April 25 is the feast day of St. Mark, the evangelist. Mark is the name associated with the shortest of the Gospels. Biblical scholarship tells us that Mark’s Gospel was the first written, probably around 65 to 70 A.D., after the death of St. Peter. Many passages from Mark’s Gospel are also included in Matthew and Luke. This is the reason that these Gospels are called the synoptic Gospels, meaning “seeing together.”
Mark’s Gospel is concerned with telling who Jesus is and what his mission is. It is also concerned with defining what it means to be a disciple. In the very first chapter and verse of his Gospel, Mark discloses that Jesus is the “Christ, the Son of God.” As we read on we find that, as readers, we have been given very privileged information, for in fact the disciples written about in the story—including Jesus’ closest friend, Simon Peter—have no real knowledge about Jesus’ identity. Many misunderstandings occur. When Peter mistakes Jesus’ mission to be one of great worldly power, Jesus calls him “Satan” and tells him: “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mk 8:33).
I fact, these misunderstandings are a part of a general theme known as the so-called and oft debated “messianic secret.” For most of the Gospel, only we as readers of the first verse, Jesus, and the demons are able to identify his purpose. Finally, in Mark 10:45, the pinnacle of the Gospel, Jesus clearly defines who he is and what he is meant to accomplish: the Son of Man has come to serve and to give his life for all.
There is no clear biographical information about the author, Mark. It is assumed that he was a friend of Peter, and many early Church leaders verified this. Peter himself referred to “my son Mark” (1 Pt 5:13) as being with him when he was in Rome.
A traditional story has been passed on that Mark included himself in the gospel. Since he would have been a young man or boy at the time Jesus lived on earth, there is some feeling that Mark was the young man who followed Jesus after he had been arrested and all the other disciples had fled. According to the Gospel, this young man was seized “but he left the cloth behind and ran off naked” (Mk 14:52).
Mark’s Gospel is intended to be read from start to finish in one reading. It is a good Gospel for students to begin with in any study of Jesus and his message.
Additional Lessons Related to this Feast Day:
- Have the students investigate other information about the author of Mark, especially the traditional understanding that he is the “John Mark” of Acts 12:12 and 25.
- Assign the reading of the three predictions of Jesus’ passion (Mk 8:31–33; 9:30–32; 10:32–34) and note how the disciples’ misunderstand Jesus’ words each time.
- Mark’s Gospel does not include an infancy narrative. Have the students work together in small groups to make a list of other differences in the synoptics.