The first Sunday of Advent ushers in a new liturgical year. Since the Second Vatican Council, the readings for Sunday have been expanded from hearing only one Gospel (Matthew) to hearing three Gospels over a three-year cycle. In Cycle A, we hear Matthew’s Gospel account, in Cycle B, we hear from the evangelist Mark and in Cycle C, we hear from Luke. This weekend, we are beginning year “B,” which means that the Gospel which will be proclaimed from now until the beginning of next Advent will come mostly from the Evangelist Mark. Though the Gospel according to Mark is the second book of the New Testament, Scripture scholars believe that it is the oldest of all the Gospel narratives. It was believed to have been written around 65 AD—15 years before Matthew’s Gospel account and twenty years before Luke’s Gospel account. Both Matthew and Luke are believed to have used Mark’s Gospel as a source for their own narratives.
Mark wrote at a time when believers were experiencing hardship and persecution for their Christian faith. Fearing martyrdom, they questioned the need to die for their belief in Jesus. Mark’s Gospel account, with its emphasis on a suffering Jesus, is his response. He taught his audience that, although Jesus is the Son of God, Jesus experienced rejection and persecution but through it all remained faithful to God—accepting the inevitability of the Cross. For example, in Mark’s narrative, Jesus tries to tell the disciples the kind of Messiah he is by saying, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.” (Mark 8:31) Mark’s audience must do the same--rather than fearing their persecutors, they are to remain faithful as Jesus remained faithful. They are to embrace the cross, and, like Jesus, pass through death to eternal life.
Though Mark’s Gospel account may be the oldest, it seems timely for us today who have witnessed the horrors of those throughout the world who are persecuted for their religious beliefs. Let us pray with them this Advent for the courage to embrace and to witness to their faith—no matter the cost.