s073g99 Somerton Park St Mark 25/4/99

"Later (the risen Jesus) appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen." (Mark 16:14).

The concept of authorship that we have is far more restricted than the ancient writers. Today as we celebrate the perceptions Mark brings to our own appreciation of the faith, it is helpful to begin by saying that actually we are unsure, how much of "Mark's gospel" is actually his own words. Indeed we are unsure that Mark actually wrote the words at all, or even put them together. We do not have the original manuscript that the author of these words used. We have copies and translations, which do not mention that Mark actually was the author. The copies are anonymous, because the subject of the writing was far more important - Jesus himself. It is later scholarship which ascribes the words to Mark.

As we read the passage for the gospel reading for today, we can see a good deal of evidence of the work of a number of hands in the 15 verses. For it seems incredible that the same hand could write: "Afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation" (Mark 16:8) - then go on to say that the disciples did not believe the report of Mary Magdalene (11), another two walking in the country (12) and perhaps even their own eyes (14).

The Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, were compiled by collating oral reports of events of times past into written form. Care was taken to do this in such a manner that the distinctive character of each of the strands was not lost. So we have four gospel accounts - not just one. And the early chapters of the Old Testament are a weaving together of three stories of the patriarchs in such a way as to preserve each, yet also in an attempt to put each side by side in a semi-continuous narrative.

So perhaps Mark was the custodian of a particular set of stories which later became the gospel which bears his name, or perhaps he did the final putting together of preexisting stories into the continuous narrative. So Mark, or the person who put these verses together, put side by side different stories of the appearances of the risen Jesus, so that none would be lost. Each perception had something else to add to the story. If a perception was omitted - the whole story became less than complete. Of course each differing perception was different. If they weren't different in some way, there would be no point in including them.

I believe that it is here that we find the authority and inspiration of sacred scripture - not that every word is literally true - but how it puts together different perceptions of reality and invites us to benefit from both the consistencies and the inconsistencies found there. How wonderful it would be if we treated the perceptions of people we met in like manner!

Of Mark himself it seems we know little. Col 4.10 says he was the cousin of Barnabas.

It is sometimes thought that Mark was the young man who ran away naked after Jesus was arrested - certainly such an incident would have stayed in the mind of the person himself, and perhaps it was a small indulgence to his ego to include this personal reference, albeit still anonymously.

However there was another anonymous man with a similar extravagant disposition who earlier found himself leaving Jesus. This was the rich young ruler, whose conversation with Jesus so startled the other disciples that the incident is recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke. It was the significant incident which prompted the disciples to despair that anyone would be saved. It is Mark alone who records that "Jesus looking upon him loved him" and it seems to me that the person most likely to note this look of love was the person Jesus looked at in love - Mark himself.

This however is not a popular identification, for the story is, I suspect, subconsciously used to relieve us of our fears when some do not respond to what we offer. We can say to ourselves - well the same thing happened to Jesus - people in his time were not able to respond to the "challenges of the gospel".

This is to neglect that Jesus didn't just offer challenges - indeed first and foremost he offered love. When love is offered, which accepts people for what they are, people may indeed return, as perhaps Mark did in his own good time. But no one will ever return if we, as the Church, simply offer challenges to people. They may indeed initially take up our challenge, but then if they find no recognition and love, look elsewhere - and with a considerable amount of justification. In fact I doubt Jesus ever offered challenges to anyone.

True, if the naked young man is also Mark, he again fled at the arrest of Jesus, but again he came back. Indeed if the story we are told in Acts refers to the same person we find Mark working with Barnabas and Saul (12.25) but later not continuing with them (13.13). Paul was put out and refused to have him assist again. This caused a split between Paul and Barnabas, who actually had originally brought Paul to be accepted among the first apostles. But Col 4.10 says that Mark was at Rome with Paul, and 1 Pet 5.13 says Mark was also one of the companions of Peter.

So if these are one and the same we find a person who was zealous in his devotion, someone who responded to love, albeit in his own time frame. Sometimes he found the going tough, like at the arrest of Jesus, yet he was no orphan there. We find him still prepared to assist quietly in the background, but still he was his own man. Later we find him the author of the first of the gospel accounts of Jesus.

So when we look at this person in total, we in fact have a lot to be thankful to this unassuming character. Mark is "one of the stayers" amongst the lot of them, and so he provides a useful antidote to the unrealistic enthusiasm expressed in that verse in the Psalms: "I hate the sin of backsliders; it shall get no hold on me." (Ps 101:4 APBA translation).

We expect much of ourselves if we burden ourselves with unrealistic expectations, and we expect much of others if we burden them with our unrealistic expectations too.

We like everyone else, respond not to challenges but to love - love which we must see with our own eyes. It has to be a love which copes with our own faults and foibles, otherwise it is hardly love at all. Jesus saw beyond Mark's faults and foibles, to the stayer beneath, and so a stayer he turned out to be.

And Jesus sees us with the same eyes, beyond our faults and foibles, to the beautiful person beneath. As I have been reading more of Anthony Campbell's articles in "Eureka Street" I was struck, as he was, by being told by another: "If you really believed in God's passionate love, you'd realise that God loves enough to create the entire universe just for you". (April 1999 p46.)

It is at this point I would come back to my text for today and the words of the risen Jesus to the unbelieving disciples: "Later (the risen Jesus) appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen." The "lack of faith and stubbornness" we realise is a lack of faith in a God who loves us this completely - who loves us with all our faults and foibles - and who loves others with all their faults and foibles too. Anthony Campbell continues "Possibly no century has faced human ugliness as ours has ('an unequalled sum of death, misery and degradation", Norman Davies)- and yet we may still be able to recognise ourselves as lovable."

Jesus loved the "backslider" Mark; indeed somewhere deep in our human nature, the rebel in us all, rebels precisely to ascertain how much this other loves us. It is sad that it is us that this hurts, and how much of this hurt Jesus takes upon himself willingly on the Cross.

Will the risen Christ conquer the stubbornness of our hearts today with this message of love, for us, just as we are - and for all, just as they are?

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