In his homily for the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary time, Father Francisco related how Evangelism was no new idea to the first century Christians. The grammarians also engaged in missionary activity. Matthew 23:15 relates Jesus’ comments to the grammarians of his day, “You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna…” As with the heavy-handed politics of Jesus’ day, many people today lament the politics within our Diocese of Reno. It is here. It has always been here. We read the following quotes from the Acts and the Epistles:
“When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face…” Galatians 2:11-13 “Paul told Barnabas, “Let us make a return…” Barnabas wanted to take with them John, called Mark, but Paul insisted they should not take someone who had deserted them… So sharp was their disagreement, they separated. Acts 15:36-40
In both instances, we read of church politics, division between Peter/Cephas, division between St. Paul and Barnabas. St. Paul is upset with the writer of our Gospel of Mark. St. Peter, St. Paul, and Barnabas, Bar Navy, Son of the Prophet are all strong willed men who disagreed on important things. They disagreed on how non-Jews, and sometimes each other, fit into the new Christian community. They disagreed on the how to of missionary activity.
St. Mark brings us back to the basics, “This is the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” He ends his Gospel, in the short version Mark 16:8: “They said nothing to anyone.” St. Peter dropped the ball, denying Jesus three times. Mary Magdalene… seeing the risen Jesus, also drop the ball. When St. Mark writes, “This is the beginning of the Gospel,” he does not refer to the quote from Isaiah, which begins the next verse of Mark 1, but to the entire Gospel.
Acts 1 quotes St. Peter as saying of the apostles, “It is necessary that one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Master Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to his resurrection.”
St. Mark causes us to relive in present time the life of Jesus from the baptism of John until his ascension. This follows the Semitic style of Deuteronomy 5:2-3. Each generation relives the event in present time. We are the witnesses to his resurrection, called to be apostles. When we hear the Gospels and partake of the Eucharist, as Father Francisco related in his homily, we relive the word of God in present time. We are unlike the Jewish fathers, who strain the gnat and swallow the camel, and who tithe of mint, dill, and cummin, and neglect the weightier things of the law: charity, mercy and fidelity.
This should not be taken in any way as a criticism of the Tannaitic fathers of the first century. Both Father Nahoe and this author are highly dependent upon the positive writings of these same first century Jewish scholars for our positive understanding of what it meant to be a first century Jew and a first century early Christian. It is rather to point out that we and our fathers are in so many ways like them. We are both human and subject to the same kinds of mistakes. We must constantly be looking for those mistakes in ourselves, learning and growing.
We strive to do better than those who came before us, who as admirable as they are, are human beings. We hope our descendents will do the same. St. Mark’s appeal for us is to a fresh start, reliving and proclaiming the Gospel by how we live.