Lent 1B, 2012
A Liturgy is also available
WANTED: PEOPLE OF EXTRAORDINARY RELIGIOUS INSIGHT
The storyteller whom we call Mark can really leave me frustrated at times!
Here he is, his big moment. The first Sunday in Lent.
His big chance to introduce the bloke called Jesus of Nazareth.
And what do we get? A lousy 100 or so words
(even less if you follow the Catholic edition of the Lectionary),
which cover Jesus’ baptism,
the so-called ‘temptations’,
as well as a strategic outline for social reform.
No prior existence as the Word.
No miraculous virginal conception or glorifying angels.
No sackcloth, or ashes on the forehead.
No film-rights for a TV mega series.
Mark leaves us guessing. It’s a very incomplete CV.
The parish Nomination Committee/Bishop is not going to be impressed!
Well, on this first Sunday in Lent,
let me play some more with a couple of Mark’s themes:
(i) Jesus’ baptism, and
(ii) the wilderness temptations.
The baptism of Jesus was a very controversial subject.
John was not the first to baptise people.
Jews baptised ‘outsiders’ into their faith, but did not baptise other Jews.
Jesus was a Jew.
William Barclay, the Scottish new testament scholar of the 1950s,
picks up this point in one of his commentaries:
“No Jew had ever conceived that he, a member of the chosen people, a son of Abraham, assured of God's salvation, could ever need baptism...” (Barclay 1956:52-53).
So this was an important issue for members
of several of the early Jesus Movement communities.
Especially the debates
around the pros and cons of ‘why did Jesus have to get baptised?’,
and the different style and theology of Jesus
and of John the baptiser, or ‘dipper’!
Dominic Crossan helps put this debate in context for us:
“The tradition is clearly uneasy with the idea of John baptizing Jesus because that seems to make John superior and Jesus sinful” (Crossan 1991:232).
But our storyteller called Mark either doesn’t know of these issues
or gives them all the flick.
Instead he has begun what is really a significant and radical re-editing
of the story of the status of Jesus.
Probably written in the mid 70s, Mark has concluded that:
this bloke called Jesus was elevated to ‘son of God’ status,
not at his resurrection, as argued by Paul before him,
but at his baptism.
So the designation of Jesus as son of God
was moved backwards by the storyteller Mark,
from resurrection to the beginning of his public ministry.
And while this was not the last time such a re-editing was to happen
- we also see it in the later stories of Matthew and Luke and John -
it was a significant first.
The Jesus Movement then,
when faced with different situations, religious or otherwise,
always adopted the politically astute outcome
of attempting to adjust or transform these situations
and give them another significance.
The Jesus Movement now, is an evolving, living,
changing experience of the sacred in human life.
And those who would want to solidify or codify it,
should be resisted in the name of the God of Jesus!
Talk of Jesus spending time in the ‘wilderness’ can send mixed messages.
Wilderness as in the Tasmanian wilderness?
Or wilderness as in the outback desert?
“Wilderness is wide
Bare rocks are there -
No place to hide,
Exposed to all the elements,
From every side...” (Wendy Ross-Barker/ljrd)
Let me stay with the wilderness - outback desert style.
Writers and poets often remind us that
most people see the outback desert as a place lacking the life forms
that are significant to them.
“Wilderness holds fear
Of dangers seen, unseen,
From far and near,
Threatening sounds and shadows
Are everywhere...” (Wendy Ross-Barker/ljrd)
But for desert dwellers in the ‘outback’ for instance,
it has a compelling fascination, as a place vibrant with life.
“Wilderness can bloom,
Creative power is there.
Trees and plants find room,
Signs that life can flourish,
Death be overcome...” (Wendy Ross-Barker/ljrd)
The desert wilderness may be a place where one does not expect to find life.
Yet life is present.
And if we only see it as a place of harsh, relentlessness,
the desert will always be an alien danger.
Now, “still wet from his baptism in the Jordan” (Craddock. Religion-on-line Web site)
as professor of preaching Fred Craddock puts it,
Jesus goes out into the wilderness, into the desert...
And in the desert wilderness, our storyteller Mark says, Jesus encountered Satan,
the ‘wicked opponent’ or ‘the adversary’.
Again, Mark doesn’t offer any clues as to why this experience.
And he either ignores or doesn’t know of, the options Jesus was faced with:
the stunts and miracles option,
the military option,
the revolutionary movement option.
Nothing. Once again Mark leaves us guessing.
And our best guess is probably something like this:
“Part of our being human, is that life constantly calls us to decide whether we will choose a line of action which, as far as we can see, serves the wider human (and planetary) good, or one that is selfishly geared to our immediate individual advantage” (Cairns 2004:15).
On the other hand, for the traditionalists among us, the desert wilderness
was an important place in Israel’s history.
It was not a place of ‘alien danger’.
It was a place where its heroes had discerned
the presentness and promises of God.
The Jesus Movement then, needed people of extraordinary religious insight.
To be utterly convinced of the connectedness
between human loving and living in God.
And to be passionate about setting people free
from ideas and images about God that enslaved them.
The Jesus Movement now, needs people of extraordinary religious insight.
Who, in intentional ways, can
stir up goodness,
struggle for justice,
speak up for those who stutter or do not speak the languages of power,
band together to stand resolutely and non violently before evil,
and refuse to be absorbed into it, or intimidated by it.
Lent is a very real time when we can once again,
seek out the presentness of the God,
lurking in the most unlikely of places,
waiting to be uncovered, found, embraced...
And a time when our selfless actions can seep into the world
‘like the scent of perfume distilled in the air’...
encouraging and giving fresh heart to those around us,
and strengthening the bonds of community.
People of extraordinary religious insight
know the role of religion is to bring us to an awareness of life...
Not a possessing, but a living.
What God awakens, God awakens through us, now.
In our living, in our wasteful loving, in our being alive.
And I reckon that’s worth remembering and celebrating during Lent!
Barclay, W. Mark. A Commentary. St Andrew’s. Saint Andrew’s Press, 1956.
Cairns, I. J. Mark of a Non-realist. A Contemporary Reading of the Second Gospel. Masterton. Fraser Books, 2004.
Crossan, J. D. The Historical Jesus. The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. North Blackburn. CollinsDove, 1991.
Ross-Barker, W. “Wilderness” in G. Duncan (ed). Let Justice Roll Down. A Worship Resource for Lent, Holy Week and Easter. Norfolk. Canterbury Press, 2003.