Know your opponent (Mark 1. 9-15)
I’ll let you into a secret. Mark is my favourite gospel. Yes, we need all the others. We need Matthew’s sturn rehearsing of the Law and exposition of the Lor’s expectations of those who call themselves disciples, Luke’s unparalleled storytelling and his subversive inclusivity and John’s mystical vision of the thinness between heaven and earth. For me, however, Mark’s urgency, passion and capacity to telescope issues into neat, memorable soundbytes, speaks in a way I need to hear in the 21st Century.
Take today’s Gospel. In a few short sentences, Mark has Jesus baptised, pushed out into the desert and beginning his ministry. Bish, bash, bosh. We get the message. He says “Listen up and listen good. Pay attention, keep up, take note.” And (and this is the powerful bit) Mark does all this without watering down what he wants us to think about. Woven into this slightly long tweet is the deepest reflection on Jesus. And Mark, if he is about anything at all, is all about Jesus and about whether we experience the call to follow him.
Mark’s story is a succinct three Act play. Firstly Jesus hears the Father’s voice. “You are my beloved son.” Act One affirms and encourages Jesus, though ends on a strange note, with the Spirit driving Jesus into the wilderness. There is no messing around in Mark. Act Two is about struggle, with just a little hint that it is also about Jesus beginning a new creation, where the lion and the lamb lie down together. Act Three picks up the previous two themes. Jesus, the beloved Son, has struggled with Satan, the Kingdom of Darkness. Because he knows and has struggled and won against Darkness, he is able to begin his ministry, a ministry of announcing the Kingdom of God.
Mark has not, however, just described Jesus’ journey. Throughout his gospel, Mark wants his readers to think about their journey. So we read what happens to Jesus, the call, the struggle, the ministry and realise that Mark is also describing what could be our journey with Jesus, a story that begins hearing that God loves us and hearing, too, that where that takes us to next is not a place of comfort but a wilderness place where we can learn to see what the implications for our lives might be. We could even call that Lent.