Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, our strength, and our redeemer. Psalm 19:14
Our Gospel reading for today is again from the first chapter of Mark. The Gospel reading for Epiphany I at the beginning of January was about John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and the baptism of Jesus. Today’s reading for Lent I begins again with the baptism of Jesus followed by forty days in the wilderness before Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee. I find it curious that we have the story of Jesus’ baptism twice in two months. What did the lectionary committee find so important about Jesus’ baptism that they did not want us to miss? And another thing, if Jesus is perfect and without sin then why does Jesus need a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins?
Jesus’ public baptism shows Jesus’ support for John’s ministry of baptism for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Jesus’ baptism is also a turning point in Jesus’ life. Mark has no nativity stories, no stories of Jesus’ childhood as found in Matthew and Luke. Jesus steps into the waters of the Jordan a man the son of Mary and Joseph, but when he rises up out of the waters of the Jordan Jesus rises as the Beloved Son of God with whom God is well pleased. If he didn’t know it before, Jesus now knows for sure who he is; he is the Son of God, the Beloved, the Christ. Have you ever wished for such clarity, to know who you are and your purpose in life? I know I have.
Mark tells us the heavens were torn apart, the veil which separates heaven from earth has been violently torn open and the divine has entered into space and time. Last week we had the story of the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-9) when almost the same thing happened only it was an affirmation for the disciples Peter, James and John of who Jesus is. Peter has confessed that Jesus is the Messiah and they have it confirmed that this is true with Jesus blinding glory and the appearance of Moses and Elijah; with this experience the veil of doubt has been torn away; Jesus is the Messiah the Son of God the beloved.
Jesus knows that he is the Messiah. The disciples know that Jesus is the Son of God. Do we know who Jesus is; do you and I know that Jesus is the Christ, the beloved Son of God? In our worship, prayers and reading of Scripture have we come to know Jesus and who he is? Have we come to know who we are, the Beloved Sons and Daughters of God? Do we believe it?
Continuing with today’s Gospel reading Mark tells us that following his baptism, Jesus is immediately driven out into the wilderness by the Spirit where he is tempted by Satan for forty days. If we want to know how Jesus struggled with hunger, issues of personal safety and power we need to go to Matthew. What is important for us to note in Mark’s story is that Jesus took a long period of time alone, in solitude with God, to pray, to talk, and to listen to God. The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness where Jesus internalized who he was and what his ministry would be before Jesus began his ministry proclaiming the good news of God. This story is appropriate for the beginning of Lent and our forty days leading up to Holy Week and the arrest, torture, death and resurrection of Jesus; a time for prayer, worship, fasting, quiet contemplation, listening for what God is saying to us.
I find it fascinating to find out how much Mark tells us with a few well-chosen words. There is the plain reading of the story, but with his careful choice of words he has added a fuller, deeper story to be discovered. With Jesus’ baptism in water does Mark intend for us to recall the story of Noah and the ark, of God’s destruction of evil in the waters of the flood and the new beginning with Noah and the eight surviving people and the pairs of animals they took with them on the ark. As God tears open the heavens and speaks to Jesus, our Old Testament reading tells us that God spoke to Noah and his family and to the animals on the ark and that God promised he would never again destroy the earth with a flood of water and as a reminder to himself and to Noah, God places the rainbow in the sky. Did Mark really intend for us to make this connection between the baptism of Jesus and the story of Noah and the ark and the rainbow? Those who set up our lectionary readings and the author of First Peter certainly thought so.
I told you a couple weeks ago how much I enjoyed reading the book “Mark as Story”. Jocelyn has suggested several other books to read on Mark. I am eager to learn more about the idea of Jesus being the thief who binds the Strong Man. What really happened when Jesus went out into the wilderness? Was Jesus one of the wild beasts that Mark refers to, refusing to be bound by the constraints of the accepted understanding of God in the established Synagogue of his time? The idea is that Satan is the Strong Man who rules the earth. When Jesus goes into the wilderness he struggles with Satan and wins. Mark 3:27 tells us “But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.” If Jesus is to cast out demons and illness and all that is evil in the world then he must first bind the ruler of the world Satan. This is a new idea for me. I can barely wait to read more about it and share this idea with you.
Today’s story from Mark ends with the arrest of John and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee proclaiming the good news of God and the inauguration of the Rule of God. Saturday was the vestry retreat led by Canon Bill Spaid. He shared a lot of information with us on our role as the Vestry and Clergy, of what it means to be the leaders of St. James’ and the church in Albion. We spent some time in quiet listening for the word God would give us for ourselves and for St. James’. In order to hear God’s Word we must find a place of quiet solitude away from the noise and distractions of our life and society and listen. In order to build relationships with God and our neighbor we need to be able to quietly LISTEN. I invite you to a Holy Lent a time for prayer, fasting and almsgiving; a time for quiet contemplation, for solitude and silent listening to God and our neighbors. Amen.
Mother Darlene Kuhn
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