Weekly Bible Reflection
MARK'S ALTERNATIVE ECONOMY
It is generally thought that Mark's gospel was the first of the gospels, written between 65 and 75 AD. The author was most probably a Greek speaking Roman follower of Jesus. The actual location of the Marcan household communities is unknown: possibly an urban setting, perhaps Rome or Alexandria.
Some describe the gospel as a passion narrative with an extended introduction believing that Mark is trying to make sense of the terrible war in the late 60s and eventual destruction of Jerusalem. As 'a war-time gospel' people were asking why everything had fallen apart? Certainly, the circumstances surrounding the gospel suggest an overwhelming sense of despair. Economic policy and high taxation stripped many of their ancestral lands plunging them into deep poverty, which fuelled the revolution against the occupying Roman power. It was a terrible bloody conflict ending with the sacking of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple bringing the sacrificial system to an abrupt end. The great fire of Rome, blamed on Christians by Emperor Nero, is also part of the backdrop to this gospel.
It's not surprising that Mark's community struggled to be faithful to Jesus and his vision. They were constantly under suspicion from the authorities, who questioned their loyalty to the Emperor and observance of accepted religious practices. Consequently, society showed contempt and hostility towards the Christian community. Internally, there was an air of suspicion and uncertainty, particularly towards strangers, in the face of the betrayal of fellow Christians to the authorities and martyrdom.
Mark's is a short racy gospel outlining the faith of a community seeking to follow Jesus in a world very different from that of Jesus. Some things remained the same: Roman occupation, violent oppression, high taxation, landlessness and deep poverty.
The gospel starts in a place of aloneness and ends in abandonment in a sealed tomb. These are the bookends of a story in which Mark's Jesus invites his followers to create an alternative economy where they are (from the Greek oikos meaning household).
Mark poses the question - 'in a world of tragedy and pain, who is God and how are we to be an authentic disciple community?' Mark wrestles with the apparent absence of God in the face of oppression, suffering and death and provides an understanding of Jesus the Messiah in terms of the figure of the suffering servant. These questions are just as relevant to us today as then.
God is revealed to us in Jesus, as the bringer of the 'important news' that God is not separate from humanity but One who comes among us to set us free, together with the whole of creation. This God draws us into communion and seeks to establish communities of followers that will develop an alternative way of living in the face of suffering, disease, betrayal, abandonment and death; a way that gives expression to a deep hope based on God's unfailing love for all. As New Testament scholar Michael Trainor says: 'The Gospel of Mark and its proclamation ... can offer surprising hope in a world where many know failure and loneliness.'
As we journey through Mark, we need to hear the story from social, political, cultural and communal perspectives not just religious and personal. As we read Mark's gospel we will see reflected there, issues and concerns that we wrestle with as communities of faith. We are invited to make the links between Mark's community and our own.
The liturgical year B is somewhat bitty in that we digress from time to time into John's gospel and Acts as we progress through the year. This makes it more difficult to maintain a sense of continuity. We will offer commentary on the set readings as we go.