Weekly Bible Reflection
Mark's Alternative Economy
Second Sunday of Advent
Mark 1. 1-8: "Setting the scene "
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Sharing Together "The Continuation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our community":
How have you and your Christian community proclaimed ‘good news’ in recent days? Good news for whom? - Maybe, Bad news, or a threat, for some?
The Text viewed from the 'Underside"
The introduction to Mark sets the scene, not just in an ‘Advent’ sense of preparing for Christ’s birth, but for all of us as we prepare to engage with the whole Gospel week-by-week over the coming year. John the Baptist plays a vital role in this.
What a wonderful first line: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ …”
- Echoes of the Creation – “In the beginning”: this book is about God’s continuing involvement in creation
- ‘Gospel’ - at that time, a word used for Roman propaganda, good news for the Empire, of battles won and of the Emperor’s great deeds: Mark uses an ‘in word’ to give a dramatic effect
- Subverting the word ‘Gospel’ - a highly political way to proclaim Jesus as God’s anointed one (the Messiah, the Christ), the one who is to proclaim God’s reign on earth as opposed to that of the Emperor.
Verse 2 introduces Isaiah - immediate assurance that this ‘Gospel’ comes with an impeccable pedigree. An ancient authority foretold this event.
The account quickly gathers speed. By verse 4 we meet the third character, John: in the words of Ched Myers (Say to this Mountain, p7)
- “dressed in camel hair” – an echo of another ancient authority, Elijah, the ultimate ‘missing person’ who vanished into a cloud (2 Kings 2.6-14) and whose return was long expected: is John actually Elijah, back after so long?
- Malachi foretold Elijah’s return “before the great and terrible day of the Lord”. John-as-Elijah, suggests that a time of judgement is to follow.
And John has a sharp message
Already, it is clear that there is good news of forgiveness to be found, in the emptiness of desert rather than the Temple - and freely available to anyone who will listen and change. It is being dispensed by a nobody called John, rather than by Priests. And there is even better news! Jesus is coming, from the ‘nowhere-place’ of Nazareth in Galilee, to challenge both the Empire of Rome and the rule of the Temple in Jerusalem.
- He preaches “repent”, turn around, follow a different ‘Way’, be baptised and put right with God. The inference is, through him, rather than through the priests in the Temple.
- He preaches in the desert, away from the city, but crowds have followed to hear him.
- He proclaims the imminent arrival of one much more significant than himself.
Responding as a community
As 2008 draws to a close, there is much for ordinary folk to fear: jobs at risk, savings insecure, basic living costs rising fast. Politicians, bankers, industrialists and investment brokers all appear to be implicated in the problem and consequently powerless to protect the vulnerable.
- John comes from the ‘edge’, from barren desert, and meets people in the desert. Is your Christian Community seen in its neighbourhood to be ‘at the margins’, with the vulnerable in their desert, or is it perceived to be a part of the structure of power in society?
- John’s message is one of turning to a new way of life. In what way does your community reflect a different way of living – an alternative lifestyle?
- John baptises, blesses and affirms those who are willing to make that transition to a new way. How might you do that in your neighbourhood this week?
If you prepared an Advent wreath last week light the second candle.
Use this Responsorial version of the Lord’s Prayer, perhaps pausing between each phrase to name the particular concerns that come to mind.
Our Father in heaven,
Remind us that you are parent to all your children,
whoever, or wherever they are or come from
Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come,
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Establish peace and justice, hope and life for all peoples
Give us today our daily bread.
Disturb us into an awareness of the needs of others
Forgive us our sins,
Our pride and our prejudices.
As we forgive those who sin against us
and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
Especially keep our hearts and minds open to see the good in others.
For the kingdom
Just and true,
gentle and fair,
And the glory,
Shot through with the colours of love,
Are yours for ever and ever.
In 2004 the journalist Tim Butcher made a remarkable journey down the Congo River, following, over a century after, in the steps of the explorer, Henry Morton Stanley. His book, Blood River, tells the story. He found the country ravaged by civil war and almost all the ‘civilisation’ of the last century - roads, railway, mines, civic organisation and the rule of law - to have been erased. In contrast to the rest of the world, he notes two things. First, that the only people to have experienced modernity were the elderly, and second, that security was to be found in the jungle, rather than in the city.
The economic crisis, resource depletion and global warming could quickly drive the poorer parts of our society to the ‘desert’. How might your community be present there in the future with good sustenance and a new Way?
We recommend a visit to Earth Abbey http://www.earthabbey.com/ through which an alternative vision is offered.
Mark's Alternative Economy - Discussion
From Stephen - Corton Denham
I used this reflection alongside a brief reflection on the context of Isaiah 40 at a Village Service in Corton Denham yesterday and was quite overwhelmed by the response. There seems to be great hunger to learn about the context in which the biblical events are set. A friend rang this morning to say that he had done the same in a church in Plymouth with equal effect. Has the church's long-standing dedication to 'preaching', in some way, inhibited 'learning'?