St Mark’s Gospel
In this beautiful homily for 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Father Hanly sheds light on what St Mark is trying to teach us in the Gospel according to St Mark.
First Reading: Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 95:1-2, 6-7, 7-9
Second Reading: First Corinthians 7:32-35
Gospel: Mark 1:21-28
As you all know, St Mark is the writer of the Gospel. You might not know, however, that St Mark had a kind of questionable history.
When he was a young man, he went off with St Paul and his uncle on the first trip of St Paul. And he got cold feet on the way out and he wanted to go home early, whining all the time, I suppose. So St Paul got so mad at him that he argued with his uncle and said, “Next time we don’t take him.” And that’s what happened the second trip, the famous voyage of St Paul, the little guy was not invited. And so his uncle got very angry and he went off to another place and he broke a wonderful friendship between he and Paul.
Anyhow that shows you that everybody is human. This little boy, though, grew up and he got himself a very good job. He was St Peter’s secretary and it took place in Rome. And so when you listen to St Mark’s Gospels this year, you remember that you’re hearing the stories that Peter told him in the long time that he was the secretary for St Peter in Rome.
I like St Mark. Of all the writers, in a way, I like him. He’s the shortest. If you sit down now, you go home and you open up St Mark and you start reading…
And you have to read it out loud. The Gospels should be read out loud. They were meant for people to hear, not to be looking in books.
And the thing about Mark is that you could read the whole Gospel according to St Mark in about an hour and ten minutes from beginning to end. But you’ve got to keep going. You can’t pause to think about anything.
And you’ll have a remarkable experience. Because St Mark abbreviates, he telescopes. Other writers write a little bit more and speak a little bit more verbose, but not Mark.
He just says, and he gives you this feeling when you’re reading it, he’ll say something like, “Jesus is Lord and Master and I’m going to tell you about that now.” And then, as if, he doesn’t say it, but, “You can take it or leave it. I’m not going to run after you and convince you. I’m not trying to save your soul. I’m just telling you that this man, when I was with him, and he was just a young little boy when I was with him, this is what he meant to me.”
And that’s the Gospel. And so it’s full of twists and turns.
At the very beginning, Mark will say that he has come to tell us about Jesus of Nazareth. He comes right to the point: he is the Son of God and he is among us and this is his story, and then he tells the story.
The first story of the four stories that we follow in the next four weeks, the first story is Jesus comes into Capernaum. This is the home of St Peter. And, of course, he stays with St Peter.
St Peter has been called by Jesus, last week, he, Peter, and James and John and Andrew.
Peter and Andrew were brothers. The older brother was Andrew, and Peter was the second brother. They became disciples, called round their boat. They were fishing and, all of a sudden, Jesus walked by and he said, “Come follow me.” And they left everything, dropped everything and went off.
And he went on a little further. And there was James and John, another two brothers, and John is the writer of the fourth Gospel. James and he, they were washing their nets, and Jesus walks by and he says, “Come follow me,” and they follow him, leaving everything. We don’t even know if they went home. They were the sons of Zebedee.
Sounds kind of strange. Not if you know Mark. Because, you see, Mark doesn’t believe that you follow Jesus because you’re convinced that he gave you nice homilies. You know, you sit back and you wait and “Oh, what a nice homily. I think I’ll try. I think I’ll hang around and maybe spend a few days with him, see if I like him.” He doesn’t feel that this is a call from God.
The other thing that we get from this reading, now listen very carefully, the reading says this:
Then they came to Capernaum,
and on the sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue…
That’s, of course, where the Jewish people pray. There was only one temple at that time, and only one temple allowed, and that was in Jerusalem, and that’s where the sacrifices took place and the high altars were. And many, many other expressions of ritual and liturgy took place there and it was where Jews felt that God dwelt the most, in the Holy of Holies.
But we’re talking about on a Saturday, the Jews would gather in smaller structures as we know today as synagogues. There’s three or four or five of them all over Hong Kong.
So they’re in the synagogue and then Mark says,
and on the sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught.
The people were astonished at his teaching,
for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.
But he never tells you what Jesus said. You haven’t noticed that, but he never says, “This is what he taught and this is how he taught.”
And why would it be like this?
Because, for Mark, you don’t follow Jesus because you’ve been reading a nice book, or you’ve been studying at the university, or you’re doing… It doesn’t work that way.
Jesus walks by and says, “Follow me,” and you follow him.
And why is that?
It’s because, as everybody knows, when you learn from experience, you learn. When you learn from a book, well, you might learn a little, maybe, if you’re in a good mood, if you’ve got an exam to study for. But it’s not an experience; it’s not something that touches your heart.
And Jesus will have no one follow him because they have an intellectual idea that he’s a wonderful kind of person and he’s got a lot of friends and I’d like to be with him and all these other things. You either give him your whole life or you don’t follow him at all.
Sounds tough, but it isn’t. Because if you look back as a little child, how, before you got those high class educations, you did things because you said, “Yes!” That was the word.
“Would you like to go with Uncle Charlie to the movies?” “Yes!”
You didn’t have to say, “Well now, Uncle Charlie is six foot two, blah, blah, blah, and he’s had a bad background, blah, blah, blah, and he has come to the house, blah, blah, blah, and he’s going to invite you, blah, blah, blah.” (Chuckles.)
This is not the way it works. Uncle Charlie is there and he’s going to take you to the movies and you love the movies.
The word is love. Love doesn’t come up gradually because now you understand and you’d like to be with these people and all of this. Love is much more dangerous than this.
It’s you just say, this person walks by and you say, “I’ve got to be with that one.”
And you say, “Well, what about your wife and family and all these other things?” They come later. It doesn’t mean you abandon them, but at that time there’s one solid feeling, that he’s touched my heart and I embrace it, for better for worse, for richer for poorer. It’s like a marriage – an immediate marriage.
Does that mean that people don’t gradually fall in love? No, no, no, it doesn’t mean that. But it means that many people who study the Scriptures think Jesus is a wonderful person, “Oh, he’s so (inaudible), he preaches such nice things, and then he dies for us.”
They think that that is being a Christian. It’s not.
A Christian is walking with Jesus, walking with him, judging things the way he sees it.
You don’t want to love people, you want to love the way Jesus loves. You don’t want to move kind of with a question mark in the back of your head and keep testing whether this is the right thing or this is the wrong thing, or maybe, or perhaps.
When Jesus says, “Come follow me”…
Like the poor rich man. The rich man, he approached Jesus and he says, “What can I do to be saved?”
Nice thought, you know. “What can I do to be saved?” Saved means maybe go to heaven or be healed or something like that.
And Jesus says, “Well, keep the commandments.”
And he says, “I’ve done all that.”
And then Jesus says, “Well, there’s one thing left.”
And then he says to the rich young man, he says, “Sell all that you have and give it away to the poor, and come follow me.” The poor guy kind of laughs, because he had lots of money and he wasn’t used to doing anything except calculate how he’s spending your money carefully so that you do the right things. He just said, “Throw it away,” Jesus says to him.
That’s what Mark is telling us, for the rest of the time, for the rest of the year, he’s going to say.
Now they go into the synagogue and he taught. And what Mark is telling you, he’s not talking with words, he’s talking through what he does. So to understand Jesus you don’t say, “Well, are his arguments complete?” You say, “I love you.” Or you watch what he does.
Now look carefully and we just have the first example of how it’s done.
The people were astounded at his teaching. You don’t get astounded from reading a book. I never was astounded by reading a book. Something had to happen – I saw something in real life, two people, man falling off a bridge or something, then you get astounded, yes?
The people were astonished at his teaching,
for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.
Now you wouldn’t know this, but one having authority to a Jew is basically God.
So, for instance, when a Jewish preacher even today preaches, he would say, “As the Lord says in Chapter 12 of Deuteronomy…” You see? He’s got to have someone to back him up. If you don’t have some kind of force like the Lord or Moses or somebody very important to back you up, what you have to say isn’t worth anything.
And that’s different from the Scribes. Whenever the Scribes taught, they would say, “As Moses taught us…” or “At the time of King David, as so and so taught us…” And that would mean that what I have to say is really very important.
What Jesus does is this,
In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit;
he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?
Have you come to destroy us?
I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
What he is, is a disturbed man, a man in great conflict, a man who doesn’t know what his next move is, a man who does not feel at home in the synagogue, an enemy maybe of God, or not even an enemy but just confused by it all. But you know this man is really hurting and that’s why he’s screaming in the synagogue where you’re not supposed to scream. And he’s crying out for help.
And so what does Jesus do?
He walks up to him and he says,
“Quiet! Come out of him!”
meaning let go of all this anger and hatred and remorse and all of the things that are turning you and churning you around.
The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.
All were amazed and asked one another,
“What is this?
A new teaching with authority.
It means that it is God Himself who is healing this man through Jesus, through what he himself… Because we know that Jesus loves, we know that Jesus has compassion.
We know that these things are not written in books. We know that when he walks, he has a radiation of “all is forgiven, do not worry, there’s hope here.” You don’t have to write these things up and memorise them and say them. It’s the presence of Jesus.
What Mark is doing is he’s talking to you. He’s not talking to what happened. He’s saying that when you’re filled with turmoil, when you feel that you have no hope left and you’ve reached the end, when something has happened you can’t face, or you’re troubled in the heart and troubled in the mind, what you do is you say, “Jesus, you understand.” Not “Cure me.” “Jesus, you understand.”
Because that’s why God had to send His Son. If He didn’t send His Son, what would we say? We’d say it’s all very well for God because He can turn on His television set and He wouldn’t feel any pain or anything.
It isn’t that. What is it then?
It is the presence of the Risen Lord that moves through the world. And this is what cures and this is what enables people to once again turn back to be with him and walk with him.
And why do we walk with him and be with him?
Because we want to learn how to love. Very simple. The solution to everything is to love, but love the way Jesus loves.
And now Matthew and Mark, Luke and John, will tell you all these wonderful stories. But if you think they happened centuries ago and have no connection with you, they’re wasting their time. Because the Gospel is the good news, and the good news is Jesus says, “I am with you now until the end of time and I offer you God’s forgiveness, God’s compassion, God’s love.”
And you say, “Yeah, but I don’t think… nah, nah, nah.”
“Don’t worry. Just walk with me. And, if you fall down, get up again. I will be there to lift you and carry you. And you can walk the next few steps.”
There was a great writer, Malcolm Muggeridge. He used to write for one of the British papers and he was a very cynical kind of person and he was going to expose Mother Teresa. That was his object, was to go all the way over to India and expose her for the fraud that she was, you see.
So he went all the way over to India and he went down to where Mother Teresa works and he sat and he begins to figure out, writing on his paper, what’s wrong with her, blah, blah, blah.
And, all of a sudden, he stops writing and he falls in love, just like that. He listens to her and he falls in love. And then he stays there, not for a couple of days, not for a couple of weeks, but for a couple of years.
And the old cynical us would go up to him and say, “You’re a changed man. What happened?” And he said, he would always say the same thing, “She speaks the truth.” She speaks the truth. When she talks, she speaks the truth.
Now, that is what Jesus does for us. He comes to speak into our hearts the truth, the truth of ourselves, the truth of life. And it is filled with the good news, for it’s forgiving and loving and encouraging.
And so whenever they kind of laughed at Malcolm Muggeridge and they say, “What has she got that we don’t have?” And he says, “When you hear the truth, your heart leaps and you hold it fast.”
So, today, we begin Mark, and we’ll slowly go through the different four readings, one story after another.
But always remember this about Mark: he fell in love, despite all the pain that he got from St Paul and the people of his time, he fell in love with Jesus. And St Peter took him under his arms, brought him to Rome, and that’s why we have the Gospel according to Mark, which is really the Gospel according to St Peter.
And the lovely part about it is that you go through it, it is short, abrupt, but it always speaks the truth, but it always speaks the truth in love.