Immediately afterward the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness;
a dove’s force
a unity of one
and heaven is tested
all and heaven
assurance is a trap
an inner narcissist
practiced in mercy
a dove become an eagle
is our standard
to assail heaven
There is no avoiding a hero’s journey. The very blessing giving a token of living a quest leads to a willingness to be tested. Unlike the temptation details of Matthew and Luke or those of Mary and Nicodemus in John, Mark simply notes that temptation takes place. A benefit of a lack of details or examples is that this motif can be seen all through Mark’s telling.
Temptations are not overcome marking some immunity from them. They will continue to run through the story to the final words of forsakenness and fear.
In the wilderness, carrying a deep appreciation of being loved, we understand danger abounds but the blessing already received is greater still. Testing a blessing will anneal it.
Mark’s eleven uses of ἐκβάλλω (ekballō “drove”, “forced”, “impelled”) are connected with exorcism. Blessing, as a cheap grace, needs exorcising. Without this pressurized setting of testing it will be too easy to fall into the façade of a prosperity gospel.
It is at this point that the gentle dove shows its other side—eagle. Nikos Kazantzakis notes this in his statement of faith, Saviors of God: Spiritual Exercises, when he has an eagle drop and insert its talons into the back of your neck to drag you where you did not want to go.
While urgency has been present and implied with “beginning”, “Isaiah”, and “repentance”, we have here the first of the urgent words, εὐθύς (euthys “at once”, “immediately”). Richard W. Swanson’s translation of this in, Provoking the Gospel of Mark, has in caps, “BANG”. Swanson notes that “immediately” is too long a word to be immediate, to speed up and intensify a story!
and from the heavens came a voice – “You are my dearly loved son; you bring me great joy.”
create deafening echoes
whereupon splitting open
out rush inchoate hope
while an in-rushing gasp
shoves in the gap
a birthing groan sighs
as newly washed ears
attend to the unheard
and there was music
connecting old horizons
to one widely precious
simple next breath
echoes like crashing surf
block all accumulated identities
until a song of myself
out waits a heaven bound
be love beloved
begin a new echo
voice to voice
calls deep to deep
heaven to hearth
opened to open
calls each to each
love times love
claims steady joy
A voice. Resonant baritone? Young girl whispering? Siri? Carried on the wind?
In Matthew we have “Beloved” as a title. Here it shows Mark’s understanding of Christ-Messiah that will blow apart every closed system to reveal a pleasure principle that has staying power. The older phrase of “steadfast love” would do well here.
Recognizing that Jesus does not live up to the usual measure of a Messiah—just look around at the lack of change in a world before and after Jesus—moves us into a re-creation of Messiah.
This important line, too easily glossed over as a statement of faith rather than the explosive reorientation it is, needs more looking at. To catch a glimpse of this listen to C.S. Mann on Mark in the Anchor Bible series.
The complexity of the declaration in this verse … can hardly be exaggerated, since it combines motifs from the soteriological ideas of Genesis 22, a messianic designation in Psalm 2, and the Servant of Isaiah 42. The combination of motifs is startling, yet all the elements are at home in Palestinian Judaism.
However you entered into overhearing this voice, it is a blessing. Look around for who else has heard and is working on allowing it to flow through and from them. Look, also, for those who haven’t heard. Bringing these two together is Messiah work.
Just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens split open and the Spirit coming down to him like a dove,
every little once in awhile
Sylvie brings needed water
while in deep water
we are ungrounded
are centering down for enough
to flip into a new orientation
have we stayed down long enough
to gasp at beauty open-eyed
every little once in awhile
a level of awareness is leapt
our ungrounding and regrounding
occur together—beyond a while
heaven breaks loose from eternity
and opens a newly seeded path to explore
into Noah’s hand comes an olive branch
land ho! time to release all pent up tensions
a next game is afoot as our treading finds sea floor
and we bounce to a strange shore
every little once in awhile
life’s tides ebb and flow through us
we move from drowning in prevenience
to jumping from justification to justice
The unbinding of a lost stone needs a name that stands for what it holds and is drawn forth.
In later mythology King Arthur finds a stone within water that holds a sword named Excalibur. This sword becomes his weapon whereby he rules.
Here the Jesus stone has his authority coming to rest solidly within. The two are wedded in a way not available to Arthur whose sword is finally lost to him.
A contrast between stones may be instructive.
Excalibur (a hard cut), pulled from stone, is quite different from Beloved (a generous welcome), invested in what seems to be lost in dim memory and of no account. Now a Messiah message of a split open and loving “Paradise” or “preferred future” is to be carried into every wilderness.
Now about that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
acknowledged or not
a next generation
none of us are
our own strength
we call to vocation
each to their part
in common choices
and overarching journey
for ancestral choices
we gather to see
for relational choices
we gather to hear
to river of consequence
we drop our sorrow
claim our everyday
within and beyond
From promises of old we begin an urgent journey with a retreat to the wilderness.
Jesus “happened” to come from the hills of Nazareth in the north to a river, probably South Jordan near Jericho. In a sense Jesus is preparing his own way just as all of us do. Lots of things “happen”, so how do we come to be at all the important events of our life?
These simple location points say much about how revolutions take place. They take place when there is nothing left to lose. Nothing good is expected from those in Nazareth. The experience of Nazareth will be critical, but the shift will not take place there first. One needs the experience of being so close to seats of power and seeing what it does before gathering an insight as to where its failure point lies.
So we move from being at a loss, wandering without understandable direction, to a place where previous wilderness times have ended. Here we pause to let the waters flow around us as it does a rock.
A picture comes to mind of rocks lifted from the Jordan to be an enduring memorial of moving from wilderness to realized promises. (Joshua 4).
Jesus arises ready to be a living stone that wherever he wanders hopes will be raised and self-captivity will no longer rule.
This is spare language for an event which shifts seismic plates within intentionality.
I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
resolve into priority
chickens and eggs
can dance together
for a long time
water and Spirit
find their privilege
past and future
catch and release
their armored plates
the present trembles
in the shaking
rebalancing false choices
blaming old wounds
in this very work
visions of a future
still far off
and now further
What we do is common, ordinary. What is yet to come is for us quite uncommon and surprising.
These two states indicate a disjuncture common to beginnings, to Ta-Da announcements, to a new way and new life.
John is not Jesus. Jesus is not me. All three of us are growing into G*D. Theosis is a journey of grace. This Orthodox orthodoxy is involved with a journey from water to Spirit.
The Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America puts it this way in their blog on “Theosis: Partaking of the Divine Nature”:
In fact, deification is very akin to the Wesleyan understanding of holiness or perfection, with the added element of our mystical union with God in Christ as both the means and the motive for attaining perfection. Fr. David Hester in his booklet, The Jesus Prayer, identifies theosis as “the gradual process by which a person is renewed and unified so completely with God that he becomes by grace what God is by nature.” Another way of stating it is “sharing in the divine nature through grace.”
This journey will be revisited in Chapter 9 when the revelation of “belovedness” at a riverside baptism is reprised on a mountain.
For now, note Mark’s building of a story of Jesus’ beginning and movement toward a mysterious promise of resurrection and reunion.
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.
you’d all serve me
we’d all serve you
is a critical
is a critical
not all strength
is equal or
real or true
we too easily
give in to
a curtain to be
in what strength
do you really
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.
John wore clothes made of camels’ hair, with a leather strap around his waist, and lived on locusts and wild honey;
with camel clothes
leather belt and
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
didn’t pull punches
with his outside
or his inside
is attractive and
come for the latest spectacle
come for a needed meme
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.
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
specifically the all
not part of all who matter
all the left out
and left behind
and not even seen
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
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.
John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance, for the forgiveness of sins.
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
forgiveness is a creation
we swim in
if these then risk
if risk then generosity
if generosity then no prophets
no Jesus John-ed
when generosity falters
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.
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.