Life goes on. Like yesterday. Just another prophet in the Judean wilderness. More bad behaviour by the Emperor. More column inches. But nothing changes. Ministers and priests will explain the significance of Mark and Genesis beginning with the same word, they will remind us that Elijah the Tishbite was a hairy man with a leather belt, and perhaps even suggest that gospel, the third word of Mark, already appropriates the jargon of Empire, but life goes on. Manses already exhausted by the year wonder if they can do more than simply endure the three remaining weeks. Some secretly rejoice at Church Council's decision to focus on a Sunday Christmas Eve service and forgo Monday morning. Others wonder if Advent will ever be heard above the inundation of the entire suburb by this year's over-amplified Community Christmas Carols which predominately celebrated the Feast of Christ the Consumer. Nothing changes here.
Then a day comes like a thief and is in our house before we know. Just one more day of the Lord, but everything is different now. What does this mean? How will I endure? Is there a future? Or will the fog of our soul float up and anaesthetise even this alarm, so that we slip back into our fatalism as life goes on; so that Everything Is Holy Now remains a song that few of us seem able to live.
Each year John the Baptist comes to us as an analeptic for our souls. We barely know the word, and we barely believe that such awakening is possible. Life goes on. We begin the season with exhortations to stay awake and be on watch (Mark 13:24-37) yet life so discomforts us that we can often cope only by deadening ourselves with alcohol and belongings. Is there any way we can bear to be awake? And how do those of us who make that valiant effort counter the wondering if "with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day," is really a fundamental dishonesty fleeing the fact that life just goes on?
Repent. Only a deliberate and fundamental change in our life's direction will allow us to see that it does not just go on, and that it is gift. John's call to repentance is grace placed in our hands, and offers us the gift of being pulled up short as we see the beginnings of our shortcomings. It is the only beginning, the only gateway, into seeing that life does not go on. If we refuse John, we practise to refuse Jesus who will use the same word— Repent! — in only a few verses. If we refuse John, we begin the practise of receiving God's constant gracing us new vision with constant refusal. Life goes on and becomes a jaded normal which we do not recognise to be a depression, an illness.
Life takes a lifetime. But we can only learn that everything is holy now, and only come to our dying as a holy time, if we will take our eyes off our selves and our safety. This is our repentance: to recognise there is something larger than us and our survival, and to pay it attention. If we will not do this, we will see nothing. Or, rather, we will see only that life goes on, and it will one day seem that the thief has come to take even this away from us.
To be immersed in another spirit, to be drowned in it and given a new reality, a new way of seeing, is the repentance of a life time. It's the submission to something other and greater. If we will not submit, we will not see, and life will simply go on to its ending. To submit to an ending now, to begin to let go of our selves, is to begin to see that life does go on, and that everything is holy now.
Andrew Prior (2017)
The beginninga of the good newsb [gospel] of Jesus Christc, the Son of Godd.
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiahe,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, [lit: before your face]
who will prepare your way;
3 fthe voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” ’,
4John the baptizer appearedg in the wildernessh, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the wholei Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordanj, confessing their sins.6Now John was clothedk with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with [or: in] water; but he will baptize you with [or: in] them Holy Spirit.’
a) The first word of the gospel is Ἀρχὴ which is simply beginning. There is no The (ὁ) in the Greek. Genesis begins in a similar fashion, albeit in another language, with the word bereishit. Is Mark alluding to a new creation?
b) good news is the word εὐαγγελίου which can also be translated as Gospel. This third word in the Greek text is already a challenge to Empire:
Marks speaks of Good News− euangelion. The gospel begins with a hint of subversion that will be reinforced throughout.
In 9 B.C., within a decade of Jesus' birth, the birthday of Caesar Augustus (63 B.C. - A.D. 14) was hailed as euangelion (pl.). Since he was hailed as a god, Augustine's "birthday signaled the beginning of Good News for the world." (James Edwards The Gospel According to Mark pp 24 Quoted by Brian Stoffregen.)
Mark will consistently state the good news is not in the Roman Peace but in the Kingdom Jesus heralds.
This is good news for our time as the 'euangelions' of the United States and all the variations of the American Dream, or of ISIS, or of Vladimir Putin, all pall. (Andrew Prior)
c) aἸησοῦ Χριστοῦ, Jesus Christ is a Greek translation of Jesus Messiah. Messiah is not a surname. It is a title.
d) "“son of God” seems to have been added later by a ‘fixing’ scribe" (Mark D Davis)
e) The quotation alludes to more than only Isaiah. "The first part of this quote is from Exodus 23:20, not Isaiah… translated by the NRSV as “I am going to send an angel in front of you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared.” This text refers to the presence (filled with God’s name) that leads Israel into the Canaan." Davis points out that it would remind Mark's readers of Malachi 3:1 "See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.” Davis notes that "The messenger in Malachi will come like a refiner’s fire and fuller soap." (Mal 3:3) He is nodding towards what we will read in Mark 9, and the story of the Transfiguration: "3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them." Jesus is more than the prophets, and greater than John.
f) This begins the quotation of Isaiah 40, which the Lectionary uses as the Old Testament reading this week. John, of course, is in the wilderness.
g) John's appearing has the sense of "out of nowhere" or something new, not ordinary.
h) Wilderness is the place where God traditionally and especially appears to Israel.
i) Jirair Tashjian points out that "the whole Judean countryside" has implications about repentance being something for the whole nation, and that it is not just something for individuals. cf "He will separate the nations. We are not separated individuals. We are nations— ethnicities. There are all sorts of alliances around culture and identity which are often at odds with other groupings. Nations are judged." (Andrew Prior) There is a challenge to our individualism here.
j) Tashjian also notes: "The Jordan River is also rich with symbolism. God redeemed Israel from Egyptian slavery, led and cared for them in the wilderness, and finally made a path for them miraculously through the Jordan River into the land of Canaan under Joshua's leadership (Josh. 3). Now John is ushering in the final age in salvation history. It requires that people go out to the desert, pass through the Jordan River in baptism, and be prepared to experience the forgiveness of God in the new messianic age that was about to dawn." (Ibid)
k) Jesus' people immediately see that John is being compared with Elijah. II Kings 1:8 describes Elijah as “A hairy man, with a leather belt around his waist.” Did John just happen to dress like this, or was he himself making a point with his clothing?
l) ἐβάπτισα (baptise) means "to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge"
m) It does not say the in the Greek text.
The last verse of Peter Mayer's song "Holy Now"
This morning, outside I stood
And saw a little red-winged bird
Shining like a burning bush
Singing like a scripture verse
It made me want to bow my head
I remember when church let out
How things have changed since then
Everything is holy now
It used to be a world half-there
Heaven's second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
Cause everything is holy now
When we look for baptism in a holy spirit, are we looking for some extraordinary experience with 'tongues and miracles,' or would "everything is holy now" be an even greater miracle?
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!
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