Mark 1:1-3

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” Mark 1:1-3

The vast majority of Bible scholars believe that Mark was the first of the four gospels to be written. Further, most believe that the writers of both Matthew and Luke were holding copies of Mark when they wrote their versions of the Jesus story, each with their own purposes. John was written later and very much independently.

The rationale for this way of seeing things is pretty simple. Mark is the shortest book. Everything in Mark is also in both Matthew and Luke. That is the basic argument that Mark was written first.

Both Matthew and Luke make little tweaks to the stories they found in Mark. They changed them slightly, we have to assume, to improve the story for their own purposes. Some stories are only in Matthew, others only in Luke. This is the basic argument that each of the gospel writers structured and told their stories with specific purposes.

And there are stories that appear both in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark. That is the argument that there was another written source, now lost to history, that consisted of the sayings of Jesus. Scholars call that source “Q”, from the German word for source, “quelle.”

Personally, I like the idea that, even in the first century, someone decided to write down the things they either heard Jesus say or heard that Jesus once said. Even then someone was more interested in what Jesus actually said than in constructing some grand narrative to structure some point they wanted to make.

Having said all of that as a basic background, today we begin our slow walk through Mark. Immediately – and you will come to see how important that word is to Mark – Mark tells us who Jesus is. Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one, not Caesar Augustus, who also claimed to be the anointed one. Jesus is the Son of God, not Caesar Augustus, who also claimed to be the son of god. And what Mark is writing he calls “good news”, using the same word that was used to describe the birth and coming reign of Caesar Augustus.

Certainly Mark is a work of spiritual writing but we simply can never put aside or forget that Mark is also a work of subversive writing. He tells us the story of Jesus within the story of the cultural and political realities of his day. I believe that tension is essential in appreciating what Mark had to say then and how that impacts how we hear his words today.

Further, by reaching back to the words of the prophet Isaiah in beginning his story, Mark is doing that very same thing. He is applying the language of his spiritual tradition to the cultural and political realities in which he lived. We are free to, and we ought to, do the same thing.

Mark’s story begins in the wilderness. At the edges. He uses the power of words. And the note he sounds is that something big is about to happen.

Let us pray: Thank you Lord for the witnesses to the faith who have gone before us. To the writers of scripture and to those who so carefully attended to and preserved their words for us. Give us open hearts, open minds, open ears, that we might hear. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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