As we move once again into Ordinary Time (so named because of the use of ordinal numbers to mark its passage), the first Scriptures we will encounter are the Gospel of St. Mark and the Letter to the Hebrews. Both of these books of the Christian Scriptures were addressed primarily to the Christian community in Rome. The Gospel of St. Mark was written to the Christian communities and is considered by some Scripture scholars as the product of the preaching of St. Peter. The scribe we now know as St. Mark was most probably St. Peter’s companion and fellow disciple. The Letter to the Hebrews is written to the Jewish-Christian community of Rome. Its author is unknown.
As we all know from history, the Christian community was the first to feel the backlash of persecution once they were rejected and expelled by the Jewish synagogues. Rome had visited its wrath on the Jews and destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem. The Jewish community blamed the Christians who were still worshipping with them for this development and expelled the Christians from the synagogue. (We find evidence of this in the story of the man born blind in the Gospel of St. John.) Sometime later Emperor Nero burned large sections of Rome so that he could replace these areas with new and grandiose structures. When the citizens of Rome objected to the plan, Nero blamed the fires which he himself had set on the Christians. This signaled the beginning of the era of persecution by various Roman emperors, persecutions which garnered hundreds, perhaps thousands of martyrs for the faith.
The Gospel of St. Mark is written just before the beginning of the era of persecutions. The Letter to the Hebrews is probably from the same era. The Gospel prepares the Christian community for the coming strife by accentuating the role of suffering in the life of Jesus and in the lives of his disciples. This Gospel includes more reference to purposeful suffering than the other three. The Letter to the Hebrews exhorts the Christian community not to falter in the face of difficult times. When Jesus did not return as early as they once supposed, some members were beginning to fall away from the faith. The Letter to the Hebrews offers great rhetoric and exhortation to forestall such apostasy.
We will read from the Letter to the Hebrews for the next four weeks. The Gospel of Mark will be read up until the beginning of Lent. We will pick up again after the Easter Season.
These two works offer us the opportunity to reflect on the issue of physical and mental suffering in our world as well as in our own lives. The sacred authors will remind us that Jesus came into our world and accepted our humanity, even our mortality, to show us the value that can be learned from redemptive suffering. Every CUSAN knows this lesson well. “We suffer for a purpose.” Let us never forget to lift up the sacrifice of our pain and frustration for the welfare of our world.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator