February 21, 2021
Read the passage at the bottom of this post: Mark 1:9-15, The Message or Mark 1:9-15, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
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Verse 9. "In those days," that is, in those days of John's ministry of:
- proclaiming, "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight;"
- proclaiming, "a baptism for the forgiveness of sins" (instead of making the Biblically mandated sacrifices at the temple for the forgiveness of sins);
- proclaiming, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; ... he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." (and who has ever done that before?)
That is, "in those days" of raised expectations that the long-desired Messiah who would save Israel from the Roman oppressor was on his way.
In those days, Jesus came from Nazareth. Say again! Nazareth! You gotta be kidding. Nothing and no one good has ever come from Nazareth!
But it is precisely in those days, from that Nazareth, that that Jesus came and was baptized by that John in that river Jordan.
And it is precisely in that moment in that place in that way that the heavens are torn apart. The heavens are torn apart and the Spirit descends like a dove. Like the dove that once descended on the ark of Noah, bearing an olive branch as a sign that the devastation of the flood was over, foreshadowing the sign of the rainbow that God would never again use violence to redeem violence.
Like a dove the Spirit descended and a voice comes from heaven. A voice comes from heaven, "You are my Son. You are my beloved Son. You are my Beloved. With you I am well pleased." With you I am well pleased like the days of creation, when each day was a good day.
And so it is that that Jesus from that Nazareth is named God's Son; God's Beloved; the One in whom God is well pleased. That's pretty impressive.
But in the context of our Lenten journey, it is crucial to note the difference between the voice from Heaven on this day, and the voices of the crowd on Palm Sunday.
Today, the defining voice, the "Jesus, this is your identity" voice, says, "You are my Child, my Beloved." Then, the voices of the crowd will make a subtle, but significant, distortion, "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming of the Kingdom of our ancestor David."
There is a not-so-subtle, and crucial difference between "Beloved child," and "Over-thrower of the occupying Roman Empire." The crowd wanted the Over-thrower but got the Beloved.
The same Spirit that came like a dove with blessings now comes like a storm and drives Jesus out into the wilderness - out into the wild - into the chaos - into the God-forsaken place - for forty days. For forty days tempted by Satan. Tempted by the snake in the Garden. Tempted by the introducer of self-doubt: "Is it true that ..." The introducer of alluring false allegiances. He was with wild beasts - like one of them? He was with wild beasts - and they do him no harm? He was with wild beasts and the angels waited on him. He was with wild beasts in the chaos of the wild being tempted by that wily snake and yet even here are angels; even here is NOT God-forsaken. The covenant with Noah has no conditions, no exceptions; even the God-forsaken places are places where God's angels are present and give aid.
"Now after John is arrested," in those days now, in those days when the empire again exerts its unjust violent power to silence the proclamation of God's coming realm, in those new days of increased threat and peril, in those days, Jesus comes back to Galilee. Comes back to that Galilee, to that back water, nowhere place. Comes to Galilee with a new proclamation that is the fulfillment of John's forecast.
Mark began his gospel with "the good news of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God," and now we hear Jesus' "sound bite" of just what that good news is:
The time is fulfilled,
and the Kingdom of God has come near;
and believe the good news.
There are 4 important verbs in this good news. The first 2 proclaim deeds that God is doing; the last 2 call for specific responses from us.
- "The time is fulfilled" is tricky to fully convey the meaning of in English because such experiences of time are rare. This is an epoch making time, a defining moment time. A long held dream is about to begin taking shape, to be actually realized / completed / perfected / accomplished / consummated.
- "Has come near" or "is at hand." These two verbs located the realm of God in both time - this defining moment; and space - at hand. But the verbs also indicate a deed / action that has now begun and is yet unfinished.
- "Repent" does NOT mean to feel badly or guilty. It DOES mean to change one's behaviour; to re-align it with new principles, new beliefs, new understandings, new insights, new objectives, new goals. The feelings that accompany repentance can range from sorrow over past deeds to joy for new options; anger over past false hopes and to confidence for finding firm ground. The fact this is suggested as our first response to the good news that the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has come near implies that our currently living is not based on this reality.
- "Believe in the good news" is better translated as "Trust into the good news," since the whole point is not, "Have an opinion about the good news." Rather, Jesus is calling for a radical, total, unqualified basing of one's life on his good news; a discover-the-meaning-by-living-into his good news - even to the point of risking being killed for it.
Note: Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, pages 145-148; and the writings of Amy-Jill Levine, et. al. See below.
Mark 1:9-15 (NRSV)
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."
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.
Mark 1:9-15 (The Message)
9 At this time, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 The moment he came out of the water, he saw the sky split open and God's Spirit, looking like a dove, come down on him. 11 Along with the Spirit, a voice: "You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life."
12 At once, this same Spirit pushed Jesus out into the wild. 13 For forty wilderness days and nights he was tested by Satan. Wild animals were his companions, and angels took care of him.
14 After John was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee preaching the Message of God: 15 "Time's up! God's kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message."
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
+ Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus, Entering the Passion of Jesus, and others.