Friday Book Pick: The Gospel of Jesus Christ According to Saint Mark
“Repent! And believe in the Gospel.” Unadorned. Direct. This admonition was not the invention of a liturgy committee. When priests everywhere admonish their flocks on Ash Wednesday with this sentence, it is Jesus Whom they are quoting. In fact, these were the first words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Mark.
This Ash Wednesday, when those words were spoken by Fr. John Paul in our convent chapel, I heard them resound within me in a new way. “Repent of not truly believing in the Gospel, and believe in the Gospel.”
To believe in the Gospel. When a Catholic professes to “believe in the Gospel” what exactly does this entail? You might try to answer that question in your mind right now. To believe in the Gospel is to believe—what exactly? How would you answer that question?
We sisters get to take two days out of the month for solitude and prayer. We call it “hermitage.” I just got back from my hermitage a few hours ago. One thing I did over my days away was to open up the Gospel with that question in mind. I asked the Holy Spirit to show me what it means to believe in the Gospel. I tried to read the Gospel of Mark with new eyes open to fresh understanding. (Mark because, as you know, the liturgical cycle of the Church focuses us on Mark’s Gospel this year.)
Are you interested in what this long-time reader of the Bible learned about believing in the Gospel over my days of hermitage? The list in my notebook goes to 57, but since this is a blog and not a book, I’ll keep it to ten.
1. Jesus wants us, invites us, exhorts us to believe. These are His first recorded words in Mark (Mk 1:15).
2. To believe what? That He is the beloved Son of God (Mk 1:11).
3. That He has authority. Authority for what? To teach us (1:22), to deliver us from evil (Mk 1:25-26; 5:1-13), to heal us (Mk 1:31-33; 5:28-34; Mk 6:53-56), and to raise us from the dead (Mk 5:41).
4.To believe in the Gospel is to invite Jesus to exercise His authority (to teach, deliver from evil, heal, and raise from the dead…) in my life.
5. In other words, if I really believe in the Gospel, I will let Jesus’ word be the last word. I will submit to His teaching. I will try to do what He taught, live as He lived. If I believe in the Gospel, then I believe that He can and will deliver us from this present darkness. If I believe in the Gospel then I know that Jesus has the power to heal and He has authority over every illness and disease, and even when it results in death, I believe that He has authority over death. The very One Who said,
“Little girl arise” (Mk 5:41), was Himself raised from the dead (Mk 16:6 & 9).
6. The Gospel also reveals that Jesus has authority over natural things like bread and water. He multiplied bread and walked on water (Mk 6:30-44; 6:45-52; 8:1-10). And even when He “is asleep in the boat,” He has authority over wind and sea. He also has authority over Himself. All of this demonstration of authority (over bread, nature and Himself) prepares the believer to accept that He can literally give us Himself in the Eucharist (Mk 14: 17-25).
7. To believe in the Gospel is to believe that Jesus’ power and authority is total.
8. To believe in the Gospel is the antidote to fear. Jesus said “Do not fear, only believe”
9. To not believe in the Gospel is the other possibility. Jesus encountered unbelievers and he “marveled at their unbelief” (Mk 6:6) and He was unable to do much among them. In the mystery of human freedom given us by God, we are free to believe or not; God does not force His authority, His healing, or His power to save, upon anyone. God invented “religious liberty.”
10. I found that “to believe” is at the center of Mark’s Gospel. Jesus wants us to believe in Him for our own sake for He knows that “all things are possible for him who believes”
Humble and sincere prayer seems to be a good place to start in our effort to “repent and believe in the Gospel.” How fitting that a perfect prayer for better believing is found in the Gospel of Mark, “I do believe, help my unbelief” (Mk 9:24.)
Mother Clare, CFR