Mark’s Gospel begins with his thesis statement: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Mark’s selection of parables, his presentation of Christ’s miracles, and his overall tone will all serve his desire to present Jesus as being truly God and truly man.
To do so, Mark first turns to John the Baptist, the last of the prophets, who stands as a bridge between the Old & New Testaments. Since the first prophecy about Christ in Genesis 3:15, prophets had announced in ever age that the Messiah would someday come. John had the unique privilege of actually pointing Jesus out. He Baptizes Jesus, but by John’s own admission (Mark 1:8), there was a greater Baptism to come. Ritual washing played a key part in Jewish religious practice, but John’s Baptism reflected more the desire to repent and turn back to God. As a Sacrament, Baptism is more than just a ritual action; it’s an outward sign of an inward grace. The outer washing takes place at the same time as the inner soul is being freed from original sin and the human person is adopted into the family of God. Christ’s Baptism by John coupled with his commission that the Apostles make disciples by baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (cf. Matthew 28:19) marks this change of the outward action to have a new meaning & power. The voice of the Father calling Jesus Son (Mark 1:11) following His Baptism emphasizes Jesus’ equality with God.
Following His Baptism, in verses 12-13, Jesus is tempted by the devil. In doing so, He is showing us that we shouldn’t fear temptation. We should instead see in temptation an opportunity to grow closer to God:
“Yet the Lord sometimes permits that souls, which are dear to him, should be tempted with some violence, in order that they may better understand their own weakness, and the necessity of grace to prevent them from falling […]; God permits us to be tempted, that we may be more detached from the things of earth, and conceive a more ardent desire to behold him in heaven […]; God also permits us to be tempted, in order to increase our merits. […] When it is disturbed by temptation, and sees itself in danger of committing sin, the soul has recourse to the Lord and to his divine Mother; it renews its determination to die rather than offend God; it humbles itself and takes refuge in the arms of divine mercy. By this means, as is proved by experience, it acquires more strength and is united more closely to God.” -St. Alphonsus Mary de Liguori, The Love of our Lord Jesus Christ, chap 17
The fact that Jesus Himself was tempted is also meant to encourage us – because having experienced temptation, He can offer us help as one who has real experience with temptation:
“Jesus has stood up to the test. And it was a real test… as a reward for his fidelity, when the time comes, ministers of God the father appear and wait upon him. […] We have to fill ourselves with courage, for the grace of God will not fail us. God will be at our side and will send his angels to be our traveling companions, our prudent advisors along the way, our cooperators in all that we take on.” -St. Josemaria Escriva, Christ is Passing By, 63
Next (Mark 1:14 & following) we see the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. Mark calls his proclamation the Good News (Gospel) of God: ““The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). Breaking open Jesus’ words:
1) What is fulfilled? Israel had been waiting a LONG time for a Messiah to come. Not only was he first promised in Genesis 3:15, but they had been conquered by Babylonians, Greeks, and now the Romans. God’s chosen people needed a savior – and knew clearly just how much they needed Him.
2) What is the Kingdom of God? Clearly, it’s very important as it is a recurring theme throughout the Gospels. Simply put, the Kingdom of God (or, for those in my school division, the “House of Faith”) is the world as God wants and intends it to be: a world with no sin, selfishness, death, suffering… where every tear is wiped away (cf. Revelation 21:4). This was the reality in Eden before sin came in Genesis 3, and this will be the reality in Heaven. Our task is, by cooperating with God’s grace, to make this world as much like that as we possibly can… and it is Jesus who makes this possible.
3) Repent (turn away) from what? That’s simple: Sin. Like the prophets before them, John the Baptist, Jesus, and Apostles that were to come all emphasize the need for a conversion from sin towards a life well lived.
4) What is the Gospel we are to believe in? It’s pretty simple: we can trust that God has and will stick with us.
Finally, Mark narrates the call of four of Jesus’ apostles: Andrew, Peter, James, and John (Mark 1:16-20). What’s notable here, particularly in the call of Simon (Peter), a fisherman by trade, is that God meets us where we are, telling Simon that he will become a “fisher of men” (Mark 1:17). Bob Rice interprets this scene beautifully in his book Between the Savior and the Sea, and I think his words are a good way to conclude our reflection on the first Chapter of Mark’s Gospel:
“Once Simon’s boat was filled to the sinking point, they spilled the net the other way and filled the second boat as well. They climbed back on their ships and everyone shouted for joy, amazed at what they saw. Two huge piles of fish. Both boats to their sinking points. Simon had dreamed of this moment, to catch more than his father ever did. But once the excitement of getting the fish on the boat passed, so too did the joy of the accomplishment.
Amid the cheers of his companions, Simon’s legs gave out and he fell to his knees, staring at what was before him. All of his hopes and dreams. His salvation from mediocrity. His identity.
A pile of fish.
It was all he ever wanted, and he realized that it was all it was. There, on his knees, surrounded by the things he had spent his life trying to catch, he began to cry. The celebration went silent. Jesus moved toward him, but Simon put up his hand and was too afraid to even look at his face. ‘Go away from me Lord,’ Simon said through his tears, ‘for I am a sinful man.’
No one dared to move. The waves were still. The only sound was that of the fish, twisting around in hope for their life. The sun reflected off their silver scales in a way that made them look dazzling with light.
Jesus went to Simon and put his hand on his shoulder. His touch gave simon the courage to look up at him.
‘There is more to you than this,’ Jesus said, and his words breathed new life into the fisherman. Simon stared at Jesus’ face. It was the same face he knew, same straight black hair, same olive skin, but there was also something different. The light reflected off the fish and danced across Jesus’ countenance, and something deep within his green eyes seemed to pull Simon away from this world, as if he looked up at the sun from underwater.
How long did that moment last? He felt as if he was both drowning and fully alive. Jesus closed his eyes and put his hands on Simon’s head to pray a blessing. Simon closed his eyes as well, and then suddenly became afraid to open them for fear he might awake in his bed and realize this was just a dream.
Can this really be happening to me?
The words of Jesus pierced through his darkness.
‘Come after me,’ Jesus said to him, ‘and I will make you a fisher of men.'”
-Bob Rice, Between the Savior and the Sea
If there’s something I’ve hoped to be able to inspire into my students, it’s the idea that they, too, were made for more than this… may the way Jesus sees each of us breathe new life into us as well.