Category Archives: Mark’s Gospel

Luke or Mark? And why?

The canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke &...

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Now that we’re finishing study of our second gospel, which do we prefer, Mark or Luke? That was instructor Gene Giuliano’s question during our last class.
Of course, it’s not really a fair question. We wouldn’t have Luke if Mark hadn’t come first. But so much of what we consider basic to our faith springs from Luke and is not in Mark’s gospel.
Luke emphasizes boundless mercy and forgiveness. The sheer joy of Christianity. The power of prayer. Respect for women. The proper use of wealth. Lavish love for all those society shuns: sinners and outcasts.
“For behold I bring you good news of great joy.”
“There will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
“Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Where would Christianity be without the parable of the prodigal son? Or other stories unique to Luke: Elizabeth and Zechariah. The shepherds at Bethlehem. The Good Samaritan. Martha and Mary. Zacchaeus. The ten lepers. The road to Emmaus.
Still, I have tremendous respect for Mark. He was the first to see the need for a “good news” narrative of Christ’s life. He wrote with such passion, urging people to shoulder Christ’s cross and persevere even unto death. Mark portrayed Jesus as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah—a new kind of Messiah.
His gospel’s abrupt ending serves as a clarion call through the ages: It is we who must carry out the commission of the women at the empty tomb. It is we who must “go and tell” the good news of salvation, conquering our fear.
Mark summons courage.


Mark 5 and our call to be missionaries

Medieval book illustration of Christ Exorcisin...

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In the current issue of Magnificat (pp. 320-323), Father Richard Veras discusses World Mission Sunday (October 24). He suggests that the fellow Jesus cures in Decapolis in Mark, Chapter 5, is the first Christian missionary. Remember him? He’s the demon-crazed man in Gerasene territory, dwelling in the tombs and too strong to be shackled by chains. Once Jesus sends the demons into the herd of swine and they drown in the sea, the man begs to stay with Jesus, but Jesus commissions him to spread the good news. ‘Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.’ Then the man went off and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him; and all were amazed.” When Jesus returns to Decapolis in Mark 7, there are crowds eager to see him.

What made this mission successful, Veras says, was the man’s desire to be with Jesus; that’s the core of every true mission. “The Decapolitan was a walking sign of Christ’s love.” Among the Gentiles, he was perhaps a better missionary than Jesus could have been, as an unknown Galilean carpenter. Likewise, we are called to be missionaries where we live and work—walking signs of Christ’s love.

The Freer ending online—and NAB links

If your Bible discusses the Freer ending of the Gospel of Mark only in a footnote, here’s a link to a fuller rendition (see footnote 2):   Makes me want to visit the Freer Gallery on my next visit to D.C.!

While you’re there, do a bit of exploring on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website. There’s a Bible link which takes you to a digitalized New American Bible index:  And a side link to audio versions (podcasts) of the daily reading —  a great aid for those of us who are lectors.

Study hint: You can use this website to copy and paste verses of Scripture for our lessons. There is a search function — — but I find it difficult to use. Another link to NAB is on the Vatican website, but its concordance and other study aids are even more technical.

As a beginning bible scholar last year, I found a non-Catholic site very helpful. makes it easy to look up keywords, topics, and passages.

The Gospel of Mark’s sophisticated structure

Ivory Plaque with the Evangelist Saint Mark an...

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 A great revelation to me was the deliberate and complex ordering of Mark’s gospel. I supposed I’d thought of it as a collection of stories about the words and actions of Jesus with only a rough narrative structure. But through our readings and Gene’s lecture outline, we become aware of several layers of organization.   

  • The two main themes: Who is Jesus, and What does it mean to follow him.
  • The buildup of dramatic tension, beginning with the end in mind—the resurrection of Jesus. The start of his ministry and the call of his first followers, followed quickly by miracles and five conflict stories.
  • The Suffering Servant theme and Messianic imagery.
  • The ironies and twists of the understanding/misunderstanding passages.
  • The faith and fear themes in the parables.
  • The parallel structure of the two “bread” sections.
  • The patterns of the three Passion proclamations.

I am in awe of how someone could accomplish this 2,000 years ago. Just imagine, Mark didn’t have benefit of copy-and-paste word processing, or even cut-and-paste copy paper, as newspaper reporters used as late as the 1980s. Much of it had to be thought through in his mind before committing to a scroll of parchment or papyrus.   

This gives me great confidence in the canonical process—that is, how the early Church determined which first-century writings were authentically inspired. God picked quite a skilled instrument in Mark the Evangelist.   

Evangelist as journalist

Listening to Gene describe Mark’s style of writing, I was struck by the similarities to journalism: Simple words and direct language. Short, declarative sentences. Action verbs (baptize, repent, preach, teach, follow, cast out). Vivid images (“…clothed with camel’s hair, and had a leather girdle around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey.”)

You’ll see this more clearly, as Gene suggested, in the RSV rather than NAB. Here’s a link if you need it:

What’s more, newspaper reporters learn to “Show, don’t tell.” Keep the story moving, don’t let it bog down. Focus on the facts and leave the opinion for the editorial page. Know your audience and tailor your language or content to that particular audience.

Any editor worthy of the name, however, would try to break Mark of bad habits. Among them:

  • Starting so many sentences with “And,” “But,” or “Immediately.”
  • And failing to cite his sources!