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?