Weekly Bible Reflection
Mark's Alternative Economy
Third Sunday of Advent
John 1: 6-8, 19-28 :
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Sharing Together "The Continuation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our community":
Recall your baptism, confirmation or rite of entry into the fellowship of your church. What did it mean to you at the time? Do you feel any differently about it now?
The Text viewed from the 'Underside"
The emphasis here is again on John the Baptist, pointing beyond to someone else. He is a witness to the Light source. He reflects the Light. John standing as a bridge between the prophets of old and the One whose coming is immanent. He focused earlier traditions forward to a new way of being part of a religious community. He alerts us to how God speaks when we are not expecting it – and, also, to knowing that the God who has calls us doesn’t tell us what we are to do.
John’s activities on the edge of society rattle the religious authorities, challenge their power and undermine their influence. His call to Jews (existing ‘churchgoers’) to repent and be baptised was deeply troubling. Baptism was for non-Jews who have been warned about coming judgment. He infers that God’s people are lost, in need of forgiveness of sins.
We often shy away from the strange question of why Jesus needed to be baptised. Maybe he was making a public statement about his understanding of ‘religion’. Perhaps he was identifying with the people. Jesus didn’t join the Zealots, the freedom fighters, although some of them later joined him. He didn’t join the Essenes, that exclusive desert-sect which may well have influenced John’s lifestyle. He didn’t join the mainstream, law-abiding Pharisees; he even called some of them hypocrites. Nor did he join the Sadducees, the priestly aristocrats with political power and royal connections. No, he went out to the desert, to John, the last in the line of a tradition going way back – the ones who denounced empty ritual when it oppressed the ordinary people, the ones who stood for shalom rooted in Jubilee and justice.
This tradition appealed very much to the ordinary people, those struggling to get by, excluded by the powerful, burdened down by debt and economic injustice. Jesus gave up his God-given authority that could have made him leader of the revolutionaries, the powerful, the fanatics or the prosperous law-abiding majority. We know well where this was to lead him in the end – but we know too where it began, and that John the Baptist was a part of it, right from the very start.
Responding as a community
- How does or should baptism shape our Christian journey? Should we regard it as a beginning or an end or as a way of life?
- What can we learn from John the Baptist about ‘witnessing’? In what ways do you and your community witness to the Light that is Christ? Would you describe your faith community as a clear sign pointing to Jesus? What, if anything, needs to change?
- How might you help someone who says: “I’ve been seeking God but never found him”?
- To what extent did John the Baptist understand his proclamation about Jesus as the coming Messiah? How much do we need to understand to share the Good News?
- What is the relationship between baptism in water and baptism in the Holy Spirit? It seems that the two become one in the baptism of Jesus.
- Should baptism be part of a community event or a private family activity? Are we ever in danger of thinking that because baptism is a one-off, unrepeatable event that forgiveness and reconciliation are the same?
- USPG: Anglicans in World Mission have an Advent Resource based on the Hymn “Christ be our Light” see: http://www.uspg.org.uk/resource.php?id=18
- Pray for readiness to pass on the message about the coming of the Kingdom, remembering that longing for God to come into our world is paralleled by apprehension about what that might mean. Light that will comfort and warm in the darkness may also expose what we would rather hide or not know about. If we want to avoid such awareness we should certainly not engage in anything as dangerous as prayer!
- Use this prayer:
There’s a voice crying in the wilderness, up and down the high street, through the railway arches. The voice says, ‘Get ready for God! Make the path straight, repair the potholes and pavement cracks, fill in the ditches, cultivate the waste land. The mountains and the hills, empty office blocks and power towers will be laid low. Those bent over and weighed down will rise up and everyone will recognise God’s handiwork’. Praise God!
(Janet Lees, from ‘Shine on, Star of Bethlehem’, a worship resource for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany compiled by Geoffrey Duncan for Christian Aid.)
- There is some evidence that verses 6-8 may have been the original opening of John’s Gospel. It is a typical opening for a historical narrative, and verse 19 follows logically with its reference to testimony, picking up the ‘witness to testify to the light’ theme of the earlier verses. The Prologue with its poetic hymn about the Word coming into the world may have displaced the original opening at a later date. (See The Gospel according to John, Raymond E Brown).
- John the Baptist is an eyewitness and contemporary of Jesus for whose existence we have evidence from Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, xviii.5.2.)
- In the ancient Middle East, before a King visited a province, a herald would go before him to give others the opportunity to make suitable preparations. There is also a tradition about the role the angels in preparing the way through the desert by which the Israelites might return from Babylonian captivity to Palestine.
- The priests and Levites would have been specialists in the rules of ritual purification, but John’s version of baptism was new. Ritual washing was common, in preparation for worship and was self-administered. John’s baptism was a single, unrepeatable action, and was a communal event with corporate significance. It was not held inside a ritual building, but outside in view of everyone (For further thought on this, see ‘The Meaning is in the Waiting, the Spirit of Advent’ by Paula Gooder).
- Some scholars think that the author of John’s gospel is downplaying John the Baptist to reduce the influence of his followers in the life of the early Christian household gatherings. Do you think this is likely?
Mark's Alternative Economy - Discussion