Deconstructing Mark, Chapters 1.1-15
Quoting the ancient words of Jewish prophets Isaiah and Malachi, Mark writes about “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’”
In every society, there are people on the “inside” and people on the “outside.” That society’s laws and systems work for the insiders, and they are more or less content.
But those same laws and systems harm and make it impossible for others to live with the basic expectations of safety, shelter, food, and a caring community. Today, these outsiders - immigrants, Native Americans, people of color, LGBTQ+, disabled, homeless -- get pushed to the fringes, to the wilderness. Ordinary black men are shot walking down the street, the homeless are stepped over and ignored, a multitude of low-income families go hungry and without healthcare, and immigrants seeking help are forcibly ripped from their children and imprisoned.
In the Bible, prophets were inspired with a different perspective of reality. They saw the evils of their day, but they also saw how life could be different, better. Their job was to blow the whistle, point out injustice, rebuke and encourage people to turn away from wrong thinking, misguided justifications, and actions that hurt people.
In our study of the opening passages of Mark, let us consider the prophet, John, what he said and what he did. How those on the margins flocked to him. How those inside the system ignored, imprisoned and eventually killed him. Two thousand years later, this story still reveals the truth of human nature and the systems we build. It reveals our desires for love and community as well as our fears and greed.
So as we read Mark 1.1-15, we should ask ourselves
1. Who are the voices in the wilderness? Who lives outside the safety of the cultural and political majority? Who is outside the status quo, outside the middle and upper classes? Who are the poor, the powerless, who is not present at the table where decisions are made?
2. What are those voices saying? Are we listening?
3. Does our listening somehow “prepare the way” for God’s Kingdom?
In Mark’s story, the wilderness voice belongs to John, who calls people to a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
4. What did people need to repent or turn away from? Could it be their ideologies as much as specific activities? What might we need to turn away from?
Jesus listens to that wilderness voice, acts on what it says, and is changed. Mark says the “Spirit descend[ed] like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved: with you I am well pleased.’” The Spirit moved Jesus into the wilderness, where he was surrounded by wild beasts, suffered, and was tempted to give it all up for an easier life.
5. If we listen to those wilderness voices, turn away from our own self-absorbed concerns toward them, will we be changed too? What if we believe that the Spirit also descends on us? That God looks at us and says, “You are my Daughter. You are my Son. You are dearly loved and I rejoice in you”? Would that empower us to do good work, even when it is hard?
Those wilderness voices will feel threatening, they endanger our comfort. If we hear, they will give us eyes to see the world as they see it — we may scrutinize dearly held ideologies that have harmed others. They may call us to words and actions that open us to criticism or attack by our own circle of family and friends.
But when we are tempted to give up, will we look and recognize the angels there to help us?
After the repenting, the baptizing, hearing God’s voice, and the challenges of the wilderness, Jesus turns to the people and says “The kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.”
Will we believe that the Kingdom of God is indeed near – inside me, you, our neighbor? That close. Not out there.
Will we then believe in the goodness of people, that which is the Spirit of God in them? Believe in it enough to get to work, “preparing the way” for God’s Kingdom to come here, now?
You may read the full text of Mark 1.1-15 at Bible Gateway.