Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Book Review: The Gospel of Mark by Mary Healy

The Gospel of Mark by Mary Healy

The gospel written by the evangelist Mark is probably the least regarded of all the gospels. The style is very straightforward. The text is very brief (it's the shortest of the gospels). the content is covered mostly in the other synoptic gospels. But Mark's Gospel became part of the canon of sacred scriptures for a reason. There's more depth, theology, and literary style than is immediately obvious. Mary Healy's commentary (part of the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series) demonstrates this richness. The book has a brief introduction and then goes through the gospel in little chunks, providing commentary from a Catholic perspective.

Many of the details of events had new light shed on them for me. For example, I knew the feeding of 5000 (Mark, chapter 6) resulting in 12 baskets of leftovers was symbolic of the 12 tribes of Israel. But the second miraculous feeding (Mark, chapter 8) had only 7 baskets. It happened in gentile country, so did they just get a lesser miracle? The true significance is this: the number represents the 7 foreign nations, so the gentiles would also share in the eucharistic future of Christ's church. Lots of insights like this are sprinkled throughout the commentary.

Another interesting part of Mark's style is nesting stories within other stories. There's the cryptic incident of the fruitless fig tree in chapter 11. Jesus goes to get a snack from a roadside fig tree. It has no fruit and He curses it. Jesus continues on to Jerusalem where He cleanses the temple of money changers and dove merchants (doves were used in temple sacrifices). The next day they walk past the fig tree again and Peter remarks how it is withered. Jesus replies that God will listen to our prayers and even if we pray that a mountain be lifted into the sea, it will be done. The greater meaning is that the fig tree represents the temple worship, which has become corrupt and fruitless and is about to end. Jesus emphasizes the importance of faith in prayer and fostering a close relationship, a loving relationship, with God.

The book also has a few call outs of featuring historical, biblical, and Christian elements that are part of the story of the Gospel. For example, Pilate and Herod are both given short biographies. The author describes of the importance of the Temple to Jewish life. Church teachings on the sacraments and on the nature of Hell are also given.

This book is a great, readable commentary on Mark's gospel full of many wonderful insights. I highly recommend it.

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