Lent 1B

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This page is part of the Lectionary series within the Living with Jesus Now project.


Contents

Lectionary

  • Genesis 9:8-17 & Psalm 25:1-10
  • 1 Peter 3:18-22
  • Mark 1:9-15




Introduction

During Lent the major western lectionaries align closely, with the RCL texts for Year B being as follows:

  • Lent 1 - Gen 9:8-17 & Ps 25:1-10, 1Pet 3:18-22, Mark 1:9-15
  • Lent 2 - Gen 17:1-7, 15-16 & Ps 22:23-31, Rom 4:13-25, Mark 8:31-38
  • Lent 3 - Exod 20:1-17 & Ps 19, 1Cor 1:18-25, John 2:13-22
  • Lent 4 - Num 21:4-9 & Ps 107:1-3, 17-22, Eph 2:1-10, John 3:14-21
  • Lent 5 - Jer 31:31-34 & Ps 51:1-12, Heb 5:5-10, John 12:20-33
  • Palm Sunday - Isa 50:4-9a & Ps 31:9-16, Phil 2:5-11, Mark 14:1-15:47


This set of readings suggests that the major themes running through Lent this year will be:

  • Waters of Death and New Life (The Flood and the Baptism of Jesus)
  • Covenant and Commitment (Abraham and Discipleship)
  • Covenant Faithfulness (Decalogue and Temple Cleansing)
  • Healing and Life (The One Lifted Up)
  • New Covenant (Seed Dies, Grain Grows)




God's son, Mark's hero

In its opening scenes, GMark portrays Jesus as beginning the mission that will ultimately take him to the cross. With remarkable brevity, and with no interest at all in Jesus' personal origins or family history, the first Gospel sets about telling its account of the "good news about Jesus:"

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
"See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,'"

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 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. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 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. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 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. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." (Mark 1:1-15, NRSV)

Only the second half of that opening is set for our use in worship next Sunday, but we need to note the political terminology of the opening scene. Terms which for us have mostly a religious significance were once common in political life as rulers asserted their divine authority over the lives of their subjects.


One classic example of this is to be found in the decree of the Province of Asia as they affirm the divine attributes of Caesar:

Whereas Providence ... has ... adorned our lives with the highest good: Augustus ... and has in her beneficence granted us and those who will come after us [a Savior] who has made war to cease and who shall put everything [in peaceful] order ... with the result that the birthday of our God signalled the beginning of the Good News for the world because of him therefore ... the Greeks in Asia Decreed that the New Year begin for all the cities on September 23 ... and the first month shall ... be observed as the Month of Caesar, beginning with 23 September, the birthday of Caesar.
[Calendrical Decree from Temples of Rome and Augustus in the Province of Asia]

As noted previously an early Christian text such as 1 Thessalonians has numerous examples of political terms being applied to Christ and/or the Christian community:

  • ekklesia (church, assembly) - citizens of a free Greek city assembled for self-government
  • peace and security (5:3) - a spiritual blessing, or a benefit flowing from good government (cf. Pax Romana)
  • kyrios (Lord) - a title used by the emperor
  • kingdom and glory belonging to God (2:12) - or to the emperor?
  • gospel (euangelion) - used in 1:5; 2:2,4,8,9; 3:2, but also for official news from the government
  • parousia (advent, arrival) - used for a visitation by a conquering ruler, or for the arrival of Christ as ruler of the universe (2:19; 3:13; 4:15,17)


We may miss something of importance in Mark's opening description of Jesus if we do not also notice the anti-imperial rhetoric of his narrative. While the emperor (whose armies had so recently captured Jerusalem and demolished the temple) claimed indirect divine sonship and invoked the prophetic oracles of prophets such as Josephus to validate his right to exercise power and dominion, Mark defiantly asserts that there is another "son of God." It is concerning this "anointed one" that GMark has a formal proclamation (good news, euangelion) to publish.

Like many ancient heroes, GMark's Jesus will be understood as "son of God" although GMark contains no story about his divine conception or miraculous birth. Instead, like many of the Vespasian's imperial predecessors, Jesus will be adopted and declared a son of God. Blissfully unaware of the later Christological controversies over the eternal divine nature of Jesus, Mark will simply describe an event that establishes Jesus' right to be revered as "savior," "son of God" and "Lord."

In this Mark seems closer to Paul than to Chalcedon, although Paul seems to have considered the resurrection as the moment when the divine sonship of Jesus had been established:

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ ... (Rom. 1:1-6, NRSV)

We almost certainly miss the point of first-century GMark if we think that next Sunday's readings remembers and describes an event in the personal history of Jesus. This not to deny that Jesus had such profound personal experiences, or to question whether Jesus understood himself to be engaged in some program that drew people into a transformative experience of God's eschatological blessings here and now (or better, then and there). However, it is good to remember the relationship between the life of Jesus and the text of the Gospels is rather more complex than we usually acknowledge.

Like the brief reference to the temptations of Jesus that follow, GMark's account of the baptism by John is to be explained by the advantage to the author in exploiting traditional motifs about the hero. GMark is portraying an alternative emperor, not describing the psychology of Jesus.

The elements to be found in Mark 1 include:

  • biblical prophecy and fulfillment (c.f. Sibylline Oracles)
  • prophetic affirmation John the Baptist
  • a theophany at the moment of baptism
  • adoption by Jesus as "beloved Son" by none less than God
  • the role of God's Spirit in "driving" Jesus into the wild places
  • Jesus' success in passing his (unspecified) trials authenticates his hero status
  • the demise of John removes any possible conflict between the two characters

With his credentials now established, at least to the satisfaction of the author, Jesus is described as proclaiming the imminent arrival or inauguration of the alternative empire, the basileia tou theou ("God's imperial domain").

The lectionary linking of this story with the ancient account of the flood is most apt, since that story (in its various ancient versions) was a story of the collapse of the original ordering of society and nature, as established by the gods of creation. All of the achievements and powers of the old order were swept away by the flood, with the future now belonging to a small community of people adrift in a fragile vessel.

It is not clear whether the author of GMark had any of this in mind, but it is certainly the case that GMark was written at a time when the old order (Jerusalem, rulers, Sanhedrin, Temple) had been swept away and a new ruler (Vespasian) had emerged to claim the throne after a year of chaos in the empire as four different protagonists contested the right to be emperor.

In that climate of profound uncertainty, when all the old structures of the "way things are around here" had been swept aside, GMark announces the arrival of a new ruler. It is not Vespasian, but Jesus. The new era is ushered in by death and destruction, but it is Jesus who is killed. Like the later tradition of the Twelfth Iman of the Shi'a sect of Islam, GMark understands Jesus to have been taken by God but soon to return as the Designated One who will establish the messianic era.

Unlike the later Gospels that copied and modified its narrative, GMark has no confusing and premature resolution of the dilemma posed equally by the death of Jesus and the destruction of the Temple. The women at the tomb are not granted a vision of the Risen One, but they are promised that they will encounter him back in Galilee; where he has already gone ahead of them:

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?" When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you." So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid ... (Mark 16:1-8, NRSV)

In the context of profound uncertainty, "after the deluge" of Good Friday and 70 CE, the GMark presents an "official announcement" (euangelion) of Jesus as the son of God, the anointed hero, who will inaugurate the new empire of God and whose ultimate success will not be impeded by the emperors who hold power in Rome. Don't look for him in tomb (or in creed?), but out on the horizons of the future; among the "little ones" of Galilee (wherever "Galilee" is for us).


Jesus Database

  • 058 John Baptizes Jesus - (1) Gos. Heb. 2; (2a) Mark 1:9-11 = Matt 3:13-17 = Luke 3:21-22; (2b) GNaz. 2; (2c) GEbi. 4; (2d) John 1:32-34; (2e) Ign. Smyrn. 1:1c; (3) Ign. Eph. 18:2d
  • 116 Jesus Tempted - (1) 3Q: Luke 4:1-2a = Matt 4:1-2a; (2) Mark 1:12-13
  • 214 Kingdom and Repentance - (1a) Mark 1:14-15 = Matt 4:12,17 = Luke 4:14-15 =(?) John 4:1-3; (1b) Matt 3:2




Liturgies and Prayers

For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt's web site

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Music Suggestions

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