baptismal urgency – a reflection on Mark 1:9-15

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Eschatology / Gospels / Lectionary / New Testament / Year B

The following is a reflection on Mark 1:9-15, the Gospel lesson for the First Sunday of Lent according to the Revised Common Lectionary.

The High Line

A view from The High Line in NYC. Photo by Rick Morley.

The words “and immediately” sound through the Gospel of Mark like a pounding drum. The words sound out so frequently that translators often break out their thesaurus’ to mix it up.

But, if you read Mark in the Greek, you read those same two words over and over again: kai euthos…kai euthos…kai euthos…and immediately…and immediately…and immediately.

And, the first time we read that phrase in this Gospel is when Jesus is rising out of the Jordan River at his baptism.

And just as (kai euthos) he was coming out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.

Just a verse later we hear it again:

And the Spirit immediately (kai euthos) drove him out into the wilderness.

Scholars readily comment on the war-time nature of the Gospel of Mark. It was the first gospel written, and it was drafted either in the years immediately leading up to, or the years immediately after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70AD.

So, it was an anxious, urgent time. Everything had either already changed, or it was just about to.

Scholars also comment on the notion that Mark was imminently expecting Jesus to return. Mark thought Jesus was returning at any day, any moment. Scholars attribute the brevity of Mark, his lack of an infancy narrative, or even a fully developed resurrection narrative to this. Mark gives the highlights, and moves on.

He wasn’t writing a work of art. He was writing an urgent, wartime witness to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Just the facts, and nothing but the facts.

This, of course, might also contribute to the drumbeat of immediacy.

I think there is much merit to these theories, and they inform my every reading of Mark. And yet…I also think that there’s a least one more level of meaning here.

I think Mark, and Jesus, also believed that the spiritual life and ministry itself should be shrouded in urgency. When life and death, light and darkness, hope and despair, love and hate are at stake, there is no time for laziness. There isn’t time for ho…hum…what to do now?

No time for commissions to endlessly propose another commission to begin a study, and report back in four years, so that another commission can consider the study and propose another one.

No.

People are hurting, fearful, sick, hungry, thirsty, and mired in sin and death. Light and life needs unleashed on the world immediately. Now. Right now.

Of course, that doesn’t preclude thoughtfulness, or prayerfulness, or discernment. It just means that we get around to doing that for which we were baptized (and for some of us, ordained) to do.

I think there’s something to the fact that these words are associated in the opening of Mark’s Gospel with 1) baptism and the 2) Spirit. Baptism is meant to be a rite which propels us out of a canon, that we might be hurtled into the world by the Spirit to do the work that we are given to do.

The Author

follower of Jesus, father of two, husband of one, Episcopal priest, with one book down, one blog up...surrounded by empty jars of nutella