A baptism of repentance for...

Week 2, Day 5

Mark 1. 1-11

John the Baptist is starting a new movement.

He comes out of the wilderness, a place of mystery and privation and danger—but also a place spiritually minded people go to when they want to connect with God. The story gives the feeling that the John who came out of the wilderness was not the same man who went in to the wilderness.

John doesn’t leave the wilderness entirely, however. Perhaps he’s too wild himself for that. He comes back to the edge of civilization—just across the muddy Jordan River, and preaches there “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.

Let’s think about that for a moment:

Baptism: from the Greek word “baptizo”. It means to totally immerse something or someone. John wasn’t dribbling water from the Jordan on the heads of his converts. I imagine him holding them under water until they understood anew the value of air. They came up from the water feeling re-born and able to breathe again.

Repentance: the Greek word literally means “to turn around”. John seems to have believed people were generally looking, or traveling, in the wrong direction, suggesting what is obvious but generally missed— that you can’t see what you’re not looking at and you can’t get to where you’re not going. “God is over here”, John said, “not over there. Turn around so you can see”.

Forgiveness: I’m really not sure what this word means or how it works. How’s that for a pastoral confession. What do you think means?

Sins: We tend to see “sin” in very personal terms as some “wrong” act we perform. That isn’t a large enough conception to describe the Biblical notion of sin. The Bible prophets, and Jesus certainly fits in here, conceived of sin as less the individual’s action and more as anything that separated the people from God or from the abundant life God intended for everyone. That’s why the prophets are so unrelentingly political. Sin, for them, was in the systems—political, social and religious, that enriched the powerful and made miserable the lives of the poor.

Now all of that is interesting and worthy of consideration. But what really catches my attention is what happens next. Verse 9: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” Why does he do that?

What was Jesus turning away from or turning toward (repenting)? Do we need to change our notion of what forgiveness is; or change our understanding of who Jesus is in relation to (needing) forgiveness? There’s nothing in the story suggesting John sees Jesus as being different from anyone else in the crowd. Do you think that once the heavens are torn open and the dove descends Jesus sees himself differently than before his baptism? How do we adjust our understanding of baptism, repentance, forgiveness and sin to accommodate these details in the story?

Will we ever reach the end of all these questions?

Probably not.

Prayer: God, we want breathe again, to see again—maybe for the first time. Give us a turning. Immerse us in your grace. Draw us in to this new thing John started and Jesus continues we pray. Amen.

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.’

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