The beginning began quite a while ago...
Week 2, Day 3
Mark 1. 1-11
Mark begins “the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” by quoting Exodus, Isaiah and Malachi. Think about that for a minute. Mark, and the other authors of our New Testament books—the people closest to Jesus in time and place and understanding, saw Jesus as necessarily and inescapably linked to Judaism. Why is that, do you think?
And why, if the New Testament writers present Jesus as so thoroughly Jewish, have Jews and Christians spent much of the last 2000 years acting like demented siblings in a horribly dysfunctional family? Why are Christianity and Judaism separate religions? Are they separate religions?
Reading the opening of Mark’s gospel this time set me to wondering if the story of Jesus could even have been told at all without reference to his Jewishness. His roots and heritage are in Judaism; all his life he presented as a faithful Jew. How much of the story of Jesus, and the story of what God was up to, would we have lost had not Judaism been the context for Jesus life?
Or to ask that question another way, are we missing something important if we imagine (incorrectly, I’m certain) Jesus as the first Christian rather than a lifetime, faithful Jew? Do we do some disservice to the gospel—the “good news of Jesus Christ”, when we frame our religion in such a way as to cast a shadow of error or incompleteness on Judaism?
Lot’s of questions, I know. But here’s the point I think Mark is bringing us to: by anchoring Jesus in Judaism he is showing us the consistency of God. God has always been calling to the people; always coming to the people. And the good news is, Mark says, it’s happening again.
And then, by linking Jesus’ teachings and ministry to the long tradition of this ancient religion, he is expanding the image of God. In our Old Testament God is proclaimed to be welcoming and inclusive of all people. In the New Testament gospels Jesus demonstrates and makes concrete God’s inclusive welcome—and shows God to be more inclusive, more welcoming of more people than almost anyone imagined.
On Day 3 of this week we will consider the actual baptism of Jesus. There is something important there, of course, but be careful not to rush past the context of the story—the “rest of the story”. The faith we hold is deep, rich and thoroughly connected to the faith of those who have come before us—including those who came long before us and saw God through different metaphors and called God by different names.
Perhaps our faith is connected to the religions of those around us today, too; perhaps in ways we haven’t been able to imagine yet. Perhaps the welcoming God proclaimed by Moses and embodied Jesus is calling us today to open our arms, and our hearts, a little wider.
Prayer: God of eternal and infinite welcome, we feel the warmth of your embrace and trust the steadfastness of your heart. We have been baptized—immersed(1) in your love, and here we rest. Amen.
(1) The Greek word "baptism" (baptizo) means to immerse completely
1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” ’,
4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’