Commentary on Mark

Why write another book on Mark’s Gospel?

Firstly, I write because I love to share those things about Jesus that fascinate me. I confess to being a biased author. I am also fascinated by those aspects of Jesus’ person and ministry that are so clearly contained in Mark’s version of the good news. Others have already written about him. I want to add my voice to theirs. All of us hear and evaluate Jesus’ life and teaching from the standpoint of our own experience and needs. Our varied experiences allow us to detect particular nuances and emphases. In this, Mark himself was no exception.In preparing his narrative Mark selected from the community’s memories of Jesus the ones that he believed were particularly relevant to their current questions.  His motivation was pastoral.  He assembled and recounted the stories in a way that he believed brought clearly into focus the specific importance of Jesus’ life and teaching.

My Perspective

My own life experience has been rich and has disposed me to pick up emphases that others may not detect. I have been a priest working in the rural diocese of Ballarat in Victoria, Australia, for nearly fifty years. Those fifty years of priesthood have seen enormous changes in Church and society. They have been exhilarating years, but they have also raised their questions. I have been fortunate to be closely involved in a variety of roles and responsibilities in addition to general parish work. Early in my priestly life I was particularly graced to have worked closely with leaders of the Young Christian Workers movement. I have lectured in a part time capacity in what has now grown to be the Australian Catholic University. I worked full time in the on-going formation of priests at both diocesan and national levels. Over the years I have been privileged to be a spiritual companion for a number of priests, religious and lay people. I have been challenged, week in week out, to prepare and share, through regular Sunday and weekday homilies, my understanding of the meaning and relevance of the gospels. Together these experiences have alerted me to the need to explore ever more deeply the heart and the mind of Jesus. We live in a world crying out for the vision, the hope and the empowerment that I believe only Jesus can bring. It is a world of enormous difference between rich and poor, a world violently tearing itself apart. It is a world that has been shocked to see how dysfunctional major institutions, including the Churches, have become. Yet it is a world where many are also thirsting for a satisfying spirituality.

We need to hear the message of Jesus. And the particular thing that I like about Mark is that he believed that Jesus taught by his actions, even more than by his words. Deeds lead people into the integrity that alone will nourish their spirits. The world needs to see the power of love – a love that finds practical expression in justice, mercy and inclusiveness, and that endeavours to change societies and cultures by means that are exclusively non-violent.

I have given the commentary the title: Together Now in Galilee. Mark began his narrative by calling it the “beginning of the good news of Jesus”. He ended it with the direction given to the disciples to meet the risen Jesus in Galilee. We all meet him in our various “Galilees”, called to work with him still to make real “the Kingdom of God”. We confront the same problems of the first disciples, striving to have “eyes that see and ears that hear”, struggling to face the death to self involved in living in true Christian community and endeavouring always to find the strength and freedom to confront the evil of the world with love, respect and non-violence.

My Motivation

Another reason why I write is to make easily and cheaply available the Gospel’s background and content to people, particularly around my own diocese, who in increasing numbers are being asked to speak on the Sunday readings during Liturgies of the Word and Communion in those places where priests are not available to lead the celebration of Mass.

Though they are not required to give a homily, they share the same world and life experiences of the rest of the community and from that privileged position are uniquely placed to fruitfully share their insights and reflections on how the scriptures apply to their ordinary daily lives as individuals and as community. I believe that the better they understand what Jesus was about and why Mark chose to use the incidents in question, the more accurately they can reflect the mind and heart of Jesus.

I am excited about this development because I believe that people are often better inspired and enlightened by their peers than by the clergy whom they sometimes see as professionals presumably less in touch with the exigencies and possibilities of ordinary life.

All that I have to share about Mark has been learnt from the writings of others and my own reflection on experience. We are so lucky to live in an era of renewed scriptural understanding. Much of what I have read has no doubt simply gone through my head and fallen out. But much has stayed, particularly those things that have resonated with my own questions and discoveries. It is these I seek to share with others.

I am particularly indebted to Fr Pat Flanagan, a priest from my own diocese, who a few years ago wrote a book about Mark’s Gospel that helped the Gospel to really come alive for me. More recently I came across a couple of books written by Ched Myers on the same topic. They powerfully opened my mind to the contemporary relevance of Jesus’ message and method, and helped me make connections that had never occurred to me before.

I have made use of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. It is a translation that stays relatively close to the Greek original and so facilitates a sometimes helpful examination of particular words and phrases. It aims also to be gender-inclusive.

Though the NRSV is not the version used in the current Catholic Lectionary, I hope that it will be formally accepted for liturgical use in the future.

This is not an academic work. Its purpose is entirely pastoral. For that reason I have not included footnotes or explicit references to other authors. What I have to share stands on its merits. Jesus was questioned about his authority to teach, and replied that it was to be found in his own personal integrity and the truth of the message itself. I cannot lay claim to any special integrity. I do hope that the truth of what I detect in the message and approach of Jesus carries its own conviction. I hope that my observations stimulate further reflection and enlightenment.

John McKinnon
Horsham, Victoria,
July 2005