Rev. Michael Blair – General Secretary, General Council
1st Sunday in Lent
February 21, 2021
Mark 1: 9-15
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And 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. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
May God bless to our understanding these words from Holy Scripture.
You can almost imagine it, the sound of the music sharpens… it is a scary sound indicating that something is about to happen … our main character emerges from the baptismal water, and as he does the heavens are ripped open… there is what seems like a mysterious dream sequence… our character moves with great reluctance, as if running for his life… heading into the unknown… the music intensifies… the wild ones are crawling and creeping and stalking, smelling fresh blood… there are flashes of lightning, a strange figure appears and disappears, and there are the winged creatures.
We’ve seen this before, we know how it ends (the music intensifies), our heart beats faster, palms sweating, and just when you expect disaster… our character emerges as if it was all a dream.
In the text from Mark 1, without a fair amount of detail, Mark moves us from Jesus’s baptism to his temptation and the start of his ministry. Mark’s rendering is somewhat apocalyptic:
“heavens have been torn apart…”
“voice from heaven…”
“Jesus being driven into the wilderness…”
“temptation by Satan…”
“Being with the wild beast.”
Mark’s introduction to the life and ministry of Jesus, is short, crisp and leaves much to the imagination. We want to fill in the gaps from what we know of similar stories in Matthew and Luke, but if we did that, we would be poorer for it.
The brevity of Mark’s stories challenges both the preacher and the readers of this text. In some ways, you either want to focus on the story of the baptism or the temptation or, this being the season of Lent, the call to repentance reflected in the teaching of Jesus as he begins his ministry.
So how might we read and hear the text before us today? The gospel of Mark is considered to be the earliest gospel, and in the context of Mark’s writing is seen as a treatise on discipleship. It is in this context that I want to suggest a few thoughts on these verses in Mark 1: 9-15. They provide a snapshot of the ministry of Jesus; it is for us an invitation to discover who Jesus is in the season of Lent, as in the words of the old spiritual,
“if you want to find Jesus go to the wilderness, go to the wilderness,
morning brother, go to the wilderness I wait upon the Lord…”
Our Baptism is not just about our membership into the institution of the church, local and universal, rather it is an invitation into our discipleship – the wilderness as part of our discipleship journey. Mark would have us understand that our baptism and the wilderness are an integral part of our discipleship.
The wilderness is a complex and complicated place; no one goes to the wilderness unless they have to. Mark is intentionally ambiguous and offers no details. He mentions:
Satan, the tempter
Wild animals – are they friend or foe? Just there? They are part of the covenant relationship that God made with all creation.
Angels – the shepherds, like a parent tending to the sick
It is often said that the question of identity is the challenge of temptation – in the wilderness. Mark is not clear; we get a sense of that from Matthew and Luke.
The challenge of the story is the wild animals/ones who are with Jesus – are they friend or foe? We label – Progressives, Liberal, Evangelical.
How do we deal with the wild one…?
The wilderness is a complex and complicated place. Mark is intentionally ambiguous. There are no details. Jesus encounters Satan, the wild animals and Angels.
As Jesus emerges from the wilderness, we hear the echoes of the words of Amanda Gorman:
“We have braved the belly of the beast,
we have learned that quiet isn’t always peace…
and norms and notions of what just is,
isn’t always just-ice.
And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it…”
So, as we enter this season of Lent, may it be for us a season of discovery, where we discover Jesus, the one who survived the wilderness and came preaching good news.
May we embrace the wilderness with its temptations, the wild ones with the uncertainty of whether they are friends or foes and are part of the covenant relationship, and may we also know the experience and care of winged ones.
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