It's impossible to understand an evangelist's message if we're familiar with his Gospel only through the "hunks" we hear during our weekend liturgies. We rarely hear the Gospel as the author intended it to be heard.

On Sunday, for instance, we go back to the beginning of chapter 1 of Mark after having progressed methodically to chapter 3 since January. Next Sunday, we'll listen to a passage from chapter 9, then put Mark into cold storage until June 25 when we'll hear parts of chapter 14, skip back to chapter 5 on July 2, have three chapter 6 segments, then on July 30 listen to one reading from John 6, return to Mark 9 the next week, pick up the remainder of John 6 on the following three Sundays, then, on Sept. l0 finally start Mark 7.

Imagine the story line we'd conjure up for "Gone With the Wind" if we solely experienced it the way we experience gospels: in non-consecutive hunks.


Individual passages of Scripture convey their author's message only when we hear them in the context in which the author originally placed them. No biblical writer would have permitted his or her work to be chopped up into the disconnected liturgical passages in which it's almost always encountered.

That's why it's essential to recognize that Mark puts Sunday's Gospel (Mk 1:12-15) immediately after Jesus' Baptism. The evangelist is telling everyone in his community what to expect after they, like Jesus, discover the mission God has designated for them.

Mark believes that those who recognize and respond to a call from God will go through a "desert experience:" a time in which they'll both experience being alone and undergo multiple temptations to reject the call. Yet Mark assures us God is caring for us even in those moments when we can't see beyond the "wild beasts" in our lives.

It's only after such a life-changing experience that we begin to look at everything from a new perspective. What we once thought would happen in the distant future is now happening all around us. We begin to see signs of God's presence right here and now. God is working in our lives, as close to us as our hands are to our bodies.

Though easily overlooked, one of the signs of God's presence which Mark's Jesus must deal with is John the Baptizer's arrest. It's not by chance that the carpenter from Nazareth begins His prophetic ministry immediately after the most important prophet in His life is stopped from ministering. An event which before His conversion simply would have been something to talk about during His day at the shop, now, after His conversion, becomes something which changes Jesus' entire life.

God's presence

Our biblical authors presume their readers always will be able to see signs of God's presence around them. The author of the first reading (Gen 9:8-15) for instance, encourages his community to recognize God's care and protection which extends beyond Judaism. "All living beings" are tied into God's love.

In the same way, the author of I Peter reinterprets familiar texts form the Hebrew Scriptures in the transforming light of Jesus' death and resurrection (I Pt 3:18-22). Here, he sees traces of Jesus' love and Christian baptism in the great flood, an event which most people thought was over and done with thousands of years before.

The author is to be commended for his insights into the importance of his personal experience of Jesus' care and his baptismal response to it.

Perhaps we never notice such signs in our lives because we refuse to go through the desert experience which makes those signs evident. (03-09-00)