Sunday, April 25, 2010

Good Shepherd Sunday - A Word about St. Mark, the Evangelist

Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year "C") – April 25, 2010 THE CHRISTIAN'S VOCATION IS TO SHARE CHRIST'S VICTORY [Texts: Acts 13:14,43-52 [Psalm 100]; Revelation 7:9,14b-17; John 10:27-30]

Known as Good Shepherd Sunday, since the gospel is always taken from the tenth chapter of St. John, for 47 years now the Fourth Sunday of Easter has been designated by the Church as a day of prayer for religious vocations.

Conversing with God, listening to Jesus, is central to discipleship, to following the Lord. Jesus speaks of this intimate relationship when he notes that, 'My sheep hear my voice, and they follow Me'. The fellowship Jesus shares with His followers leads Him to promise they will not be lost. One day they will share His victory, participating fully in the risen life He now lives with God: 'I give them eternal life, and they will never perish'.

When Jesus says that He and the Father 'are one', He means they have a single purpose. He and the Father are united in the work they do. God gives life, so does Jesus (John 5:21; 10:28). God judges; Jesus also judges (5:22; 9:39).

In the rich period of theological reflection, that lasted from the second to the fourth centuries, Christological and Trinitarian controversies led the Church to conclude from this and similar scriptural passages to Jesus' participation in the godhead.

The seventh chapter of Revelation speaks of those who participate in the conquest of Christ, 'the Lamb'. The palm branches in their hands represent victory. And their triumph is evoked by a vivid mixed metaphor, 'they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb'.

In this chapter of Revelation, the completeness of Christ's achievement is symbolized numerically, using two perfect numbers: 7 and 12 (the first being the sum of, and the latter the multiple of, the positive numbers 3 and 4) and the number 1000 for fullness. Thus the number of the elect of Israel is 144,000 (12 times the 12 tribes, times a thousand), not a literal number but representative of all God's chosen people.

Those saved from the Gentiles are so great in number that they cannot be computed by any human being: 'a great multitude that no one could count from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages'. God's saving designs touch all humanity.

Finally, God's salvation is seven-fold, full and complete: God shelters them with His presence; they will hunger no more; they will not be thirsty; the sun shall not strike them nor any scorching heat; the Lamb will be their shepherd; He will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe every tear from their eye.

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The Feast of St. Mark on April 25 is not observed this year because it falls on the Lord's Day. However, Mark's Good News because of its energy and enthusiasm speaks to every age:

St. Mark the Pastor

Just as there is uncertainty about the precise identity of Mark – whether he was in fact the person whom Peter in his letter referred to as his ‘son’, whether he was the John Mark who accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their missionary travels – there is also uncertainty about the purpose and circumstances of this gospel.

But it may well have had its origin in Rome in the time of Nero in his later years (AD 68). We know from the Roman historian Tacitus that the Christians there were under grave threat from the Roman authorities who were blaming them for a great fire that had recently devastated the city.

Many, unjustly accused, paid with their lives. Others denied that they were Christians and apostasised. It was dangerous to be a Christian in those days. Mark was writing for such people. The Jesus whom they professed to follow was one who had willingly walked to Jerusalem, the city of his enemies where he knew he faced death. His disciples had struggled in many ways unsuccessfully to remain faithful to their calling but Jesus, despite their failings, summoned them to meet him again in Galilee.

Thanks to Mark, memories and traditions were repeated of ‘little people’ who had said or done something that in turn instructed and encouraged the ‘little people’ of that small group of Christians in Rome. What Mark wrote has a call on our attention today.

As we read it or listen to his words, we can join ourselves in spirit and imagination with that group of poor Christians in Rome centuries ago. We know that like the seed in Jesus’s parable that was sown in good soil, it can produce a hundred fold (4:20).

As the shortest of the gospels, it might seem as insignificant as the mustard seed described in another parable of Jesus, but it can become a great tree in whose branches we can all find shelter (4:32). We celebrate it every year on April 25.

Cf. the rest of the treatment of Mark by Father Edmonds, S.J. at

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Fifteen Years of Episcopacy

Ottawa, February 2009

Today is the anniversary of my episcopal ordination on the feast of St. Mark, 1995. Some days that moment seems like just yesterday, at other times it feels like a lifetime ago. I give thanks to the Lord for this call to serve in the apostolic succession, first as auxiliary bishop in Toronto (1995-1998), then as archbishop of Halifax (1998-2007) and administrator bishop of Yarmouth (2002-2007) and, since 2007, in this wonderful Church of Ottawa.

Toronto, April 1995

In this decade and a half there have been moments of light and joy as well as experiences of darkness and desolation. They have not been unlike the experiences of the disciples in the Gospel of Mark, which was the subject of my thesis and one of the reasons I chose his feast day for my consecration.

Throughout the Gospel of Mark, the disciples seem to be lacking in insight, uncomprehending, even “hard of heart”. They desert or betray Jesus in his Passion and there seems to be no hope for them.

And yet, Jesus always invites them to “be with him and to be sent out on the mission” of preaching and healing (3:13-15). As well, when they misunderstand, he still urges them to “come” with him (1:38; 14:42) as he leads them through suffering and the “gift of his life as a ransom for many” (10:32-34, 45) and “goes ahead” to Galilee, the place of reconciliation and new beginnings (16:7).

The original gospel likely ended at 16:8, though other interpretations are possible. This means Mark did not conclude his gospel with resurrection encounters, though later traditions supplied them (see the various conclusions to Mark in your New Testament, especially 16:9-20).

But meetings with the Risen Lord—and all that we can imagine took place in them—are the presupposition of the life of faith and of each believer’s call to follow Christ Jesus.

May spiritual renewal and restoration be ours and strengthen us at this time. May it also inspire us clergy to work for the healing of all who in any way have been hurt by priests and bishops and help all to find the spiritual resources we need for ourselves and all God’s people at this time.


  1. Happy Anniversary your Grace! May the One True Shepherd always guide you to be ONE with him.


  2. Congratulations, Your Grace, for your 15 years of service to the Church as a successor of the Apostles! I will keep you in my prayers in a special way today.

    Ad multos annos!

  3. Happy anniversary! I appreciated reading these timely reflections on Mark's Gospel--thank you.

  4. Congratulations, Your grace on the 15th anniversary of your episcopal ordination. May the Lord continue directing your ways in the work ahead.

    Ad Multos Annos!

  5. As a sort of celebratory present, I welcome you to read my work on the ending of the Gospel of Mark -- in which it may interest you to know that I offer a defense of the authenticity of 16:9-20, the "Longer Ending" -- at and I would be glad to send you the extensive research paper about it; there is an e-mail link at the online presentation.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.
    Minister, Curtisville Christian Church
    Indiana (USA)