Tuesday 10 December 2013

Homily for Advent 2 - An Introduction to the Gospel according to St Mark...

‘Truly this man was the Son of God’

This morning we are focusing our attention on the second of the four gospels – that of St. Mark. We’re going to begin with a brief look at the man who wrote it, his writing style and his characterization before finishing with something to consider for ourselves.

So St Mark the writer of the second gospel is also referred to in the New Testament as John Mark.

Historical sources reveal that both he and his mother, Mary, were highly esteemed in the early Church. Indeed his mother's house in Jerusalem served as a meeting place for Christians there.

During his life St Mark was associated with St Paul and St Barnabas (who was his cousin) travelling with them on their missionary journey which took them to the island of Cyprus. Later he accompanied St Barnabas alone. We know also that he was in Rome with St Peter and St Peter. Tradition indicates that he was one of the servants who brought water for Jesus at the miracle of Canaan in Galilee and that he was the young man who runs away naked when Jesus is arrested in the garden of Gethsemane. Tradition also ascribes to him the founding of the Church in Alexandria.

St Mark probably wrote his Gospel, the first to be written, in Rome some time before 67AD; he wrote it in Greek with his intended readership being the Gentile converts to Christianity. Mark writes his gospel at a time of vicious persecution for the Christians in Rome. Tradition strongly suggests that his gospel is based on the teachings of St Peter. This seems to be confirmed by the prominent position that St Peter occupies in Mark's Gospel. It is believed therefore that his Gospel is a record of the life of Jesus as seen through the eyes of St Peter the Prince of the Apostles

Mark’s is a very vivid gospel and his style of writing enables us to feel that we are actually present at the scene of events. He achieves this effect by slipping from past to present tense, a technique he uses some 150 times in his gospel. He includes also includes irrelevant but nonetheless interesting detail which brings the story to life – for example we read that Jesus was asleep on a cushion in the stern of the boat in Mark 4:38 and in the feeding of the 5,000 that the people sat in groups on the green grass.

In the first chapter of the original Greek version he uses the word ‘and’ 75 times within the space of 40 verses, with most of them occurring at the beginning of a sentence. His gospel also moves along at a breathless pace with the word ‘immediately’ being used some 42 times.

Another narrative technique that Mark employs is to use one story to illuminate another. For example the story of the raising of Jairus’ daughter is inserted within the story of the healing of the woman with a haemorrhage.

Mark also has a liking for groups of 3. There are 3 predictions of the passion; at the garden of gethsemane Jesus finds his disciples asleep 3 times; Peter denies Jesus 3 times; 3 intervals of 3 hours are narrated in the crucifixion. Mark uses this repetition to convey emphasis and progression with the 3rd and final occurrence in the series revealing a dynamic conclusion.

Finally let’s look briefly at Mark’s characterization of Jesus and the disciples. Like the other evangelists, Mark’s characterization of Jesus underscores his identity as Messiah, Son of God, Lord and Son of Man. Of these titles it is the Son of God that carries for St. Mark the highest Christological significance and he chooses to start his gospel with the words ‘The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ It is interesting to note however that this title ‘Son of God’ is not used again to describe Jesus until he has breathed his last on the cross. Then it is the centurion who says ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’ as he witnesses Jesus die on the cross before him. For Mark then the full meaning of Jesus the Son of God title cannot be fully understood until the cross. For Mark Jesus’ suffering and death were not some unfortunate accident that could have been avoided. For Mark Jesus was the Son of God not in spite of his death but because of it.

In Mark, more so than in any of the other gospels, there is mystery surrounding the figure of Jesus. People wonder who he is and Jesus is reported to tell those who have knowledge of his identity to keep quiet about it. Mark portrays Jesus as having a concern for secrecy – this is true particularly during the period of his Galilean ministry during which time commands of silence are issued, public attention is avoided and seclusion sought by Jesus for both himself and his disciples – He often speaks to them in private. This secrecy theme in Mark probably reflects a genuine historical desire on the part of Jesus that messianic enthusiasm should not undermine His mission. It also demonstrates a theological conviction on the part of Mark that the character of Jesus cannot be fully understood until the events of His death and resurrection have taken place.

This also fits with the portrayal of the disciples as those who do not understand who Jesus is and the irony of the Gospel whose intended readers do know who Jesus is. Of all the evangelists Mark offers perhaps the most uncomplimentary portrait of the disciples. Whilst he acknowledges their positive features he nonetheless chooses to accentuate the negative in drawing attention to the way they fail to understand Jesus’ parables; their lack of faith and their inability to perceive the meaning of the miracles which Jesus performs. Mark tells us they are hard hearted and unable to fulfil the tasks they are given. He records how Jesus rebukes Peter for his unwillingness to accept the need for Jesus’ suffering; he records the betrayal by Judas; he records Peter’s denial and the disciples desertion of Jesus at the crucial moment of his arrest in the garden. Unlike the other evangelists he does not write of their restoration but he does record Jesus prediction that they will see him in Galilee after he has risen from the dead.

Mark ends his gospel with the great commission to go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole of creation which of course is directed towards us as well as those first disciples. It could lead us to ask ourselves how do we in turn bring others to the risen Lord? We need perhaps to consider this question, not in a rhetorical way but with a sense of urgency similar to that expressed by St. Mark the Evangelist in his gospel. But before we can bring others to faith in Jesus Christ we need to have stood at the foot of the cross ourselves and with the centurion be able to say: ‘Truly this man was the Son of God.’

Homily for Advent 1 - An introduction to the Gospel according to St Matthew...

During the course of the Liturgical Year beginning today there will be a variety of Homilies and Courses, all of which it is hoped will strengthen the hope that is within us. The old parish blog has gone and a new one has been started in order that the Homilies and Teaching articles may be posted on it later the same day.

During this Season of Advent to mark the start of this year of Teaching we will consider each of the four Gospels in turn. Happily this First Sunday of Advent sees us considering the Gospel of Matthew, in which Jesus is presented as The Teacher. The post published later today on this homily may well have a few more points to note on Matthew’s Gospel which time precludes from including, and also because this Homily is meant as an introduction to Matthew’s Gospel so that as we read it we understand his reasons for writing.

In our modern translations many of them translate the opening Greek words as ‘A record of the genealogy …’ but in the Greek in which he wrote, Matthew begins ‘Biblos geneseos’,  which literally translated would read ‘The Book of Genesis’, which is, of course, the first book of the Scriptures.

Genesis is the first of five Books that comprise the Pentateuch, or five volumes, also known as the ‘Torah’, the Book of the Law. It is worth noting that Matthew has divided his Gospel into five sections as well, and he marks the division by using the same phrase each time: “When Jesus had finished saying these things.’ That word ‘Torah’ we usually translate as ‘Law’ but more accurately it means ‘Teaching.’

One third of Matthew’s Gospel consists of the teaching of Jesus, and it has been noted that Matthew portrays Jesus as another Moses. Jesus begins his teaching with the Sermon on the Mount, in a similar way to Moses who teaches the law as handed down by God from Mount Sinai.

It is almost certain that Matthew was writing for a community of Jewish believers in Christ sometime between AD 75 and 80. If the dates are accurate then the Temple had already been destroyed by the Roman occupying forces about ten to fifteen years earlier and the Jewish people had been forced to leave Jerusalem. Among them were two distinct groups: the remnant of the people who were led by the Rabbi’s and had fled to what is modern day Tel Aviv, and the small group of Jewish followers of Jesus who were dispelled as heretics in AD 85 from the wider Jewish community. Into this situation Matthew writes and on no less than fourteen occasions does he use the language of fulfilment to show that Jesus is the fulfilment of the law and the prophets. Because of Matthew’s keenness to demonstrate that Jesus is the true Messiah he has been criticised as being anti-Semitic, especially by his inclusion of a phrase attributed to the Jewish people at the trial of Jesus, “His blood be upon us and our children.” However, Matthew was a Semite Jew, as were those for whom he was writing. It may well be that the best interpretation is that of seeing Matthew as one who is enthusiastic because he has seen the light, and finds the fact that other Jewish people don’t see this as frustrating.

From the teaching of Jesus, Matthew gives his community a sure foundation of guidelines, rules and regulations. It is in Matthew’s Gospel that we discover the Church, for it is not mentioned in the other three Gospels. So for some Matthew has what might be described as ‘churchy’ or institutional tone. And Matthew has organised the teaching of Jesus into five lengthy discourses

·        The Sermon on the Mount which deals with how we become members of the kingdom.

·        Guidance for Missionaries

·        Parables which explain the mystery of the Kingdom

·        Matters pertaining to Christian conduct, and the settling of disputes within the Church.

·        Two whole chapters which describe how God will ultimately vindicate the teaching of Jesus at the end of time.

Within Matthew’s Gospel there is a repetitive style which is quite meditative, and again this indicates that it was written for the Jewish community, which shares an eastern understanding of the rhythm and repetitive ways of nature and day and night, of waxing and waning of the moon and the seasons. More of the early Church Father’s wrote commentaries on Matthew’s Gospel than on the other three, and have you noticed that it is Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer we know by heart, while it is fairly certain than none of us could recite Luke’s shorter version.

What comes across in Matthew’s Gospel is how rooted in Judaism the Christian Community is, and that if we denied or forgot those roots then we would forget our own identity.

In Chapter 13 Matthew recounts Jesus speaking about a teacher who is steeped in the knowledge of the Kingdom of God and who brings out of his storeroom things both new and old. It is said that this could well be a description of Matthew himself, and indeed of any wise parish priest!!

Tuesday 26 November 2013


This blog is intended to be a catechetical blog to post Homilies and matters pertaining to the Faith of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

The first series of Homilies posted will be on the Four Sundays of Advent when the them will be an overview of each of the four Gospels, beginning with St Matthew...