave a Reply