Beginning on Jan. 10, the gospel readings for Sundays are taken, for the most part, from Mark’s Gospel. The weekday gospels are a continuous reading from Mark, starting on Jan. 11.
Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of our four Gospels. Today almost all New Testament scholars believe that Mark was the first written. During the first century AD, only about 10 percent of the people could read, so at community gatherings, a reader proclaimed the Gospel, probably in long sections. The audience who heard these readings would have been able to follow the sequence of the narrative. What happened if a community member missed a gathering? Someone may have recounted what had been read, but probably as an overview, providing emphases or themes. From our own time, a good example is a stage play, where the play is divided into acts and each act into scenes. The audience member experiences scenes in order as the play unfolds. If one comes late and can’t be seated immediately, thus missing an act or a scene, important elements of the playwright’s message are missed.
Mark’s Gospel can be outlined in four sections/acts, the first being “Introduction and The Stronger One” (1:1-3:35), parts of which we hear in the liturgies of January. This section can be broken down into these scenes: introduction and John the Baptist; the baptism of Jesus; struggle in the desert; Jesus preaches and calls four followers; confronting evil powers in a synagogue and a house church; struggle with evil in human hearts; sending out the twelve; and the struggle with family and scribes in his hometown. There is a rapid movement in the narrative from one scene to the next, often using “and immediately” before another episode.
This overview highlights “the stronger/mightier one,” Jesus’ struggle with various forms of evil. First, John the Baptist proclaimed that one stronger/mightier than he is coming. After Jesus is baptized the Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert for a struggle with Satan. Mark does not say who won, but the scene where Jesus drove an unclean spirit out of a person in the synagogue implies that Jesus was the victor, is stronger than unclean spirits.
From 2:1–3:6, Jesus struggled with the hardness of the heart of some of the religious leaders of his time. This came to a head in 3:1-6, when Jesus healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath.
His action provoked Pharisees and Herodians to plot to kill Jesus (3:6). Later, when Scribes accused him of being in cahoots with Beelzebul and the prince of demons/Satan, Jesus responded: “How can Satan drive out Satan? … And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him. But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can plunder his house.” Jesus’ actions have indicated that he is the “stronger one” (3:22-27).
Where were the disciples? Silently following Jesus, witnessing what he is doing, and becoming “fishers of men.” Jesus then sent them out to preach and to have authority over demons, that is, to confront/struggle against evil in all its forms (3:13-19). Placing ourselves within this narrative as disciples calls upon each of us to likewise confront evil in all its forms, a risky task. What the “Stronger One” does in the remaining three acts/sections of the gospel continues to add to our mission as his followers.