This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary during Lent, Year B (Most recently Feb 22, 2015).
Summary: At first glance, this pericope plays well into the emerging
Liturgical emphasis on Baptism during Lent. Mark connects baptism,
lent and repentance together. So why not go along? Well, for starters,
my sense is that most preachers will end up using Baptism to water down
repentance, rather than use repentance to give shape to what Baptism
means for daily living. Secondly, Mark is quite vivid in his portrayal
of evil, as the Greek in this passage underlines. Jesus' Baptism does
not give him a free pass on the fight against sin, death and the devil.
Neither does our Baptism. In six verses we have the betrayal of John, a
40 day war in the wilderness and the heavens being torn in two. That
should be enough to make us cry out: "Return to the Lord Your God."
note: I'd much prefer for the Easter season to be about Baptism. As
it is, especially in the year of Mark-John, you get the oddest bunch of
lessons and Jesus is baptized, it seems, three or four times. I am old
school when it comes to Lent: Sit with your sins for six weeks. Beg
for mercy. Don't boast in your Baptism but with fear and trembling work
out your salvation.
Key words that show the intensity of this passage:
("tear"; 1:10): This word comes into English as "schism." It appears
twice in Mark's Gospel: now and at the end when the temple curtain is
torn at Jesus' crucifixion. As Jesus cries out, my God, my God, why
have you abandoned me, the wall between God and man is destroyed. The
wall here exposes its holes.
1:14) This verb will come back into Mark's Gospel when Jesus is
betrayed by Judas. In fact, we say this word each week in our communion
liturgy: "On the night in which he was betrayed..." This verb serves a
double purpose: It lets us know why Jesus got into ministry in the
FIRST place...and the FINAL place, the real FIRST place anyway.
("cast out"; 1:12) The Spirits casts Jesus into the wilderness. This
is the same verb that will describe Jesus casting out demons. It is not
a pretty term. Jesus gets hurled into the wilderness! Also worth
recalling that whenever Jesus goes into the wilderness he is not
escaping but going where the demons dwell...
("serve"; 1:13): What is interesting here is actually the tense of the
verb: imperfect. In fact, the whole sentence is in the imperfect,
strongly suggesting that all of these actions are on-going and occurring
at the same time. While Jesus is fighting the devil, he is with the
beasts and angels are there helping him. It was an intense time of
total spiritual warfare in the wilderness. The image is of the boxer in
one corner with his people attending him to give him energy to go back
in and fight.
κηρυσσω ("proclaim"; 1:14) Mark loves
this word, using it more than any other author. This makes sense --
for Mark the disciples are a bunch of sinners who don't do much right,
so at least they should proclaim what Christ has done! This also
builds off of the perfect tenses used with the verbs "arrived" and
"fulfilled." We are simply announcing what God has done. It is worth
noting that whenever proclamation happens, amazing stuff ensues. In
other words, proclamation is not a mental, but a deeply spiritual
activity that raises the dead, turns the sinners heart and makes the
devil and his minions mad as hell.
news"; 1:14) This word is rather difficult to interpret (always,
right!) in the Gospel of Mark. It is never really defined, but Jesus
refers to its importance in connection with death (8:35) and salvation
(16:15). The Gospel opens by declaring that the whole book is about the
Gospel, but it is worth us considering, especially as we head into a
year of preaching from Mark's Gospel, what we consider to be our own
and Mark's understanding of the Gospel. As I wrote earlier in this
post, the disciples don't do a lot right in Mark's Gospel. But yet in
our story this week they drop everything they have to follow Jesus.
God's Word still achieves its purpose in spite of human limitations.
("repent"; 1:14) This word sort of drops out of Mark, almost
suggesting that it drops out of Jesus' own ministry as he discovers the
limitations of the disciples. Another way to think about this is to
consider the Greek meaning of the word, which literally means "new
mind." Stories later in the Gospel -- Bartimaues or the woman
anointing Jesus -- show someone whose life is transformed by Jesus. So
it may not be explicit, but the repentance continues. In
Lidell-Scott's ancient (and secular) Greek lexicon, repent means to
change one's mind or purpose. We often put repentance together with
sin, a fine thing, but perhaps we need to consider that repentance
means often more than simply a struggle against temptation, but a
paradigm shift, a transformation of our whole outlook, if not way of
life and even being. Jesus is one whose power and even charisma compel
us to switch our worldview, our words and finally our actions.