The Gospel of St Mark

The Gospel of St Mark

Mark’s Gospel is written to tell the story not only of Jesus in his own life, but of our lives getting to know Jesus.


Reading: 1 Peter 5:5-14; Mark 16:15-20

The following homily was preached to the student brothers during Compline. You can listen here or read below:


Paradoxically, on the feast of St Mark the one bit of his Gospel that we hear is probably a bit that St Mark himself did not write. The earliest manuscripts all conclude the story at a moment of much greater dramatic tension. The women have discovered the empty tomb, they have seen the angel and they have been charged to go and tell the other disciples; but they run away and say nothing, ‘for’ (and these are the last words of the Gospel) ‘they were very much afraid’.

It’s not just the manuscript tradition that makes us think Mark did not write the rather neater, more schematic ending that is our Gospel reading. The shorter ending is much more in keeping with his style, for two reasons. First, Mark is transfixed by the strangeness and unpredictability of the Christ event. Jesus appears ‘suddenly’, out of nowhere, and he progresses through his ministry at a rapid pace, ‘immediately’ doing this then ‘immediately’ doing that. The summary of his message is: ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the Gospel’. It is an announcement that the world is on the cusp of a radical change; reality is overtaking humanity, and we on the backfoot need to think again in order to catch up.

Throughout the Gospel, the disciples remain intellectually bamboozled and morally imperfect. Do we not find ourselves in their shoes? Jesus has, at some time or another, entered unexpectedly into our lives, in a way we could not have foreseen or planned. He has begun to change the way we see the world; he has demanded that we should change how we are, the way we live. And all the time we are catching up, realising in more profound humility just how ignorant, selfish, and confused we often are – and if not us, then the world around us!

The second feature of Mark’s Gospel is its understatement. Whoever wrote the longer ending clearly felt the need to make everything explicit and complete. Mark himself was a much more consummate literary artist. The point of finishing on a note of fear and confusion is that we know the story doesn’t really end there. It couldn’t have ended there, otherwise we would not be here! We know that the women must have gone to tell the disciples eventually, that Jesus would make other appearances, that gradually some sense would be made of an overwhelming set of events. Similarly, Mark can portray the apostles ‘warts and all’ (apostles some of whom he would have known personally), because we know that these men, for all their failings, nevertheless became the leading figures, the heroes and martyrs of the early Church.

The great unspoken protagonist of Mark’s Gospel is God himself, whose plan is always being brought to completion. It is this assurance that explains Jesus’ serenity: Jesus, when he comes walking over the stormy waters, or Jesus keeping his peace as he is shuttled to-and-fro between the corrupt authorities that will sentence him to his Passion. Time and again Jesus tells those who witness his miracles to say nothing of it: perhaps to let the miracles speak for themselves, but certainly because more important than a loud popular movement is a truly living relationship with this Jesus in whom God is so powerfully at work.

Putting together these emphases of St Mark’s Gospel, we can be reassured that God truly is in control even when we are out of control, even when reality threatens to overwhelm us. Hard though it may be, if we can cling to that confidence, we shall find it in ourselves to follow St Peter’s instructions. ‘Bow down, then, before the power of God, and he will raise you up on the appointed day; unload all your worries onto him, and he will take care of you.’


Image: Portrait of St Mark from The Four Gospels, written in classical Armenian, written on paper copied and illustrated by Abraham, the priest. Courtesy of the Wellcome Trust online collection.

Br Bede was recently ordained deacon, and is completing his ordination studies at Blackfriars, Oxford. He was born in Enfield and grew up in Essex, before reading Literae Humaniores at St Hugh’s College in the University of Oxford. It was in Oxford that he first met the Dominicans, and he joined the Order in 2017 after completing his degree. The writings of Pope Benedict XVI/Joseph Ratzinger greatly influenced his development in the Faith. He retains a wide interest in literature; among religious authors, he particularly admires St Augustine and St John Henry Newman.

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