January 8, 2006 - Year B - Epiphany 1
4 So John began to baptize in the desert; he preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 All Judea and all the people from the city of Jerusalem went out to John to confess their sins and be baptized by him in the river Jordan.
6 John was clothed in camel's hair and wore a leather garment around his waist. His food was locusts and honey. 7 He preached to the people saying, "After me comes one who is more powerful than I am; 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you in the Holy Spirit. As for me, I am not worthy to bend down and untie his sandals."
9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth, a town of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And the moment he came up out of the water, heaven opened before him and he saw the Spirit coming down on him like a dove. 11 And these words were heard from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved, the One I have chosen."
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• 1.1 In verses 1 to 13, Mark gives us in three small tableaux three important insights about Jesus' salvation. Vv. 1-7. John the Baptist announces the coming of the One sent by God: this Jesus about whom the Gospel will speak to us has been announced, prepared by all the great witnesses of the Old Testament. In him and by him God's salvation will be accomplished.
Vv. 9-10. Jesus goes down into the Jordan to open the gates of the true Promised Land (see the Book of Joshua): he is the beloved Son of the Father on whom the Spirit rests. Jesus comes to reveal the mystery of God, the mystery of the love of God Father, Son and Spirit.
Vv. 11-13. Jesus is at peace with the wild animals as he is with the angels. In him and by him will be accomplished the reconciliation of all creation with its God. Such had to be the Messiah announced by Isaiah (Is 11).
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1. "We may have here the echo of an oracle of Isaiah: [Isaiah 42:1,4].... The voice, thus pronounces a commission to establish an international rule of justice. How this is to be done is what we must learn from the narrative. But it is already clear that what Jesus is up to is precisely this: the establishment of the just empire of God. Jesus has a political, indeed an imperial mandate. In the bible, spiritual and political matters are not separate things; they are the same thing. The difference is not between politics and spirit, but between a divine and a worldly politics, between justice and oppression, between the politics of God and the politics of idolatry." [The Insurrection of the Crucified: The "Gospel of Mark" as Theological Manifesto by Theodore W. Jennings, Jr.]
This is a huge expectation for one to live up to. As those disappointed on the road to Emmaus, we are finally getting to the disappointment that after 2,000 years the politics of God are still being trumped in God's name by the politics of idolatry. A question comes to mind: did Jesus intentionally avoid the prophetic and messianic expectations of an empire of God or did he find the only way possible (spiritual jujitsu) to move through the resistances of his day?
2. "Jesus may step into churchly stories as the right answer to every question, but he steps into the beginning of Mark's story mostly as a question. Where did he come from? Why is he here? What is he up to? The teller of ritual stories must, from time to time, be not only a theologian but also a historian. The historian must examine the environment, culture, and social movements that lead up to and flow out of this scene." [Provoking the Gospel of Mark: A Storyteller's Commentary, Richard W. Swanson]
Is Jesus up to the expectations of a Messiah who will set things right in an occupied country and redeem the ruins? The story of Mark needs to be seen against the identified desires of that time and this time. "Christians need to practice remembering that more was expected of a messiah than was delivered during the career of Jesus." [ibid.] If our end is in our beginning, what loss is present with this scene that will be echoed later in the crucifixion scene?
3. Play with the voice speaking from the heavens. Is it James Earl Jones-ian? Remember, in Mark, only Jesus hears this voice. If the heavens are ripped open and the voice is that of a child, what would that affect in Jesus, in you?
Can you hear this statement as a question? "This is my son?" asks God. Did even God expect more than Jesus brought to the table in Mark? Hear Swanson again, "Remember that Paul speaks of the crucified messiah as scandalous and moronic. One way to take this scriptural and orthodox judgment seriously is to hand it to the audience in the voice of God. Conversely, the surest way to teach people to ignore and forget Paul's words is to make God's voice in the baptism scene so reassuring that no one could ever image that there would be a problem with naming Jesus as messiah."
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