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A Year with Mark: September

A Year with Mark: September

In our progress through the Gospel of Mark we come at last to the turning-point. In the early chapters we have watched the bewildered disciples increasingly awestruck by the wonder of Jesus but still uncomprehending. Jesus now leads them away from their familiar territory at the lakeside up to the more temperate and quieter region around the source of the River Jordan to put to them the crucial question, ‘Who is this man you are following?’ To those of us who have grown up with the answer, the answer is obvious – as obvious as the answer to the question, ‘What is success? What makes life worth living?’ But the plans of God are not always that obvious, expressed in the Bible in the symbol and poetry of prophecy. Even John the Baptist in his prison cell could not make out what Jesus was up to. At the time of Jesus the burning desire to get rid of foreign and Roman rule was sufficient to divert all attention to this one end, so that the goal of God’s intervention could have only one focus – just as success is now defined in terms of money, power and celebrity. When Peter, the stumbling enthusiast, lights upon the right answer he still does not grasp its implications. For this it would be necessary to look at the Bible again, for there are many aspects to the promises of God’s salvation. It was precisely this study of the Bible that is reflected in the wealth of scriptural quotations and allusions throughout the New Testament, showing how these promises are fulfilled in Jesus.

The history of the Church, right up to the present day, confirms how difficult it is to grasp the message and translate it into life. Each of the three great prophecies of the passion is misunderstood by the disciples; they continue to think in terms of honour and comfort, places at the right and left of a triumphant ruler, just as in modern times we catch ourselves estimating the Church in terms of numbers, honour, size of buildings and organizations. So Jesus needs to repeat the lesson: success and integrity is not to be estimated even in terms of having two eyes, two hands and two feet. The ultimate paradox of Christianity is the failure of Christ: it is only when he has accepted to be stripped of every appearance of dignity and success, betrayed and deserted by his closest followers, that he fulfils his Father’s purpose. Where, then, is the Church to be found? Among Cardinals in Cadillacs or in Francis’ poor and disfigured? We may not take literally Jesus’ statement about cutting off the offending hand or foot or gauging out the offending eye – for these are not clearly legislative texts – but we must be clear that God’s standards are not those of the world.

by Dom Henry Wansbrough OSB

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