(I was ready with this post early, and then forgot to post it! Go figure.)
On this day the Church remembers with joy the work of St. Mark and the Gospel that bears his name. There are several references to a Mark in the New Testament, and if they are all the same person, he was indeed a busy person, accompanying Paul and Silas on their travels. From Lesser Feasts and Fasts:
"An early tradition recorded by Papias, Bishop of Hieropolis in Asia Minor at the beginning of the second century, names Mark as the author of the Gospel bearing his name. This tradition, which holds that Mark drew his information from the teaching of Peter, is generally accepted. In his First Letter, Peter refers to “my son Mark,” which shows a close relationship between the two men (1 Peter 5:13). The Church of Alexandria in Egypt claimed Mark as its first bishop and most illustrious martyr, and the great Church of St. Mark in Venice commemorates the disciple who progressed from turning back while on a missionary journey with Paul and Barnabas to proclaiming in his Gospel Jesus of Nazareth as Son of God, and bearing witness to that faith in his later life as friend and companion to the apostles Peter and Paul."
Although Mark is the second Gospel in the New Testament, it mostly likely was the first one written, that is, written down. It's believe that both Matthew and Luke had copies of Mark when they wrote their own Gospels, along with other sources as well. There's all sorts of data and analysis regarding this "two-source" hypothesis that goes a long way to explain various inconsistencies and differences in detail. It's interesting to know, but in the end I am always struck by the faith of the Gospellers, who took it upon themselves, in a time when writing was relatively rare, to record the sacred story of Jesus for others to know too. Even though some of Paul's writings probably predate Mark, it's Mark and the other Gospels that we get our primary understanding of Jesus and his life, death, and resurrection.
If you have an hour (and that's all you will need!), the best way to honor Mark is to read his Gospel, start to finish. It's the shortest and in some ways has the most punch. Since there isn't a lot of teaching in this gospel, and only a few parables, see if you can discover what Mark is saying about Jesus by how he portrays the Lord and his work. And feel free to comment back here - I'd love to hear what you find!
Almighty God, who by the hand of Mark the evangelist have given to your Church the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God: We thank you for this witness, and pray that we may be firmly grounded in its truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.