Because of Jesus’ obedience to the Father’s will, Christians can live with courage and hope. This is a point that Mark makes for his own audience in this week’s Gospel passage, and this is a reality we continue to experience today.
‘Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.’ Mk 14:36
How strong is your prayer in moments of turmoil?
How deep is your trust in God’s promises?
Similarities among the four Gospels suggest that the account of Jesus’ passion had already taken on a set form before Mark wrote it down. A comparison with the other Gospels shows that Mark packs his account with details that other evangelists smooth over or omit. The man carrying a water jar, the hymns after the dinner, the young man who leaves his clothes behind to get away, and the names of Simon’s young sons are just some of the rich details of Mark’s passion narrative. These give his Gospel an immediacy that readers throughout the centuries have found engaging.
Mark works very hard throughout his Gospel to demonstrate that Jesus is the Son of God and that Jesus’ death was a real event. It is possible that the audience for whom he was writing needed to be reminded that both these points were true. They were a community suffering through a very difficult time. The Mediterranean world was rocked by unrest and insurrection. Closer to home, the Jewish nation—from which many of Mark’s community had come—had risen up against the Romans and suffered a vicious defeat. At the same time, local persecutions broke out against “foreign” groups, of which Christianity was one. This turmoil inspired Mark’s theological reflection: Just as Jesus’ divine nature did not prevent his passion and death, so now the church, God’s own people, experienced anguish and travail.
Mark’s passion account is thus a map for Christians facing distress. Jesus prayed at every point; he even quoted from the psalms while he hung on the cross. He offered no resistance to his persecutors and was vindicated by Pilate and the centurion (although neither took any action to save him from his fate). Instead of fighting his accusers, Jesus turned the whole matter over to his Father and accepted in obedience whatever outcome befell him. Jesus’ obedience was so perfect that he continued to trust even as his own lips accused God of abandoning him. Remaining in tune with the Father’s will, even when it seemed absurd, brought Jesus to the resurrection. In today’s Gospel reading, Mark encourages Christians to follow Jesus in the same faith. Because of Jesus’ perfect obedience, Christians know how to face persecution and have the divine strength to do it.
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ obedience is a matter of cosmic significance that represents a change in human nature. Faith in God’s promises gave Jesus the strength to overcome his own will, accept the cross and reveal the resurrection. Just so, Christians of every age, living with this new strength, can face the turmoil in their own lives with trust in God’s love. If today’s Gospel gives us any call to discipleship, it is to hold fast in prayer and to trust in God so that we can brave hostility and turmoil for the good of others. Through us, Jesus’ death can bring all to new life.