Weekly Bible Reflection
Mark's Alternative Economy
The First Sunday of Epiphany
Mark 1. 4-11: " Authority to minister freely "
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Sharing Together "The Continuation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our community":
Spend a few moments recalling times when you felt God’s call to a new stage of your life as a Christian. Did you feel that call in the business of ordinary life or did it happen in an out-of-the-ordinary place? What was it that gave you that sense that God was affirming what you were about to do?
Then share those stories within the group.
The Text viewed from the 'Underside"
The location of Jesus’ baptism
As large crowds came out from Jerusalem to meet John the Baptist (V5), these events probably take place where the Jordan is at its nearest: still a distance of 30 miles (50km), a good day’s walk, involving a descent of 2000 feet (800 metres), and a long climb on the way back. Between Jerusalem and the Jordan at Jericho there is a desert area (scene of the Good Samaritan story) where John might have been preaching. The river valley, site of the baptising, is green and fertile, hardly desert.
We are told (v9) that Jesus goes to meet John at the Jordan River. His journey from Galilee to Jericho was three times as far - at least three days walk - which suggests not a casual encounter, but one premeditated and well planned. It seems to have been very important to Jesus that he met with John at this time, when he was working out the nature of his calling as God’s Son.
The implications of Jesus baptism
In the reflection for the Second Sunday of Advent, we noted that Mark (1 v1-6) challenges both the Roman Empire and the authority of the Temple in Jerusalem. And, from John’s gospel (Third Sunday of Advent), that Jesus did not ally himself to any of the factions within the Jewish religious life – Pharisees, Sadducees or Essenes. So when he goes to the ‘wild’ man’ in the desert, and accepts his baptism, he is beginning a process of ‘marking out the scope of his ministry’. He is Jesus the Christ, Son of God, and thus in opposition to the Roman Emperor who had to be worshipped as a god. Secondly, by accepting John’s baptism of repentance, he was placing himself outside the authority of the Temple and its priesthood as exclusive agents of God.
Already, before going ‘on retreat’ alone in the desert, the principles of Jesus’ ministry are being formed. And they receive affirmation from on high (v10) as ‘heaven is torn open, the Spirit descends like a dove, and a voice confirms, “You are my Son whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”’ What more can any son want of his father?
Baptism marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as our baptism does for us. The Baptiser and the desert location signal that it is going to be free and independent of the established religious structures, and will be directed towards the people whose spiritual needs were not being met at that time. Jesus is affirmed that this has God’s approval.
Responding as a community
- In pairs, review the sense of calling that each person feels as a Christian in society beyond the life of the church and the way in which that call is fulfilled in some aspect of ministry. List these individual ministries.
- Can you identify God’s affirmation for what you are doing?
- Does the church recognise this ministry and embrace it within its life? If not, why not?
Light a candle to represent the ministry of each person that takes place beyond the church.
If there is sufficient space available, separate the group into pairs and pray aloud for each other’s ministries. If space is too restricted, then sit in a circle and pray silently for the ministry of the person on your right and on your left.
Give thanks for those who provide support and affirmation for these perhaps lonely, ministries and for those who help one to recognise God’s encouragement.
- ‘Mother to Son’ - a dialogue between Jesus and his mother offers a unusual perspective on the baptism by John which can be used within worship. It can be found in “Hay & Stardust – Resources for Christmas to Candlemas” complied by Ruth Burgess and published by Wild Goose Publications.
Mark's Alternative Economy - Discussion