Reading the Gospel of Mark
Many churches, including Episcopal Churches, use the Revised Common Lectionary to determine which readings are used on Sunday mornings and other feast days. The readings are in a three year cycle. When it comes to Gospel readings, Matthew is the primary Gospel for Year A, Mark Year B, Luke Year C, and John is used primarily during Lent and Easter. Six weeks ago, on the first Sunday of Advent, we began Year B and the Gospel of Mark. This coming Sunday we will hear the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, which includes the story of Jesus’ baptism. In the coming weeks, I will use this blog to reflect on the gospel story as it unfolds in Mark. I hope you will join me in a slow, deliberate reading of Mark.
Throughout the gospel of Mark, Jesus invites his first disciples (and disciples like you and me who read this Gospel now) to see God’s activity in the world in a whole new way. But what we will discover as the story unfolds is that his disciples find it hard to see what Jesus is up to. In fact in Ch. 8:17b, like many teachers before and since, Jesus will express his frustration that his students don’t get it: “Do you still not perceive or understand?”
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus continually turns the conventional wisdom upside down. The Gospel begins with words that make us expect that something big is about to happen. “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The very first word, “beginning”, harkens back to Genesis and God’s creative power, suggesting that what follows is going to be about extraordinary newness. “Gospel” is a secular word that refers to “news of victory”, usually in military battles. We also hear that this Jesus is the “Christ” and the “Son of God.” Certainly his entrance on to the scene will be grand and dramatic. But then what happens? When he appears, he appears as part of a movement of very ordinary people who are going out to the wilderness to undergo a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Not what we expected, right? The prophet Malachi (3:1) had told us that “The Lord who we seek will suddenly come to his temple,” not the wilderness. And why would the Christ, the Son of God, be joining all the riff-raff at the Jordan for a baptism of repentance anyway? Isn't he without sin? I guess this anointed one is going to begin his movement by standing with sinners rather than separating himself from them.
I don’t know about you, but I find it extraordinarily Good News to know that Jesus doesn't separate himself from sinners but stands with them. I find it extraordinarily Good News to know that the place of encounter with God is in the wilderness, where I find myself much of the time. That is, I find it extraordinarily Good News that the “new thing” God is up to in Jesus is about God’s holiness moving toward us in our need rather than separating itself from us. All too often we have been led to believe that God’s holiness moves away from sinners rather than stands in solidarity with them. All too often we have been led to believe that God wants to be with us when we have it all together. As Mark begins his story, he makes it clear that God stands with us in the wilderness and the muck, just as we are.