If, in 68 AD, after writing his Gospel, Mark had brought it to a bookseller in Rome and asked him to put it in the catalog, he would have found it difficult to choose among which works to place it.
Among the biographies of famous men? No. Although all focused on the character, Jesus, it is devoid of elements that normally appear in a biography. There is a lack of information about his birth, his family, the cultural environment in which he grew up. His way of thinking, his psychology, his personality are not explored. He comes up as an adult, taking for granted that everyone knows that he is a Jew who lived at the time of the emperor Tiberius.
The Gospel of Mark is not comparable to the myths. Jesus was a healer, but his story is not lost, as that of Aesculapius, in time, and his death and resurrection is not a re-release of that of Osiris, Adonis and Tammuz. Jesus was a real man, a carpenter by profession, sentenced to death for sedition by the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate and executed on a cross. Some of his disciples claimed later that he was still alive (Acts 25:19).
Not even the shelf where the books that narrate the deeds of the heroes like Alexander the Great and Hannibal are collected is the right place for the Gospel of Mark. Jesus did not lead the glorious military campaigns that have made Caesar and Octavian famous.
Could he be counted among the masters of wisdom? Great sages were expected to address the death in a heroic way as Socrates or with the fortitude of spirit of Seneca who, just at the time when Mark was writing his book, took his own life. But Jesus—Porphyry the skeptic declared—“took no strong and bold speech, but allowed himself to be insulted as a street rogue.” The wondrous works attributed to him could not attract the interest of savvy readers as those educated in the schools of the empire’s capital.
The Gospel of Mark is not categorized in any of the known literary genres and this should be kept in mind to avoid the mistake of considering it a “Life of Jesus.”
“A man of noble birth went to a distant country to assume regal authority, after which he planned to return home. He summoned ten of his servants and gave them ten pounds of silver. He said, “Put this money to work until I get back” (Lk 19:12-13).
From this parable and from the incorrect translation of some words of the Lord, as, for example, “I will not leave you orphans, I am coming to you” (Jn 14:18), the idea surged up that, on the day of the Ascension, Jesus would leave his disciples to return, in the splendor of His glory, at the end of time. The expression return of the Lord, although commonly used, could be misunderstood. The liturgical texts avoid it because Jesus has not left us; he did not go away, our life is not lived in his absence.
The Greeks imagined Zeus impertubable on the Olympus, blessed beyond human misery. He was, according to the oracle of Pausanias, “the one who was, is and will be.” The Christian God is different, “the one who is, who was and who is to come” (Rev 1:8); not “the Lord who returns,” but one who never ceases to come. Entering in, he commits himself in the history of the world and renews, together with man, the whole of creation: he cures the sick, heals the wounds caused by sin, turns off the hatred, preaches love and guides the world “into the way of peace” (Lk 1:79).
The early Christians implored: “Maranàtha: Come, O Lord!” (1 Cor 16:22). “Come, Lord Jesus” is the invocation which concludes the book of Revelation (Rev 22:20).
To internalize the message, we repeat: “Come, Lord Jesus! Come and with us renew the world. ”
Jesus recommended to be “wise as serpents” (Mt 10:16), and yet, his behavior and his words seem distant from what is commonly meant by prudence. He pronounced invectives against the scribes and Pharisees (Mt 23) and joked about their gait in “long robes” (Mk 12:38), has turned against the Sadducees, disavowing their theological convictions (Mt 22:23-33), he called Herod “fox” (Lk 13:32) and launched barbs to kings, “wrapped in soft raiment,” living in luxurious palaces (Mt 11:8). He broke the Sabbath, frequented the company of the infamous and impure people, called “serpents, brood of vipers,” the spiritual guides of the people (Mt 23:33) and claimed that the tax collectors and the prostitutes would have preceded them in the kingdom of heaven (Mt 21:31) But… what kind of prudence is this?
The alternative was not to move from Nazareth and to limit oneself to plain work, to keep the mouth shut or to open it only to flatter; to ignore the hungry, tired, in disarray crowd “like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk 6:34); to close the heart to compassion before the man with a withered hand, and resign oneself to the fact that sometimes a man accounts less than a sheep (Mt 12:12); to plug one’s ears to not hear the cry of the lepers (Lk 17:13) and to let the adulterous woman be stoned to death (Jn 8:5).
The prudence of God is not that of people, an excuse to laziness, idleness, inertia, disinterest. It is better to run the risk of making a mistake for love rather than give up fighting for the great values; it is better to see the seed of the word rejected by barren ground—as happened to Paul at the Areopagus (Acts 17:32-34)—rather than hide it, for fear, shrouded in silence.
To internalize the message, we repeat: “Full joy is to getting oneself involved, without fear in the projects of the Lord.”