The Gospel of Mark was likely written in Rome in the late 60s, early 70s CE, and is thought to be the earliest of the four Gospels. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke both draw from Mark. While the author is not identified in the book, traditional belief is that the author is John Mark, whom we read about in Acts. He was a follower of Peter and became his interpreter or translator. He was also a companion to Paul and Barnabas. The Gospel of Mark is divided into two sections. Part one outlines Jesus’ ministry of healing and preaching in Galilee, and part two predicts suffering and tells the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Mark is an energetic book that weaves together multiple stories of conflict, discipleship, and hope.
The beginning of Mark sets the stage for Jesus’ ministry of teaching and healing in Galilee. It points us to the Old Testament, quoting Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3, and suggests a new Exodus with imagery of the wilderness and John the Baptist “[preparing] the way of the Lord.” After Jesus is baptized and then tempted by Satan in the wilderness, we come to our Scripture focus, Mark 1:14-15. Verse 14 tells us that Jesus came to Galilee after John was arrested. This indicates the gloomy condition in which Jesus begins his ministry and shows us that the path forward is not without obstacles. However, in verse 15 Jesus proclaims the kingdom of God. Amidst challenges, we can still hold on to the hope we have in Jesus.
The past year has been a time of obstacles for all of us. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone in one way or another. We have all had to figure out new ways of carrying out our daily activities. Some have had to make adjustments for jobs or school, while others have experienced devastating loss. What has been common for all of us is that we have been grieving. For many people, this grief came early on with loss of jobs, loss of community, or loss of normalcy. I was fortunate enough to be able to continue working, and I have a strong community at work.
While my life certainly changed and I had various challenges throughout the pandemic, the full brunt of my grief was a bit delayed because of my particular circumstances. Months into the pandemic I was watching a cooking show that had been filmed a year earlier. The episode featured the chef cooking a meal she would serve to friends and family at a garden party. At the end of the episode, when everyone sat down together, unmasked and happily sharing a meal, blissfully unaware of how their lives would change in a few months, I began to cry. Hosting people in my home is something that brings me great joy and fulfillment. I used to do this on a regular basis, and I truly miss cooking and serving meals to people in my home. My husband and I used that time to connect with people we already knew and loved and as a way to invite new people into our lives. This way of being in relationship with others is a loss I have experienced this year, and it is important that I acknowledge my grief, even if it may seem less severe than what others have encountered.
Our scripture focus, and the book of Mark as a whole, does not gloss over suffering. The passage shows us that though trials were a part of Jesus’ life and ministry, he and his followers continued to work toward restoration and fulfillment of God’s promises. We join together with them in this work. Amidst challenging times in our lives, we can push forward toward the kingdom of God. Jesus points us to the hope we have in the good news. When it feels difficult to hold onto this hope, we can lean on Jesus and trust that he understands our struggles.
As you and your students reflect on this passage together, help them think about the ways both suffering and hope play a role in our lives. Invite them to consider how they can be a part of God’s redemptive work. What are some ways they can do this moving forward and what are some ways they have already been doing this over the past year? In the coming months, how can we hold on to hope together?
Haley Seanor serves as a hospital and hospice chaplain in Birmingham, Alabama. She feels blessed and humbled for the opportunity to walk alongside others in this role. Haley was a contributor for the book Reading the Bible Outdoors: The Practice of Lectio Sub Divo, A Devotional Guide.