Scripture allows us to encounter the living Jesus

Father John A. Kiley

The Gospel according to St. Mark is traditionally considered to be the oldest of the four canonical Gospel accounts.

Older narratives of the life and teachings of Jesus are thought to have been in circulation within the Christian community and perhaps some of their content survives in the four inspired versions of the good news. While St. Mark might have been able to draw his chronicle about Jesus from a number of sources, the preaching and recollections of St. Peter are the words most likely reflected throughout the Marcan text. St. Mark was possibly an older teenager at the time of Christ's death, witnessing Jesus' final hours first hand. His mother might have been an active disciple of Jesus. She is alleged to have been the owner of the upper room in which the Last Supper was enjoyed. St. Mark was an aide to St. Paul early in the Pauline missionary campaigns and then this evangelist became an assistant to St. Peter. Both St. Paul and St. Peter mention St. Mark by name in their writings. And while St. Mark no doubt used several sources to produce his final Gospel text, he carefully and undeniably includes the first hand reminiscences that St. Peter shared with St. Mark and his audiences in Palestine and in Rome. This coming Sunday's double-miracle Gospel has all the marks of a first hand, eye witness account.

All three synoptic Gospel accounts feature the dual incidents of the cure of the older woman and the raising of the young girl. St. Matthew uses only eight verses to offer his respectful but colorless version of events. The father is simply an official; the daughter is not named; the witness of the miracle by Peter, James and John is not included; there is no final instruction about food. St. Luke makes up for these omissions in his 15-verse description. He improves on St. Matthew by including the official's name, Jairus; his fuller status, synagogue official; the girl's age, 12 years-old; the inclusion of Peter, James and John at the girl's bedside; and Christ's thoughtful recommendation that the resurrected girl be given something to eat.

Nonetheless, St. Mark greatly outdoes his fellow sacred authors by detailing even more explicitly this day of healing and revivifying on the part of Jesus. St. Mark includes the actual dialogue that occurred between Jesus and the helpless father. Next St. Mark frankly notes that the woman with the flow of blood "had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors" and "was not helped but only grew worse." St. Luke, who was possibly a physician, was more circumspect in his analysis of ancient medicine. St. Mark touchingly and impressively includes the very life-restoring words of Christ to the little girl in their original Aramaic, "Talitha koum," no doubt etched into the memory of eye-witness Peter who happily recalled them whenever he shared his memory of this miraculous occurrence. And while St. Luke simply wrote that the little girl arose, St. Mark carefully insists that she got up "and walked around."

St. Mark's Gospel account is one-third shorter than the versions of either St. Matthew or St. Luke. Yet this briefest of evangelists is zealous to include every recollected detail that his mentor St. Peter and other first generation witnesses shared with him and the faithful over the decades. The Gospel accounts, like Jesus himself, are rooted in history. The Hebrew and Christian Scriptures are not merely fables or allegories that convey worthy morals and propose sensible guidelines for a productive life. Christianity is not primarily a myth, no matter how nobly that word might be intended. It is not simply a framework through which one safely arrives at eternity. The Gospels, the Scriptures, Christianity itself, are the vibrant and effective word of God intended to put the believer in touch with the living Jesus Christ, just as near and as real in his risen body as he was in the flesh. The Gospels, thoughtfully and prayerfully heeded, introduce the listener to Jesus himself made ever more real by the specifics and particulars recalled by those who originally knew and followed him.

Jesus entered world history once at the Incarnation; he continues to enter men's personal histories daily through the language and expressions of Scripture.