Dear Brothers and Sisters,
St. Mark’s gospel is the shortest. The language is punchy, and the pace is quick. The tradition from the earliest days in the church is that the source for Mark’s gospel was St. Peter himself. We know from the first epistle of Peter that St. Mark was with him in Rome, and the teaching that Mark recorded of St. Peter’s memories of Jesus connects with certain details in Mark’s gospel.
Mark records little details that only an eyewitness would remember—like Jesus being asleep in the boat and his head was on a cushion. (Mr. 4:38) or the detail of the young man who ran away from the Garden of Gethsemane naked. (Mr. 14:51-52). Was that young man Mark himself? It could have been. There is another detail that links St. Mark to the church in Rome. In Mark 15:21 Mark tells the story of Simon of Cyrene who helps carry Jesus’ cross. Mark says Simon was “the father of Alexander and Rufus”. Some think the inclusion of their names means Mark was referring to people in the congregation in Rome. In Romans 16:13 St. Paul (writing to the same community) mentions Rufus.
What happened to Alexander? A burial cave in the Kidron Valley in Jerusalem belonging to the Cyrenian Jews was discovered in 1941. The tomb dates to before AD 70 and the inscription is to “Alexander son of Simon.” Maybe Rufus’ brother died and was buried back in Jerusalem.
All of these are common names in the ancient world and we can’t be certain of the connections, but what the details do tell us is that Mark’s gospel is a certain and concrete connection with the events of the gospel.
As I explained last week, if Luke’s gospel used Mark’s as a source, and Luke was composed before St. Paul died in 65 AD, then Mark gathered St. Peter’s memories together into his gospel before that. Therefore, we can guess that Mark’s gospel was written toward the end of the 50s—just about 25 years after the death and resurrection of the Lord.
Mark’s gospel is therefore the earliest to be written and was a source for Luke and for the author of the gospel of Matthew written in Greek.
When we read Mark’s gospel, the strong language and fast pace almost feels like we are hearing the rash and passionate fisherman St. Peter himself. What does this mean for Advent? It reminds us that Jesus Christ the Lord—God with us—is present in a most immediate and striking way, summoning us to hear the call to follow him.