The Gospel of Mark by Mary Healy (Review)

Greetings from Rochester, NY! I am blogging for the first time from my office desk at Northeastern Seminary (of Roberts Wesleyan College). So, now that I am getting more settled in, I hope to post regularly.

Part of my summer reading has been Mary Healy’s commentary on Mark in the new series “Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture.” While one might have a hard time justifying “yet another” commentary series, this one fits an important niche and the editors (as well as Baker) are to be commended for an attractive and user-friendly design to the volumes.

What makes this commentary series unique? The editors and authors are all dedicated Catholics. As the editorial preface notes, “Since Vatican Council II, there has been an increasing hunger among Catholics to study Scripture in depth and in a way that reveals its relationship to liturgy, evangelization, catechesis, theology, and personal and communal life” (11). The preferred translation is the NAB.

In the commentary itself, after the translation is given, below is listed relevant OT and NT passages to the text, as well as references to the Catholic Catechism and the Lectionary. The latter material, in particular, is quite handy for Catholics, I would imagine. Photographs relevant to the text are scattered throughout the book. There are two kinds of sidebars: historical explanations (“Biblical Background”) and information related to Catholic theology (“Living Tradition”).

One might think these commentaries are written exclusively for Catholics. That is not the case. I found the “Living Tradition” sidebars very insightful for those who are not well acquainted with Catholic tradition.

It should be noted that this series appears to be more “devotional” than “academic.” Certainly a lot of academic work has been put into the commentary, but the comments and discussions in the commentary seem to be pitched towards priests and laypeople. I think this is wonderful – I can imagine study groups of Catholics with their Bibles and commentaries. Very inspiring.

Now, what about Healy’s work on Mark? Her approach is essentially a literary-theological one. She rarely comments on “Synoptic” issues and historical matters (aside from the sidebars). She knows the text of Mark very well, and explains what needs to be explained. Here are some of my highlights:

On the Kingdom of God: “Jesus’ announcement that the kingdom is at hand suggests both a present and a future quality, like a sunrise below the horizon. The kingdom is already present, embodied in Jesus’ own person. Indeed, throughout his ministry it will become evident that the ‘foreign occupation’ of sin, Satan, disease, and death is being overthrown. Yet the kingdom is incipient and partly veiled; like seeds sown in the ground, it will keep growing until it reaches its consummation (4:26-29)” (p. 41)

Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit: “In the context of this passage [3:28-29] it is to harden one’s heart so completely that one defiantly refuses to recognize the action of God and even attributes to evil the good works done by Jesus in the power of the Spirit” (78)

Feeding of the Five Thousand: “In contrast to the opulent Herodian banquet just recounted (6:14-30), which ended in a death, here Jesus feeds ordinary people with very simple fare, leading to life” (126)

Jesus’ Criticism of Human Tradition: “it is crucial to note that Jesus is not rejecting tradition per se, which becomes an important term in the early Church for the handing on of authoritative apostolic teaching (1 Cor 11:2, 23; 2 Thess 3:6). Rather, he is rejecting merely human traditions that are not based on God’s word, that in fact negate the intent of God’s word” (137); “Indeed, the formation of the canon of Scripture was itself an exercise of apostolic tradition” (138)

Lord” “She [the Syrophoenician woman] is the only person in Mark who addresses Jesus as Lord” (144)

Confession of Peter: “Peter’s confession of faith is the turning point in the Gospel. It is a breakthrough, a burst of light, symbolized by the healing of the blind man just recounted” (159).

Lines from Holy Cross Sunday Antiphon: “Today the ranks of angels dance with gladness at the veneration of Thy Cross, Christ, Thou hast shattered the hosts of devils and saved mankind. The Church has been revealed as a second Paradise, having within it, like the first Paradise of old, a tree of life, Thy Cross, O Lord. By touching it we share in immortality”

Sky turning dark at crucifixion: “Ultimately the imagery of heavenly chaos-a kind of undoing of God’s work of creation (see Gen 1:14-18)- points to the end of the world.” (268)

While I did not find every little interpretive move or argument convincing, overall the commentary is elegantly lucid and edifying. Should lovers of Mark buy this? Personally, it was nice to have a devotional commentary for my own growth. There are some nice quotable bits (like ones I mentioned above). For academic commentaries, get ahold of France and Marcus. But, certainly libraries should subscribe to this series.

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