The Gospel of Mark has been described as “a Passion Narrative with a long introduction”. The cross casts its shadow over this account of Jesus’ life and ministry.
At the beginning of the story, we hear of the violent treatment and unjust execution of John the Baptist and the growing hostility towards Jesus, which reaches its climax in the plot of the religious and political leaders to do away with him. Jesus predicts his death three times, but the disciples do not understand. Discipleship is presented as taking up the cross and following Jesus, later illustrated by Simon of Cyrene.
It is a feature of Mark’s Gospel that no one understands who Jesus really is. Jesus does not accept Peter’s confession that he is the Christ, as this is, presumably, founded on Jesus performing miracles. This is corrected at once by the first prediction of the passion. One of Jesus’ inner circle arranges to hand him over to the hostile religious authorities. Jesus accepts his fate as the fulfilment of the scriptures after his struggle in Gethsemane, during which he receives no answer from God.
A distinctive feature of Mark’s account is the mention of the young man who “follows at a distance” and runs off naked when Jesus is arrested and all his disciples abandon him. This would-be disciple does not give up everything to follow Jesus, but rather leaves everything behind in order to escape.
Mark’s depiction of the crucifixion is unremittingly bleak: there is no hint of sympathy from any quarter. Even those crucified with him taunt him along with the passers-by. Jesus is abandoned by everyone – including, it seems, by God. His cry from the cross is one of despair. But at the moment of his death comes God’s answer, the tearing of the Temple veil which separated the divine presence from the people. Now Jesus will be the focus
of God’s presence for Jew and Gentile. It is at this point, when there can be no further misunderstanding, that the Gentile centurion accurately proclaims Jesus as “the Son of God”. It is the cross, not the miracles, which reveals Jesus’ true identity.
We must read each Gospel version according to the viewpoint of the individual evangelist. We may find the idea of Jesus apparently despairing on the cross uncomfortable, but that is precisely the reason why we should
think about it more deeply. If we believe that Jesus was truly human, we should read Mark’s account without importing elements from the other evangelists which soften the picture.
Mark tells us that Jesus experienced being totally abandoned, which may well help some of us who feel that way; that, in Jesus, God has experienced this feeling and so can understand our situation.
We notice that Mark mentions the women from Galilee who witness the crucifixion and includes by name Mary Magdalene as they observe where Jesus is buried. This prepares the way for the events of Easter morning. The
cross and Calvary are not the end of Jesus’ story.
Mark’s presentation of the passion of Jesus is very bleak, suggesting that Jesus is totally abandoned and has to suffer alone.
The cross dominates the Gospel according to Mark.
Each evangelist has his own understanding of who Jesus is: we should read each account according to the appropriate point of view.
Take your palm in your hand. Reflect on the change in the attitude of the crowd from Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and their calling for his death a few days later. Do you see a similar manipulation of people today?
My God, my God,why have you deserted me?
Mark 15:34/ Psalm 21:1