Jesus was a man of action. While the gospel evangelists capture many of Jesus’ sayings and teachings, his actions are just as central to his mission as the Messiah. As we hear from the Gospel of Mark on most of the Sundays in this liturgical year, the importance of Jesus’s actions will become quite clear.
The portrait of Jesus of Nazareth expertly crafted by Mark in his relatively short text is that of the Suffering Servant. The first half of the narrative focuses on establishing for its readers that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises. The healings and other miracles that Jesus performs at the outset of his ministry emphasize his authority as God’s Chosen One. He commands and the demons obey. He speaks to the violent wind and the turbulent sea and they are calmed. Gradually it becomes clear that divine authority dwells in him.
Then, right in the exact middle of the text, a substantial shift takes place. Once Peter confesses his belief that Jesus is the Messiah (8:29), Jesus begins to reveal the kind of Messiah he is to be—one who would suffer and be killed but raised after three days (v.31). True disciples of Jesus can expect the same kind of treatment: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (v.35). Having predicted his passion, Jesus then acts in a way that moves him along that trajectory.
For Christian believers the general story is well known. However, sometimes there are meaningful details that often are missed when the four distinctive gospel narratives are bundled together into a single, all-inclusive, generalized version of events. My love for Scripture blossomed when I became aware of the details that made each gospel text distinct from the other three. For example, the Gospel of Mark has no infancy narrative but starts with the arrival of John the Baptist. Infancy narratives and genealogies are found only in Matthew and Luke, and those narratives are substantially different from one another. The Gospel of John, well, that is a whole other treasure trove of discovery. The point is that there is nothing better than getting a one-on-one familiarity with each Gospel text as its own narrative with its own tone, perspective and history.
At the start of this new season of Ordinary Time, I encourage anyone who would be so inclined to read the whole of the Gospel of Mark from beginning to end and to notice its unique characteristics and themes. Become aware of those who “know” who Jesus is and those who do not. Be attentive to the way in which one incident seems to follow immediately after another, as if there is no time to waste. There is no descriptive showdown between Satan and Jesus in the desert. There are no long teaching discourses. The evangelist doesn’t use flowery language or intricate theological symbolism. Throughout the Gospel of Mark witnesses are amazed by Jesus’s words and actions, but, in the end, he dies alone. Only a Roman centurion sees Jesus breathe his last on the cross and concludes: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (15:39).
In short, the actions of Jesus, especially in the Gospel of Mark, are more revelatory than his words. Jesus was no imaginary superhero. Jesus didn’t amass earthly wealth or power. Jesus had a message. He spoke the message and witnessed to its veracity. He suffered for it. He died for it. God raised him from the dead in witness to it. Jesus is the only “influencer” whose message really matters. “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (1:15)
By Sister Therese Haydel, OSB