Mark 1:4

John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance, for the forgiveness of sins.

Baptizer John
or any prophet
worth their salt
in a wilderness
whether an internal
or external wilderness

for a sign of change
first a sign of grace
preemptively merciful
forgiveness is a creation
we swim in

if these then risk
if risk then generosity
if generosity then no prophets
no Jesus John-ed
no baptism
no G*D

when generosity falters
prophets cry
don’t follow the money
follow the tears
tears enough to baptize
a first change and a next

Isaiah’s wilderness does not presume a physical wilderness. A people can provide their own wilderness through micro-decisions that add up over time until no one knows where our current difficulties lie or how to face them.

Image John in the middle of the Jordan, at the boundary between ancient Egypt and contemporary Rome. This location dramatizes choices of defection or disruption when a majority or other power enforces its will. Eventually there will be a call for repentance from greed in everyday life. Response will be difficult because it is always easier to see this wilderness of greed as a vice in another or displaced to some other place than everyday life.

These first four verses can be seen as announcement, connection to the past and present are the title and introduction of Mark’s Gospel. This misses a larger sense in which the whole of Mark is an introduction to a question of whether we see ourselves in a wilderness which can only be addressed by going into a larger wilderness where we fix a commitment to cease building debts as the basis of relationships and begin the long slow process of deconstructing a society built on the institution of and sustaining of inequality.

A need for change in John’s day continues to our day. No matter the clarity of a John or a Marx and Engels or today’s candidate for better living, implementation continues to run into unchanged hearts.

Mark 1:3

The voice of one crying aloud in the wilderness:

“Prepare the road for the Lord,

make a straight path for him.”’

made and sold
have echoed their way
to the present
with all their burrs removed
how long does it take
to straighten crooked lives
heal vessels of G*D
strengthen intentions into action
should we care to look back
to better look ahead
we will note Ezra and Nehemiah
report Isaiah to be dewy-eyed
all that John brings to the party
still awaits Jesus redux
instead of claiming
a straight road
for our clean feet
we return to yesteryear
to add our preparation
that will tack one more
vowel to echo-o-o-o
on to o-u-m

Finally we come to Isaiah who introduces us to the wilderness imagery that will run through the rest of the book. Without wrestling with wilderness in general as well as deserts in specific we miss the signifi-cance of a contest between tomorrow and yesterday, between abundance and scarcity, life and death, good and evil, and all the dualities that sharpen and limit our engagement with one another, both neighbors and creation.

In The New Interpreter’s Bible, Pheme Perkins says, “Salvation traditionally comes from the wilderness.” In Mark we find Jesus entering and leaving wildernesses specifically mentioned (e.g., 1:35, 1:45, 6:32, and 8:4). It will also be important to begin sensitizing ourselves to listening for wilderness references beyond that of the physical.

The Wild is both cause and cure of our disasters. Left to its own, suffering ensues. Humbly entered and encountered, it contains suffering’s antidotes of Enough and Joy.

Whatever you consider “the Lord” to be, consider a circular way of being both on the way to and in a place prepared to aid us in preparing a next way. An old Shaker hymn has us turning and turning from prepared to preparing to prepared for a larger preparation, until we come around, together, just right and just right, again—and again.

We seem to constantly be tempted and find our attempts at straight-making turned into places of wilderness for others and a next reformation needed to move us from our current idolatry or limitation on abundant living. Prepare to need more preparation.

Mark 1:2

It is said in the prophet Isaiah –

‘I am sending my messenger ahead of you;

he will prepare your way.

happenings don’t just happen



have done and said enough

to have caused

or not stopped

a today in need of a new happening

we could talk of

beginnings or creatings

but we never can find

their imaginative energy

and are left with happenings

wherein stuff happens

when stuff pleases

a hallelujah is easy to sing

when stuff hurts

a prophet of old

disturbs our restlessness


You are not stuck

we’ve been here before

stuff is not fate

happening stuff reshapes our vocation

so hallelujah any way you can

Isaiah stands for a whole prophetic tradition and leads to the prophetic nature of this Jesus.

This first quotation is from the Septuagint translation of Exodus 23:20 and Malachi 3:1. Missing from this reference is an original sense of being guarded along a way toward a prepared place.

More to the point is whether a Messiah, Rabbi, Teacher is only a Messenger or something grander. Does Mark’s use of the prophets refer to Baptizer John or Jesus? These words could apply in either direction: a messenger before Jesus (i.e., John) or a messenger before the reader (i.e., Jesus).

The easiest reading is a set up for John, but it is difficult to avoid considering the artistry of Mark who will leave his whole tale on an unspoken question of how we see Jesus and what we will do about what we see.

My preference is to read this as a set up for a final echo about messengers and whether we will receive a call to be a prophet in the line of Moses, Isaiah, Malachi, John, and Jesus. Joel reminds us of the importance to remember prophetic daughters as well as sons: Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Anna, and Phillip’s unnamed daughters.

From this beginning, we will see if we will learn, by the end, to be messengers?

Mark 1:1

The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, [the Son of God].

a beginning
an announcement
seems auspicious
particularly promising
good news about
a person
presented as
claimed to be
good news embodied

again communally
old promises renewed
and new practiced
beyond old paradigms
for good news
is not reducible
to any defined deity
but carries
its own authority

Yes, a beginning is in order as we are caught in serial exiles and a current occupation with no end in sight but a final solution dissolving all promises. Hope is further away than simply being unseen.

Mark employs then-common usage of language to announce a new reality to be lived before its time.

Our tendency is to sacralize language to keep it safe from a secular, judged unholy, world. So, ἀρχή (archē, “beginning”) echoes a big-bang rather than a comforting and inviting, “Once upon a time” that can walk with us. Likewise, εὐαγγέλιον (euangelion, “good message”) comes with an extra burden of our latter-day “gospel”. In its time it was used by a new ruler to claim victory over a previous regime. Such an announcement was understood to carry with it an absolution of past wrongs, a new start, and a promise of a reordered life together.

We have caught on that this sort of political promise can’t be trusted. Time and again we take cultural memes such as specifics of “general welfare” and tweak them a bit at a time until we are confused and then redefine them to mean their opposite. For instance, a Save the Forest Act can give license to harvest old-growth trees for a moment of profit. This is standard political propaganda 101. George Orwell, Jacques Ellul, George Lakoff, and others have tried to tell us about this but it seems to be a lesson always too late for the learning.

It is important to note that the last phrase, “the Son of God” does not have a trustworthy textual pedigree. A question: Does this get us into unhelpful debates about divine/human relationships, moving Jesus too quickly from Messiah or Christ here on earth to a holy being projected into everyday life and thus beyond us? What gets lost in an addendum of Heaven to an experience of Paradise in a new earth, new Jerusalem, and a new relationship with G*D? Bottom-line, keep this phrase as a footnote, but do not read it aloud.