Weekly Bible Reflection
Mark's Alternative Economy
First Sunday of Lent
Text: Mark 1. 9-15: " Jesus - Son, slave and bringer of justice "
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Share your thoughts on the effect on a person of not feeling loved ?
consider the extent to which your Christian community engages with issues of justice? Do you regard such engagement as fundamental to Christian mission?
A Window on the Text
Jesus emerges from Nazareth to be baptised by John in public. It’s a moment when his identity and mission are revealed. He is declared to be God’s beloved Son, but also God’s slave (servant), anointed by the Spirit for God’s mission.
As he rises from the water, he hears a voice from heaven: ‘You are my Son whom I love, with you I am well pleased’ (v9) echoing Psalm 2 v 7 and Isaiah 42 v 1ff. He is anointed and empowered by the Spirit for his mission to bring God’s kingdom and justice to the world. His baptism is a baptism into suffering and ultimately death. As he challenges injustice and evil, he will become the suffering slave of Isaiah (see chapters 52-53).
In the testing times ahead, he can look back to this pivotal event in his life, and find assurance of his identity as the God’s ‘beloved Son’ and of the presence of the Spirit. It will give him courage, strength and determination to continue challenging the ruling powers of this world and the injustices that he encounters and bringing good news to the poor.
Here is the true servant who sums up all that Israel was called to be, but failed. Here is the one who will fulfil the mission given to Israel to be a light to the nations.
Our understanding of Jesus as God’s Son who is also the suffering servant and bringer of justice is fundamental to our understanding of what following Christ means today.
Baptism into Christ is an initiation into his life. We share his mission. We are baptised by the same Holy Spirit. But it also means identifying with the suffering servant. It is a baptism into death (Romans 6.3.ff) and we share his suffering. The blood of the martyrs is ample testimony to the personal cost of that mission.
Verse 14 marks the end of the prologue of the gospel and the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. He declares that ‘God’s majestic rule is about to begin’. This means that old human regimes are about to tumble and crumble. God is establishing something new and it requires a radical turn around: ‘repent and believe in the good news’ (v15).
Responding as a community
- What provides an anchor for you when the going in life gets rough? What do you fall back on? Does your baptism figure in this? Should it?
- To what extent does knowing that you are loved by God affect the way you live? How do people experience God’s love?
- To what extent does your Christian community get involved in local and national issues of justice? Is it seen as an important part of the gospel?
- How do we proclaim repentance in our age? Is the idea redundant or relevant? How should repentance be expressed today?
Pray the Lords prayer slowly. Pause, when you get to the phrase ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us’ and spend some time in silence naming personal sins. laces, people and situations. Then spend time naming aloud sins that are embedded in society of which you are a part – institutional and structural sins at a national and international level that need dealing with – injustice, oppression and neglect, war and violence.
Next, light a candle and place it on a small table and say together ‘do not bring us to the time of trial’ or ‘lead us not into temptation’. Silently name temptations that you are wrestling with.
The, complete the Lord’s Prayer and then pray for one another and any particular matters of concern.
- The Jews at the time baptised Gentiles. It was called proselyte baptism. It was meant to humble the Gentiles and remind them of how sinful they were before they could even consider being classed among the people of God. John the Baptist stands on the riverbank and tells the Jews that they are to consider themselves Gentiles, not God’s people, for they have completely failed. They are to stand in the muddy waters of the Jordan, half naked and confess their sins and stand where Gentiles stand in relationship with God.
- Besides the call to repent and be baptised, John’s role was to announce the immanent arrival of someone greater and stronger than he. This Messiah would baptise Israel with the Holy Spirit. This was what the Messiah was expected to do and would usher in a new age. John is like a baptising bulldozer filling valleys and lopping mountains to prepare a road for the Messiah, the Son of God, to walk along. John prepared the people that they might have the spiritual capacity to hear the message Jesus would proclaim.
- There is a sharp contrast between the figure referred to in verse 8 and the penitent humbly standing in the waters in verse 9. Jesus simply arrives on the scene with no fanfares, no genealogies, no description of his features; he simply comes and stands as another Jewish penitent in the waters of baptism. There are many references to the Old Testament to the coming of the Spirit of God upon his people. For example, Isaiah 64v 1 or Isaiah 32 verse 14f with its connection with the wilderness. Here we have the connection with the coming of justice and peace. See also Isaiah 44 v 3 – the promise of coming renewal.
- At Jesus baptism we have the joining together of two Old Testament passages - ‘the voice from heaven declares ‘You are my Son today I have begotten you’ Psalm 2 v 8 and ‘Here is my servant(slave) whom I uphold, my chosen in whom I delight’ Isaiah 42 v 1. The two-fold role of Jesus of Nazareth is set out by Mark. He is the appointed king, the Son of God and he is the suffering slave (Isaiah 52 –53).
- Mark gives us no details of the temptations (testing) of Jesus in the wilderness. How vital the personal affirmation of his identity and his mission is at that moment. The Spirit drives him out into the desert, the place of reflection, fasting and testing. Note that, in Mark, Jesus is ‘driven out’ whereas in Luke and Matthew he is ‘led out’. The forty days in the desert is a reminder of Israel’s forty years wandering in the wilderness. It was there they learned to trust God.
- Angels came and ministered to him (verse13). There is still much that we don’t understand about what goes on around and within us. Ideas about being ‘protected’, ‘guided’ or sustained by guardian angels are quite common in some people’s experience. Maybe it is human arrogance that assumes we have the answer to most questions or that it is only a matter of time until we do. If the idea of transcendence is fundamental to Christianity then this seems an appropriate description of times when Gods guidance or protecting presence feels especially near. It seems a perfectly natural and acceptable explanation of such moments.
Mark's Alternative Economy - Discussion