Mark 1:7

and he proclaimed – “After me is coming someone more powerful than I am, and I am not fit even to stoop down and unfasten his sandals.


everyone serves
someone something
stronger or
you’d all serve me
we’d all serve you

 
identifying strength
is a critical
survival skill

evaluating strength
is a critical
growth grace

not all strength
is equal or
real or true
we too easily
give in to

claimed or
perceived strength
always wears
a curtain to be
drawn back

in what strength
do you really
go forth


Note that there is no wild warning of impending doom here, no calling out “you snakes” at crowds in general or Pharisees in particular. Mark’s Baptizer John is a preparer of a later choice of the message we will learn to give.

Everyone, including Jesus, can see “better” on its way. Care for next generations demands that we expect and encourage them to do greater things than we have been able to achieve. We welcome their outdoing us and redeeming our lack even as we attempt to do the same for those who have gone before us.

To this extent we are able to emulate John as we set the table for better to come. This is not some pie-in-the-sky being talked about, but an on-the-ground, steady affirmation, “It gets better”.

A weak baby of today is intended to grow stronger and wiser than ourselves or we have totally messed up our values.

This is a humble position to be in, expecting tables to turn and to be a part of seeing that they do. A gift of humility is finding the truth in “the last shall be first and the first, last”. In this is a deep satisfaction beyond pride. It is our shoulders they have stood on. And, it turns out those who follow are not heavy.

All of this suggests that John understood being a grandparent who can see beyond the limits of what they could accomplish with their children to what the children of their children are going to be able to bind together as a rainbow promise of no more violence is implemented in their lives.

Mark 1:6

John wore clothes made of camels’ hair, with a leather strap around his waist, and lived on locusts and wild honey;


describing behavior
implies interiority
revealed

 
with camel clothes
leather belt and
locusts eaten
with uncommoditized honey
we are brought up short
we can’t avert our eyes

people might journey
an easy way down
to see a buttoned-down preacher
in a splendiferous setting
but a quick dip
to sustain a difficult climb
puts this beginning
in as untenable spot
as its ending

Baptizer John
didn’t pull punches
with his outside
non-conformed dress
or his inside
pro-prophetic sustenance
which all-in-all
is attractive and
repellent

come for the latest spectacle
come for a needed meme
renew


We are what we eat. Likewise we dress our social location, even when our dressing down evidences our ability to dress up—note pre-distressed jeans.

In both instances we model our understanding of our standing. There is a look to a prophet and another to a profiteer. Wisdom in the world’s way requires a keen sense of style to know where real power and weakness lie.

Would people have willingly gone to see a successful trader ultimately incapable of being a traitor to all that brought them success?

Perhaps for a while. However the parade would end as internal dissonance cannot last without being seen as the crazy place it is.

Eventually, though, not even a style congruent with a message can carry the day. John is not Elijah. A messenger is not needed for Prophet Jesus. He stands on his own. John is not his clothes or his food. Similarly confession, forgiveness, and repentance are not sufficient to precede or follow an act of baptism. These works are too small for a changed heart and do not carry sufficient energy for a life out of sync with its time.

Mark 1:5

The whole of Judea, as well as all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, went out to him; and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.


all the people
are not all the people
all black lives matter
clarifies who all
always means
specifically the all
not part of all who matter

all the left out
and left behind
and not even seen
come out

out to the desert
out to all their
non-being part of all

out to be refined
out to confess their unity
every part a part of all

claimed by all to be sin
claimed by a new all
to be blessed and baptized
without authority
to author a new all

How many baptisms and re-baptisms or renewals of baptism have you experienced? How many confessions and absolutions and penances and new beginnings have you had. Enough to call “Legion”?

Now multiply that times “everyone”.

The imperfect tense of the Greek here suggests a continual parade of recognizing dissatisfaction with our current standards of interaction, leaving our usual haunts, proceeding to an anti-haunt of wilderness, sharpening our critique into confession, doubling down on that by sewing a blazing letter “A” for Alpha (a new start) on our tunic, and returning to our old setting without critical tools to shift it. And around we go again.

Baptism as a new and innovative attempt to change lives does begin with heightening a heart’s desire. Unfortunately it runs smack into unchanged habits. As water magic it does call to a person’s internal tides. We sense pre-creation’s deep dark growing, but without an ability to call out for revealing light or naming rights.

Our confession opens a possibility of shifting to a profession able to see a crack in an individual’s life and to rearrange both molecules and morale that a healing, not a curing, take place and a whole community be rewoven together. Such a profession is G*D moving outside of Eden to labor with creation, labor at leaving behind an old guarded tree, and labor toward a healed tree-of-life become a source of a living river, not just being its neighbor.

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
G*D
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.”’


preparations
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

because

forerunners

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

murmuring

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.