Prospective on the Gospel of Mark - from the Ecumenical Lecture
In the tradition of its ever evolving commitment to ecumenism and Christian Unity, Mount Aloysius recently celebrated its Third Annual Ecumenical Luncheon and Lecture. This year Mount Aloysius was privileged to have Dr. Bonnie Bowman Thurston as the speaker for this event. Dr. Thurston is the author of more than a dozen books and 100 articles. Also, she has held professorships at Bethany College, Wheeling Jesuit University, and the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Her scholarly and personal interests extend from the writings of Paul, through the Gospel of Mark to contemporary spirituality and interfaith dialogue.
Dr. Thurston's lecture was entitled "Take Heed What You Hear: Preaching Saint Mark's Gospel." Her reflections began with a review of the current scholarly debate surrounding traditional issues associated with the study of the Gospel of Mark including the intended audience, the identity of the author, and the place of origin. Accordingly, she identified the setting of the Gospel as the city of Rome, during the late 60s or early 70s AD. She also argued that it was addressed by Mark, a companion of Peter the Apostle, to a Christian community suffering persecution at the hand of the blood thirsty Roman Empire.
Most importantly, Dr. Thurston addressed the reasons that motivated the writing of the Gospel of Mark. Primarily she suggested that the author wanted his audience to know who Jesus was. Although important to his ministry, according to Dr. Thurston, Jesus was not primarily a miracle worker or religious sage. Rather, she suggested that Mark wanted to highlight the free acceptance of suffering upon the part of Jesus. Such suffering was not valuable by its own right. To be more precise, it was suffering that resulted from the vulnerable love of Jesus, and, therefore, it was to be admired and it was to serve as an example for the community that Mark was addressing - a community that knew suffering all too well. Thus, Thurston presented the Gospel of Mark as an "apology for the cross," helping its readers to view Jesus' death as a victorious experience of self-sacrifice rather than a scandalous defeat.
Additionally, Dr. Thurston touched upon the identity and actions of the disciples as they were presented in the Gospel of Mark. She offered the keen observation that the disciples, primarily the twelve apostles, were not stalwart figures who were beyond reproach. Instead, they were individuals who often asked all of the wrong questions, especially in the area of suffering and service. Dr. Thurston noted that such a reflection was ironically a sign of hope for both the community that Mark addressed and for us. We human beings, she remarked often "get it wrong" when it comes to matters of faith and need to be reminded of the importance of "sacrifice, unconditional love, and obedience."
Dr. Thurston's lecture was followed by a lively question and answer period where members of the college community and local members of the clergy of various faith traditions both affirmed her observations and asked her to offer further reflections upon the implications of the Gospel of Mark for contemporary Christian believers. Questions included the significance of Mark's reflections upon suffering for Christian churches that adopt counter-cultural positions in the area of morality, the relationship between church and state, and the openended nature of the Gospel of Mark that concludes with the enigmatic phrase" and they feared."
The event was truly an ecumenical celebration for the College and the wider community. Approximately forty members of the clergy from various Christian faith communities across the region joined members of the Mount Aloysius College administration, faculty, and staff for the luncheon and the lecture.
The Annual Ecumenical Luncheon and Lecture Series is a direct result of the generosity of the Reverend Gerald L Myers, a Lutheran pastor who ministers to two faith communities in Somerset County. In 2000, Pastor Myers donated his personal theological library, which contained more that 13,000 volumes and
covered a variety of religious denominations and theological specialties, to Mount Aloysius. Pastor Myers continues his generosity to the College and at present the collection consists of more than 14,000 volumes and has an estimated value of more than half a million dollars. In the words of Pastor Myers, "This collection is available to the people of the Allegheny region as a resource that could be used by all denominations."
In May of 2006, Mount Aloysius College awarded Pastor Myers an Honorary Doctorate both for his generosity to the institution and for his commitment to the promotion of Christian unity in western and central Pennsylvania.