Friday, March 2, 2012

The news channels have been filled in recent days with scenes of shelling and gunfire in the Syrian city of Homs. It could be any city, because past months and years have seemingly daily brought us similar scenes from one city after another. We have become de-sensitized to seeing destruction and hearing of violence. It seems to provide the background noise of everyday life anymore. It wasn’t always so.

The destruction of one capital city centuries ago brought the world to shocked silence as it learned of its utter destruction. The contemporary historian Flavius Josephus, writing just five years after the events, provides a riveting chronicle of the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70.

The Roman General Titus had long lain siege to the city. The stench of decaying bodies was said to be intolerable, sickening all who passed near the city. When few were left to defend it, Titus completed the ordeal, utterly destroying the city and leaving it in complete desolation. A triumphal column was left by the Tenth Roman Legion amidst the ruins, extolling the victory of Titus and honoring Emperor Caesar Vespasian Augustus.

Titus allowed three towers to remain standing, so that all would see what a great city Jerusalem had been, now fallen under the might of the Roman Legion. The rest of the city was reduced to rubble, not one stone resting atop another, except for the Western wall of the Temple. That wall is still today called the “wailing wall” for the cries of suffering and despair that followed the destruction of Jerusalem.

The great capital city built by King David and strengthened by King Solomon, with its wondrous Temple, , was gone. Where the Queen of Sheba had shaken her head at the glories of Jerusalem, nothing remained. The streets where prophets had walked, where schools of rabbis had taught, where great commerce had been conducted daily and deals brokered, were all destroyed. In the rubble nothing was recognizable. Nothing was left.

The few who dared come near the city wandered hopelessly, for their eyes could alight on nothing hopeful, only devastation and death surrounding them everywhere they looked or walked.

In the midst of this, one man dared place contrary thoughts into writing. To a people for whom bad news greeted every turn or thought, for whom every memory recounted the end of their way of life and the loss of a future, Mark directed his Gospel to them, with its opening line: “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ.”

Immediately, Jesus proclaims and makes real His Good News, but asks each person He encounters to keep it a secret. His mission in Mark’s understanding is not to preach to a global economy about a new world order. His mission is to touch the heart and mind and soul of one person at a time. With new hearts, those persons will evangelize others. In time, the world will be changed, but it all begins in the deep recesses of one person’s life. His mission is to provide each person He meets with a new beginning.

Today, there may be much that tries to convince us that only bad news surrounds us and pervades our world. We may worry that society has lost its direction, its moral compass. We may have deep concern about the tensions that exist on a global scale, and the fight to maintain our Christian conscience in a land of liberty. With anxiety we may look at those close to us and worry for them and their future.

It is precisely in the midst of our worry and fear that we should remember the hopeful voice of the Gospel of Mark, “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ.” Will you be the next He will approach in His mission to change hearts and lives? If so, open your heart and soul to Him and hear anew the beginning of Good News for you.
Msgr. William J. King

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