Jesus comes at you fast, to paraphrase that old advertisement for insurance. Jesus comes at you fast in the Gospel of Saint Mark, which is the Gospel we hear throughout the current liturgical year (Year B).
This year started on the first Sunday of Advent, of course; but it is now, with that season, and Christmas, and the Epiphany behind us, that we hunker down into the workaday world of what we call “Ordinary Time,” which you can spot by the green vestments. That’s an odd translation of “Tempus per Annum,” the actual Latin name which clearly means “the time (or season) through(out) the year,” but it’s what we were given. Anyway, on the weekdays we have already launched into the season with the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, and Jesus comes at you fast.
Saint Mark starts with the prophecy of Isaiah, which leads into John the Baptist, of course, who baptizes Jesus, then is put in prison; then Jesus calls Andrew, Peter, James and John, and initiates his public ministry and preaching, and goes to Capernaum and works several miracles – all in the first chapter. Whew!
Matthew is more detail-oriented, and he starts with that long genealogy we heard at Christmas. Luke is an artist, so he starts with painterly scenes from the infancy and childhood of Jesus, which similarly we have just studied and celebrated. After all his work during Christmastide, Luke gets a few days off. He will carry us through next year, though – Year C, beginning in Advent this December.
Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of the four, so this year we have room to hear from John’s Gospel on Sundays, too, notably in late summer when we have all of John Chapter Six. But also this weekend, the second Sunday (the first was eaten by the holy days last week) in “Ordinary Time”, we get not Mark, but John. John’s Gospel is what we most often hear on Holy Days, because he is so theological in his presentation of the life of the Lord. He doesn’t get one of the three “years,” the annual lectionary cycles. Perhaps it’s fair to let him use some of the leftover in spartan Mark’s space.
Don’t worry, Mark will be back next week. If you miss him, you can come to daily Mass, where we are seriously plowing through his Gospel. In another television reference, Mark is rather like the detective on Dragnet: Just the facts, ma’am! His narrative can seem awfully barebones sometimes, “all bricks and no mortar,” as a professor once said about my papers (imagine that!)
Because of that no-nonsense approach to what he is doing, there is no mistaking his purpose. Verse one of chapter one states it clearly: The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Try to keep this in mind this year as we work through the Gospel, episode by episode. It’s a simple, clear, and direct presentation of Jesus. Yes, that means the Gospel readings at Mass will be shorter; but it also means that you might not hear details or aspects that you mentally associate with the events presented. If that happens to you, you are remembering Matthew’s version of the same episode, or Luke’s.
It seems appropriate to get right down to the business of the Gospel these days, when we all have to get back down to business in our lives and work. There is no “easing in” or lingering over sweet reflections, as we might wish after a period as brief and intense with experiences as our Christmas holiday tends to be. Life comes at you fast, and so does Jesus. We have Mark to thank for keeping us up to speed to meet Him.Monsignor Smith