Recent reflections on the Gospel according to Mark
Sean P. Kealy
This article is an invitation to each reader to reflect on our journey through life with an amazingly deep work like the Gospel of Mark. Mark puts a radical question to our vision of life, the kind of God we believe in, the journey that that God invites—or better commands–us to make. As the poet said, it is above all an invitation to dance within the storm of life as Jesus once did for us.
Perhaps the high point of the journey of Mark’s elusive, mysterious, open-ended, yet challenging Gospel is that it was the gospel read in churches throughout the world during the Jubilee year of 2000. In an article, (A Controversial Gospel, p. 376), I suggested that even Mark himself must be laughing in paradise at the thought. During the extraordinary two million assembly of world youth with Pope John Paul II, each participant was given two copies (one to give away!) of the Gospel according to Mark with beautiful illustrations found in Roman churches, museums, galleries (United Bible Societies, Commune di Roma). I wondered also what Mark would make of Brenda Dean Schildgen’s comment (134):
A quick search on the World Wide Web will reveal well over a
million sites for the Gospel of Mark on the Internet, in contrast
to Matthew (a quarter of a million), Luke (one hundred and fifty
thousand), and John, who surpasses even Mark in attention.
What Do Modern Readers Admire in Mark?
The literature on Mark is amazing: some 1,599 items are listed by H. M. Humphrey–not to mention F. Neirynck’s bibliography. Despite a diminution of articles according to some scholars, the flood of publications, especially commentaries, has not ceased to this day. By 1979 Mark had become, in over 1077 languages, the most translated book in the world. However, as Pierre Grelot remarked (509), reflection on the Gospel is in no way at an end. One can only speculate what riches will be discovered in these foundational texts of the Christian faith when the commentators are rooted in the cultures of Africa, India and China.
The Helsinki scholar Petri Merenlahti quotes (36) the evaluation of the award-winning Finnish poet Gosta Agren, who notes that Mark has been “enthusiastically rediscovered as a great artist by narrative critics and by the general public: theater performances of the Gospel have played to full houses in Norway, Sweden and Finland”–“the best-written among the gospels–the most literary.” In his collection THE CARPENTER, based on Mark, Agren praises Mark as a cunning author: “Solid, concrete structure gives strength to the story. The author is frank and lucid. Legendary material is not allowed to dominate, yet it flavors the events” (6). Merenlahti asks why Mark has been discovered by such authors, narrative critics and the public, despite the negative comments from Papias (“lack of order”) to Bultmann (“not sufficiently master of his material to be able to venture on a systematic outline himself”–350). While Papias emphasized the connection with Peter, as if Mark repeated Peter’s original voice as faithfully as possible, Augustine on the contrary saw Mark as an inauthentic secondary version of Matthew.
Nevertheless Mark’s modernity has been seen in the light of two dominant traditions, realism and ambiguity, which provide an impression of authenticity and originality. Merenlahti also mentions the assessment by the singer and author Nick Cave who has written on Mark’s impassioned intensity and expressive power (expressionism) in HARPER’S MAGAZINE and contributed the preface to Mark in the recently published Pocket Canons series by the Scottish publishers Canongate Books. Cave tries to rehabilitate the Christ of Mark, rejected and denied, sad and lonesome yet the brilliant advocate of a free, unfettered imagination so far from the harmless character to which the Church has reduced Jesus Christ.
On Mark’s realism, Merenlahti refers to Erich Auerbach’s 1946 classic, where he examines the noble and tragic account of Peter’s denial in Mark. There Peter is the image of humanity “in the highest and deepest and most tragic sense” (41) combining “the tragic and the universal with the common and the ordinary,” which in classical style belonged to comedy. According to this interpretation of Auerbach, “The gospels are avant-garde created by chance” (40). They are “noble savages” happily saved from the restraining influences of their contemporary high culture and its stiff literary establishment” (ibid). The most original/primitive Mark also “displays the greatest amount of ambiguity.” It reminds one, as Donahue has pointed out, of a parable whose final, conclusive meaning “remains difficult for anyone to catch” and must be repeatedly sought after. Jesus’ “kingship is a secret, his parabolic words and deeds, as well as his fate, are signs that need to be interpreted correctly.” Mark’s general inconclusiveness culminates in the general anticlimax of the ending, which is a grammatical rarity with the feeble particle “for,” an ending which was possible in popular Greek. Frank Kermode compares this to Joyce’s closing words in Ulysses (“yes”) and Finnegan’s Wake (“the”). For Agren, if the interpretation of a parable said it all, there would be no need of a parable. In the opening poem of THE CARPENTER, he writes, “There was no end; otherwise the journey itself would have made no sense”; and in the concluding poem: “The longing for news is the only news that makes it through.”
Mark’s Urgent Message
Mark’s Urgent Message is the title of Irish Biblical Scholar Sean Freyne’s reflection (86-91) in his collection TEXTS, CONTEXTS AND CULTURES. The oral recitation of the British actor Alec McCowan (tone of voice, changes of pace, facial expressions, movement) opened for him Mark’s text as no other study so that it became “a gospel of great power and suspense as it draws us into the story and forces us to take sides.” He believes that “it was originally written for just this kind of oral performance for Christian communities in Rome, or possibly even in Palestine” (86). The scarcity of advance information is deliberate, as the aura of mystery and silence hangs over the whole story. Mark the clever dramatist/teacher wants us to be attentive readers from the beginning, to form our own impressions and write the ending accordingly: Did the disciples return to Galilee? Do we share the women’s fear? Would we return? Why Galilee, anyhow? Jesus summons us not to Jerusalem or Galilee but to our own true selves “to think the thoughts of God and not the thoughts of men” (8:33). Freyne notes that in contrast to the other Gospels, especially Luke, Mark does not portray Jesus at prayer very often. Jesus is a busy person who prays when he is disappointed by the performance of his associates. It is the prayer of abandonment–“trust in God when human resources, especially that of the understanding of friends, fail” (91).
A Story of Multiple Conflicts
Richard A. Horsley, who comes from outside the biblical scholarly guild, sees Mark not so much as a story of Christian discipleship (as modern readers often take Mark). Rather, Mark is a story of multiple conflicts:
That is why it is so exciting to read and why it has such a
compelling message. In the dominant conflict that builds to a climax
throughout the Gospel, Jesus’ challenge to the high priestly rulers
and their Roman imperial overlords escalates from his preaching
and practice of the kingdom of God in the village gatherings of
Galilee to his dramatic demonstration against the Temple and
confrontation with the rulers in Jerusalem. That results in his
torturous crucifixion by the Romans as an insurrectionary. In
Jesus’ exorcisms, moreover, God is winning the struggle with Satan
and the demonic “unclean spirits” that have taken possession of the
people like an occupying Roman legion. Surprisingly, however, a
conflict between Jesus and the very disciples he designates as
representative of the renewed people of Israel also develops in the
course of the story. Although Jesus teaches them the mystery of
the kingdom, they persistently fail to understand what he is
teaching and doing, and at the end they betray, deny and desert him.
By contrast with the misunderstanding and faithless disciples,
women who play an increasingly prominent role in Mark’s story,
serve as models of faithfulness .
A somewhat similar but maverick reductionist understanding is found in John Dominic Crossan’s portrait of Jesus, a Jewish peasant with a direct sense of God’s immediacy who shatters all social restraints. Crossan’s naturalistic assumptions, however, lead him to certain pre-conclusions (“I presume that Jesus … could not cure … disease”–he dismisses the virgin birth and the passion/resurrection narratives as historically invalid). John J. Vincent (370) summarizes Crossan’s consistently repeated message as follows: “Jesus was a provincial people’s leader and teacher who championed the lifestyle, expectations, relationships and viewpoints of the agrarian artisans of Galilean small towns, and opposed this to the structured power of Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians and Romans, and declared that the Kingdom was now precisely present in just such common mutuality and interdependence of the poor. That he declared this at all ensured his condemnation by all other kingships–of Rome or Herod. By naming Jesus Imperator/kyrios, early Christians continued this claim.”
Utterly Subversive of Western Culture
John Fenton was taught by Robert Henry Lightfoot ([dagger]1953), who became his hero. Lightfoot, with his revolutionary and unusual views on Mark, insisted that Mark deliberately ended at 16:8. Fenton attended lectures by Austin Farrer (Mark kept up his irony to the end so that 15:9 could be read as “He really was the Son of God–I don’t think”), who noted that both Bultmann and Vincent Taylor (1953) had little time for Mark as a theologian. For Taylor, “what we find in Mark is no superimposed dogmatic construction, but the virile ideas of Jesus Himself” (125). According to Fenton, on the continent Bornkamm and Conzelmann were believed to have invented redaction criticism, “but to us in England what they were saying was largely Lightfoot’s ideas and methods, without acknowledgement” (4). His own first book was on the Marcan passion and resurrection. He had become an enthusiastic reader of Kierkegaard during his undergraduate days at Oxford “with emphasis on offense, irony, Christ the stumbling block and the foolishness of God” (4). He found John of the Cross attractive (“he was so negative; he was Luther in Catholic disguise”). Paradox is the secret of the fascination and applicability of Mark: The omnipotent God (9:23; 10:27; 14:36) “makes use of human failures: the male disciples and the female disciples (they remained silent) the religious leaders and the Romans, the centurion who finally dismisses Jesus himself as a false pretender. We have the treasure in earthen vessels, and it does not matter that they are earthen. God’s power is made known in weakness. Mark was right to call his book Good News; it is good news about God … (who) reveals his omnipotence in the story Mark tells of human ignorance, misunderstanding, fear and weakness. In this paradox lies the secret of the fascination and applicability of Mark’s book” (5).
Fenton thanks goodness that Mark leaves us with nothing, neither theology, Christology, ethics, eschatology, ministry, sacraments nor church history, the things that drive us from each other. Mark is content to give a story of disaster and a faith in a God who can do anything–even raise the dead. Fenton concludes that because it is so “utterly subversive” Mark is the best book for the twenty-first century:
Western culture will need some subversive people to do something
about its capitalism and its love of self. The one character
who is the model in Mark’s gospel is the child and the child is
there as a representative of people who are unskilled, nobodies;
who have no status. The child appears twice, in chapter 9 and in
chapter 10, and in both cases, Jesus hugs them. They are the only
people that he does hug” .
On the rich person who goes away sad, Mark says “Jesus looked at him and loved him”–it is the only instance of Jesus loving somebody, and he is one who fails. So Fenton concludes “Away success! Welcome failure! That is the good news” (58).
Whatever one thinks of this view, it is increasingly essential to think of the relevance of Mark if Christianity is to survive and to give reason and purpose to so much information that scholars have gathered. Yet our generation is so different, as Ernest (Paddy) Best (46-47) points out:
His generation believed in personal forces of evil as possessing
men; we do not; we may believe in them “officially” but we do not
reckon with them in our day-to-day life. His generation had no
difficulty in accepting that five loaves and two fish were
sufficient to feed five thousand people; ours has. We do not think
easily of a contest between God and the power of evil. The concept
of Jesus as bearing the judgment of God seems immoral to some; why
should men not bear their own judgment? If we live in a community
with Jews do we not want to emphasize God’s replacement of
them by us as his people. If not, what is the relevance of the
rejection of Israel? Yet on the other hand we may value Mark for a
reason for which it was probably not written: as a mine of
historical information about Jesus…. Mark did not expect it would
be long until the return of Jesus and the end of the journey, on
which he and his fellow Christians had entered, would be reached. He
was wrong…. The basic teaching which Mark gives about the
nature of greatness and the need to lose oneself remains as true
now as it was then, and as necessary. His radical discussion of
discipleship plumbs the very depths of the nature of Christianity.
We are as unwilling to accept it as Mark’s community was. But Mark
also saw that in order to go the way of a disciple it was not
sufficient to imitate Jesus; imitation was impossible without the
help of Jesus himself. Thus he gives a central place to Jesus.
With William Reiser, however, in his chapter “Does Mark Encourage a Cult of Suffering?” (149-58), one can say that it is not a correct reading of Mark to say that “the Christian religion encourages suffering, viewing it as meritorious and even to be sought after for the perfect imitation of Jesus.” Mark has no theology of the cross that glorifies suffering as a value in itself and as mysteriously required by God. Rather Jesus’ obedience is seen in his willingness to respond to human needs. His suffering is that of a prophet.
Mark the Patron-Saint of Ignored or Underappreciated Authors
This is a description that Leslie Houlden suggests for Mark for those who have ventured into the depressing business of being an author. “If you are lucky there may be a review or two, a little money, a few nice comments from friends. All too soon, you hear that your book is remaindered, or perhaps, sold out, never to be reprinted.” Nothing I suggest could be further from the truth for Mark. Nevertheless, Houlden can give some examples to help his case. Irenaeus in his DEMONSTRATION OF THE APOSTOLIC PREACHING has five references to Mark compared with some 40 from Matthew. Neither Origen (ON FIRST PRINCIPLES) nor Athanasius (ON THE INCARNATION) make clear reference to Mark. However Serapion, the fourth-century Egyptian bishop, has seven references to Mark with (compared to 22 to Matthew). At Oxyrynchus 13 fragments of Matthew, 10 of John, 2 of Luke but none of Mark were discovered, perhaps not surprising for a Gnostic community! In the Church of England Book of Common Prayer of 1662, which was mainly drawn from Medieval use, only two lectionary readings come from Mark with nearly half from Matthew and somewhat fewer from Luke and John. The Passion was read from Mark on two days of Holy Week, however, and Mark 16:9-20 was read on Ascension Thursday. Houlden notes that “recumbentibus” (coming from Mark 16:14) was the medieval short-hand for Mark. Further in THE OXFORD DICTIONARY OF QUOTATIONS there are five pages of quotations from Matthew, 2 1/2 pages from Luke, and four from John, with a mere half page from Mark.
On the other hand John A.T. Robinson could say: “It is a curious phenomenon that, for the Gospel that was least read or esteemed in the early church, there is more tradition relating to its date of composition than any other” (109). Examining the BIBLIA PATRISTICA, Schildgen found for the period from Papias (c. 135) to Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215) some 3,900 references, including allusions or citations, to Matthew, 3,300 to Luke, 2,000 to John, and 1,400 to Mark. In the third century (apart from Origen, who had 8,000 for Matthew, 5,000 for John, 3,000 for Luke and only 650 for Mark), there were 3,600 for Matthew, 1,000 for Luke, 1,600 for John and 250 for Mark. In Augustine’s sermons on the Gospels, there are 250 quotations of Matthew, 170 of John, 150 of Luke and 15 for Mark. In the lectionaries of the first centuries, John and Matthew were most frequently chosen, with Luke half as much and Mark infrequently. In my forthcoming LUKE AND THE HISTORY OF INTERPRETATION, I describe how at Paris there were 24 secular authors, 19 Dominicans, 19 Franciscans, 1 Augustinian and 3 other Regulars. The number of gospel commentaries composed at Paris was 78 (Matthew 21, Luke 21, Mark 17, John 19). For the fourteenth century the total was 69 (Matthew 19, Luke 15, Mark 14, John 21) and for the fifteenth century the total was 13 (Matthew 2, Luke 4, Mark 2, John 5). One should remember that Mark played a substantial part in the popular Catena Aurea or “Golden Chain” of St. Thomas Aquinas–not to forget the Glossa Ordinaria, the great medieval compilation of biblical interpretations that was repeatedly reprinted from the 15th to the 18th centuries. It was the standard text book for students from the time of Anselm of Laon ([dagger]1117).
Justice in Mark
The well-known preacher Walter J. Burghardt points out (9) the suggestion of scripture scholar Sarah Ann Sharkey that “to appreciate justice in Jesus, we should read Mark’s gospel in its entirety carefully watching Jesus, his disciples, and other characters, particularly the “little people.” While not speaking “specifically” of justice, Mark is constantly expounding the idea, “the reality of making all relationships right,” emphasizing the cross, “the cost of engaging in the ministry of justice.” There is Peter’s fevered mother-in-law and the woman hemorrhaging for twelve years, the man with a withered hand and the paralyzed man let down through the roof. There is the ostracized leper and Levi the tax collector. There is the convulsed boy foaming at the mouth and the man emerging from the tombs with an unclean spirit. There is the living child Jesus took in his arms and the dead twelve year old daughter of a synagogue leader he said was only sleeping. There is the blind beggar Bartimaeus and the thousands who sat close to Jesus for three days with nothing to eat. There is the man who yearned for eternal life but was terribly attached to his own possessions, and the poor widow who put her last penny in the treasury. There are those closest of friends, his special disciples, who could be unbelievably dense when he taught them, who slept while he agonized in the garden, who deserted him when his hour had come. There are those grouped together as simply “sinners.” All these Jesus moved in different ways to right relationships (10).
My Journey with Mark’s Gospel
Each of us has perhaps a unique journey with an extraordinary work like Mark’s Gospel. My own journey began as I was searching for a doctorate thesis under the guidance of the professor of Medieval Latin Studies at University College, Dublin, the Viennese Ludwig Bieler who wrote one of the first books on the Divine Man theory of Jesus. At his encouragement I searched the libraries of Europe for manuscripts of what the well-known German scholar Bernhard Bischoff had suggested was a commentary on Mark by the Irish monk Comianus in the first half of the seventh century.
Prior to the seventh century we had much of the Marcan material covered in the traditional commentaries on the other Gospels. The Fathers had left selective homilies on different parts of Mark. M. D. Hooker, in his article Gospel of Mark (199) mentions a non-surviving commentary on Mark by Origen, but I have found no evidence to support this claim (see Schildgen: 135). Victor of Antioch (late fifth century) had fashioned a commentary largely drawn from the Fathers, mainly Chrysostom, a commentary seemingly not available to Comianus. That was followed by the commentary of Bede (673735), who drew heavily on the Latin fathers, and by Theophylact of Ochryda (c. 1077). Significantly Erasmus published one of his very popular Latin paraphrases on Mark in 1524.
My tour of the European libraries was an eye opener, producing some one hundred manuscripts scattered across the great public and private libraries of Europe. Among what I found were some 45 manuscripts from the 12th century, 17 from the 13th, and 10 from the 15th century.
Adequately to understand Comianus’ commentary and his influence, I found, a history of Mark and its interpretation was required to provide a background for its development and to see the basis for the often superficial comments of scholars on the history of Mark. My subsequent MARK’S GOSPEL, A HISTORY OF ITS INTERPRETATION, was the result and to my surprise was described by Howard Clark Kee in the centennial survey volume of the Society of Biblical Literature (260), as “an excellent comprehensive history and analysis of Marcan interpretation, arranged chronologically.”
The popularity of this commentary of Comianus was amazing, as is evident from the widespread variety of manuscripts which have survived. This placed a large question mark against the many comments of scholars on the neglect of Mark since Augustine’s remarks. Further his work in turn was extensively used in the well-known medieval encyclopaedic commentary the Glossa Ordinaria, which was the dominant commentary for three centuries, not to omit also St. Thomas Aquinas’ popular anthology from the Fathers, his “Golden Chain” (Catena Aurea) and also the widely respected Counter-reformation commentary of Cornelius Lapide. Renaissance scholarship raised critical questions about its authorship so that it was not included in the early printed works of Jerome. Erasmus knew that the oldest manuscripts do not have an attribution to Jerome. Nevertheless it was printed in turn by Victorius (1564-1572), Trebechovius (1684), Martianay (1693-1706), Vallarsi (1734-42) and Migne (among the mantissa of Jerome) in 1845 and 1865 (Cahill: 38-43). But these are only indications that an interest was kept alive in Mark throughout the centuries. One could also mention the translations, harmonies, prooftexts, sermons, liturgical practices, the great codices such as Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus and wonderful gospel books such as the Book of Kells. In fact an adequate history of Mark has yet to be researched.
It was the commentary itself, however, that surprised me. It began with a guiding biblical quotation from Matthew 13:52: “Every scribe learned in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his treasury both the new and the old.” Perhaps he was the first to give such a quotation, but the custom became quite popular down through the centuries. It was interesting to see what was new and old in a medieval commentary. His attitude was clearly not the approach to exegesis to which I was accustomed. At the time I had not made sufficient progress in biblical studies to understand what C. S. Lewis in his much quoted remark really meant: “‘Why–damn it–it’s medieval’ I exclaimed; for I still had all the chronological snobbery of my period and used the names of earlier periods as terms of abuse” (166).
After presenting his scholarly ideal, the author describes his own humble scholarly contribution quite modestly. It was similar to that of Mark’s poor widow tossing her two mites into the Temple treasury, while his poor students were like the Tyro-Phoenician woman content with the crumbs from the rich man’s table. His aim is the transfiguration of his community as he hands on the story, the mystical sense of Mark which his predecessors have handed on to him. However, he believes that the reason gospel commentators have neglected Mark is that Mark tells much the same story as Matthew. He is well aware of the Eusebian Canons (named after Eusebius of Caesarea, c. 260340), which identified the different sections of the gospel text with a view to noting the correspondences between the Gospels. Not unlike a redaction critic, he intends to concentrate (but not completely) on the 18 sections found only in Mark. Although he does not mention it in his introduction, however, he devotes special attention to the 15 virtutes (miracles) performed by Jesus in Mark. While he understood quite well that Mark was not an allegory, he valued the allegorical approach because it enabled him to teach sacred doctrine and to make applications to the lives of his audience, as they pursued the virtuous Christian life.
Cahill selects the following topics because of the attention given in the text to the analysis and debate by scholars: The Church (27 times in text); The Inverted Eucharistic Formula–“He transfigures his body into bread” (14:22); Calvary/Moriah of Isaac fame; The Jews; Pelagianism and Free Will. In addition to the author’s clear focus on Christ and the Church (Gentile and Roman with Peter as its head) he emphasizes the continuing presence of the Jewish people and has a positive hope for their conversion he even describes Christians as “we the children of the synagogue.” In particular he stresses moral living with examples for the imitation of Christ. Thus Mark 1:9-13 sets a moral agenda for later examples, as does Peter’s uncertainty during Jesus’ trial. For Cahill the purpose of this commentator in reading Mark is “the imitation of Christ and the stirring up of the basic virtues,” particularly reverential fear, faith, and hope found in the four types of material that the Gospels comprise: i.e., precepts, commandments, testimonies and examples (22). The commentator admits, however, that he did not fulfill his intentions (ut volui non valui). The presence of Mary Magdalene, a “widow,” and other women at the crucifixion shows that women are not excluded from knowing the mysteries of salvation. On Mark 16:8 he notes that “Before the resurrection of all, the women portray what they do after the resurrection–they flee death and terror.” Their ensuing silence is an expression of their worthiness to experience the event first-hand. Thus the women typify the resurrection faith of the Church.
On Mark many billion conversations have continued to this day. There is little sign of the flood of books and articles abating. One could expound at length, e.g., on the commentaries of Joel Marcus, J. Painter, Ben Witherington, and Francis Maloney, to mention only a few scholars. Let me conclude with a story, a scholar’s insight and a poem to indicate the continuing power of Mark to challenge and inspire in difficult times.
The power of Mark’s work is evident from the story of a Russian teenager who lived in Paris in the 1930s. Aggressively anti-Christian, he hated everything about religion. Quite against his wishes one day he had to listen to a talk by a priest. Then he decided to read a Gospel to check the accuracy of the rather repulsive story which he had heard. To avoid wasting time he tried the shortest Gospel, Mark. But before he arrived at the third chapter, he suddenly became aware that on the other side of his desk, the risen Jesus was standing. His enmity disappeared and he became a Christian and later the well-known Russian Orthodox Archbishop Anthony in London.
My own appreciation of the uniqueness of Mark’s Jesus came from Stephen Neill’s comments on E C. Burkitt’s “stormy and mysterious personage portrayed” in Mark, which captured his own generation (115). Burkitt, who established the famous NT seminar at Cambridge, had been criticizing the unwillingness of modern scholars to see what is so plainly there in the second Gospel. His examples included B. W. Bacon’s sane and well posed mind of the plain mechanic of Nazareth and Wilhelm Hermann’s Jesus whose “ethical ideas are the essential element in the spiritual experience of the modern world.” For Burkitt our problem is that we are so accustomed to the conventional Savior with his gentle unindividualized face. For Neill, Burkitt got it exactly right:
What has this Jesus to do with the mild Galilean peasant of
Renan’s fancy? Here is a man of more than Napoleonic stature,
who spreads around him astonishment and dismay; whose words
are perplexing in the extreme; who goes on puzzling his disciples
to the very end; who flaunts the conventional piety of his day; and
yet who all through remains human, without a single trait
characteristic of the Greek hero, the theios aner. Here are problems
galore, if at anytime we would venture to write a life of Jesus and
we may be certain that what we write will be wholly unacceptable
to those who like their Jesus tamed and conventionalized and are
not willing to be led away to the bleak uplands on which he moves
in the Gospel according to St. Mark .
Perhaps the best way to conclude these reflections is to quote some lines of poetry attributed to the poet Kathy Galloway from Iona, Scotland–lines that grasp the message of Mark so well.
Do not retreat into your private world,
That place of safety, sheltered from the storm,
Where you may tend your garden, seek your soul,
And rest with loved ones where the fire burns warm.
To tend a garden is a precious thing,
But dearer still the one where all may roam,
The weeds of poison, poverty and war,
Demand your care, who call the earth your home.
To seek your soul it is a precious thing,
But you will never find it on your own,
Only among the clamor, threat and pain,
Of other people’s need will love be known.
To rest with loved ones is a precious thing,
But peace of mind exacts a higher cost,
Your children will not rest and play in quiet,
While they hear the crying of the lost.
Do not retreat into your private world,
There are more ways than firesides to keep warm,
There is no shelter from the rage of life,
So meet its eye, and dance within the storm.
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Sean P. Kealy, S.T.L. (Pontifical Gregorian University) and S.S.L. (Biblical Institute, Rome) is professor and former chair in the Theology Department at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (email@example.com). A member of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, he has written commentaries on Luke, John and the Book of Revelation, as well as monographs on Jesus and on politics and a number of studies on spirituality. His articles and reviews have appeared in DOCTRINE AND LIFE, THE IRISH THEOLOGICAL QUARTERLY, THE TABLET, THE FURROW, CATHOLIC BIBLICAL QUARTERLY. His most recent contribution to the BIBLICAL THEOLOGY BULLETIN IS THE ARTICLE, Change and the Gospels (BTB 35/1:13-19. He is currently researching the history of the Lukan literature as a follow-up on his history of the other three Gospels.
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