Last Updated: Wednesday - 01/05/2011
October 22, 2001
Mark: A Gospel for the suffering
U.S. scholar draws 200 to Scripturefest
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — The Gospel of Mark is structured "to train us how to journey through suffering," an American theologian said at Scripturefest 2001.
"That's the way the Gospel is written, that's why it is written, that's how it is written and that's how it is focused," professor Leonard Doohan told about 200 people at the annual event at Ukrainian Youth Unity Centre Oct. 12-13.
"It's as if Mark says to you and I as he said to his own disciples, 'I can show you how to journey through life. I can show you how to journey through the sufferings that will come your way.'"
Doohan, a professor of religious studies at Gonzaga University in Spokane, and an author of 14 books, spoke on Mark: Advice for Times of Uncertainty at the event. He also spoke on the gospels of Matthew, Luke and John at Scripturefest, a lecture series organized by the archdiocesan Adult Learning Commission.
The Gospel of Mark, written in Rome around the year 65 probably by a disciple of Peter, is the first of four gospels. All the other gospels borrow from it. The Gospel of Matthew, for example, copies 600 out of Mark's 661 verses, Doohan said.
Mark's Gospel was also the most forgotten Gospel in the early Church. It took until about the 10th century before a third commentary on the Gospel of Mark was written.
Why this delay? Because not everybody believed it was written by a disciple of Peter. It could have been some other Mark, the most popular name throughout the Roman Empire.
Even St. Augustine took at shot at it, referring to it as "this petty little document written by Mark."
Whichever Mark wrote it, the Gospel of Mark was "certainly written by one of the most intelligent and creative figures in the early Church," Doohan said. "He is the first person ever to write a gospel."
He wrote it 35 years after Jesus' death, around the fall of Jerusalem and Nero's persecution, to remind Christians of the "essential teachings that they had committed their lives to," Doohan said.
Leaders in the early Church were focused on power and saw Jesus' miracles as the Church's main attraction.
But Mark rejected that notion and called on his people "to reject the comfort zone of religion," Doohan pointed out.
"Ask yourselves some simple introductory questions about this Gospel and what is Mark's answer? Have courage, be faithful, go back to the sources, don't seek comfort, acknowledge the hardships that commitment to Jesus will bring."
One thing many people find hard to accept is that Mark's Gospel does not present the Church leaders in a good light. "And as the Gospel progresses it gets worse," noted Doohan. "At the end they are quite a pathetic group of people."
Mark begins his Gospel talking about the Good News of Jesus Christ and ends it with his death. He also touches on John the Baptist, who lost his head. How are these things good news?
His good news is that he offers a Christian way to approach suffering. "The Good News I have for you is I think I can help you to prepare for the trials ahead."
The Gospel also teaches about Christ, about the Church and about ministry. "It tells us a lot about Jesus. This man (Mark) challenges the Church like nobody else."
One thing the Gospel of Mark doesn't have is the resurrection. "The Church was so concerned about that that it supplied four endings to Mark's Gospel, all of them trying to give Mark a resurrection," Doohan commented.
"He is saying, 'We all know that Jesus is risen and that you will too but don't have false expectations at the end. At the end you are all going to confront the trials and the hardships that life brings for you. And you need to be ready for it."
Mark's Gospel is blunt. "He has a take it or leave it attitude," Doohan said. "This is a no-thrills Gospel. He gets right to the point and you take it or leave it."
Mark felt that Christ was too easily confessed. "Christianity is a life commitment and it is hard. It is not easy and we need to face the fact that the commitment to Jesus is the totality of our lives."
Mark, of course, was writing for a persecuted church. He was writing for Christians who lived in Rome shortly after the persecution of Nero.
"That's why Mark describes Jesus in the wilderness with the similar terms that would describe the Christians hiding in the catacombs," Doohan explained. "And in the catacombs the Christians are being prepared to be brought to the lions in the Coliseum of Rome."
As Doohan pointed out, this era was a critical turning point for Christianity and anxious times for Christians because all the Apostles were dying off. Christians wanted to cling to security wherever they could find it and Mark says, "My community needs to know that they must be suffering Christians. They must be disciples who can accept the cup of Jesus."
So Mark "gives advice for trials of life, for faith in critical times, for the challenge to renew what is essential in our lives."
When we read Mark's Gospel, "we come face to face with a spectacular visionary, prophetic individual from the early Church who is alive in our own time holding you and I to the maturity of our own faith," Doohan observed.
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