Perhaps today is the first time you have read an entire gospel in a single sitting. It’s a great project to undertake and Mark is the perfect gospel for doing it. His is the shortest of the four gospels and is propelled along by a sense of urgency. In fact, in the New Revised Standard translation, the word immediately occurs twenty-seven times in this gospel. When it comes to the excitement surrounding Jesus, there is hardly time to catch your breath between episodes.
You probably noticed quite a few similarities today to passages you read the last three days in Matthew. The first three gospels in the New Testament are sometimes referred to as the synoptic gospels–“syn” = alike and “optic” = to see. Matthew, Mark, and Luke often see things very similarly in telling the story of Jesus. Mark is generally regarded as the oldest of the three, and many scholars concur that both Matthew and Luke had access to Mark or some previous source when they composed their gospels. One striking difference of Mark’s account from the other two is that there is no mention of Jesus as a baby.
Perhaps it is Mark’s eagerness to tell the story of Jesus’ ministry that makes it unnecessary for him to bother with a birth narrative. When the curtain opens in Mark 1, we are already down by the river with John the Baptist with Jesus on his way to be baptized. In the oldest manuscripts available to us, the gospel ends almost as abruptly as it begins. There are no nostalgic reunions with the disciples or post-resurrection speeches. Instead, the last sighting of Jesus is at his last breath, prompting a Roman soldier’s profession of faith (“Truly this man was God’s Son!”). As the curtain closes on the gospel, it is as if Mark passes the sense of urgency on to the reader–will we believe what we have just heard? And will we share it, too?