Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Mark 1:9-15

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary during Lent, Year B (Most recently Feb 21, 2021).

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."

Side 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:

σχιζω ("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 humanity is destroyed.  This early in the Gospel, the wall here exposes its holes.

παραδιδημι ("betray"; 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.

εκβαλλω ("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...

Worth noting is that both Luke and Matthew change Mark's wording here (or perhaps Mark changes their wording).  Regardless, it is uniquely Mark that Jesus is cast out.

διακονεω ("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 word is not in the perfect tense, however, it builds off of the perfect tenses used with the verbs "arrived" and "fulfilled." We are simply announcing what God has done.  That said, proclamation also has a future effect.  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.

ευαγγελιον ("good news"; 1:14) This word is rather difficult to interpret 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 claim 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.

μετανοεω ("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.

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