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Seton Hall University

Inside the Core this Week: Gospel of Mark  

Inside Core I this week, most classes are beginning the Gospel of Mark, following the church's liturgical calendar for this year. The beginning of this gospel, which my class covered this week, jumps right into the action of the ministry of Jesus. Mark, writing the shortest gospel, includes no infancy narrative, as do Matthew and Luke. Instead he begins with the preaching of John the Baptist, moving quickly to the baptism of Jesus and then some important miracles and teaching of Jesus. The third chapter, the last of those we covered this week, includes the calling of Levi(Matthew), the tax collector, an important event included in the other synoptic gospels as well.

The statue Lion of Saint Mark in Venice, Italy.

The statue Lion of Saint Mark in Venice, Italy. 

In my class we use art to introduce this gospel, focusing on three images. The first is the Lion of St. Mark, in Venice. Why is Mark associated with a lion? We talked about how traditionally this gospel is thought to focus on the kingship of Jesus and also the reference in Genesis 49 to the "lion of the tribe of Judah," an ancestor of Jesus. We also talked about the reference to the four beasts in revelation- the lion, ox, man, and eagle - traditionally linked to the four gospels (Mark, Luke, Matthew, and John, respectively). Though none of these interpretations may be considered definitive, they invite interesting discussion about meaning and connections among texts and even the work of art (the ancient lion on the pillar in Venice).

Giotto's Baptism of Jesus in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua

Giotto's Baptism of Jesus in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua.

The second image we looked at is Giotto's Baptism of Jesus in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. This beautiful and evocative image shows Jesus half submerged in water, the Baptist standing next to him, and others watching. We talked about the significance of baptism, in the Jewish world that Jesus was born into -- how it was not a Christian invention, but a rite of purification among Jews, such as John the Baptist. We also discussed the change in meaning in terms of baptism being a new birth. John suggests this change when he says of Jesus,"I baptize you with water but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

Painting of the Calling of Saint Mark.

The Calling of Saint Matthew.

Finally, we looked at Caravaggio's depiction of the Calling of St. Matthew. Though the tax collector is called Levi in Mark's Gospel, clearly it is the same incident. Jesus stands at the door of the darkened room in which Levi/Matthew is practicing his trade as a tax collector. He points, gently, toward him, as the future apostle points to himself as if to say, "you are calling me?" Peter stands next to Jesus, echoing the gesture of pointing, as if he is learning the mercy extended to the tax collector, slowly but surely imitating the Master. My students commented on how the hand of Jesus resembles that of Adam in the Sistine Chapel, and that this may signify how Jesus is called "the New Adam," elsewhere in Scripture. These were really good and insightful comments on this very interesting work. Levi leaves his tax collector's booth and follows Jesus, a true Journey of Transformation.

Categories: Faith and Service

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