Two verses - Reflection 2-22-2020

Gospel text for February 21, 2020
One of the reasons I like the Gospel of Mark is because it gets to the point right away – or as Mark would say “immediately”. You can read the whole book from beginning to end in less than 2 hours (go ahead, test that claim) There is no genealogy that reaches back to the beginning of time. No donkey, sheep, stable, angels, shepherds. Or star, evil king, magi. Just, bam, here’s Jesus fully grown (after 7 verses about John the Baptist who was preparing the way for the adult Jesus).

As we moved through the first chapter of Mark through the season after the Epiphany (finished 2/14), our movement seemed steadily forward. 
Oh, we did skip two verses, but oh well.

On the Sunday of the Baptism of Jesus, Jesus was in fact baptized and heard a voice naming him God’s beloved son and that God was pleased with him. We stepped out of Mark for the next Sunday and went to the Gospel of John where Jesus called some disciples.

The next Sunday’s text picks up Mark's story after the baptism… after skipping two verses.

We learn that John the Baptist has been arrested. And Jesus goes to Galilee saying that the waiting is over and God ‘s on the move. Jesus proclaimed the good news of God which is that the kingdom of God has come; turn around and believe. He moves directly to his mission and calls his four first disciples who were fishermen by trade. In his concise manner, Mark says that Jesus called them and they followed. No questions, no concerns just, bam, on their way.

In the next Sunday’s story, next verses tell how Jesus met, rebuked, and drove out an unclean spirit. And that made him famous. He healed Peter’s mother-in-law and then spent the next few verses healing people. Then Jesus went out to pray then moved on to other towns. Chapter 1 moved us immediately and concisely through a lot of action.

Last Sunday, 2/14, we abruptly jumped from chapter 1 to the middle of Mark’s gospel – chapter 9 to witness the Transfiguration with the disciples. The final revealing of the Epiphany season was a spectacular moment on a mountain top.

But, if Mark continues at the same pace as Chapter 1, think of all we missed in those 8 chapters. Healings, chasing out demons, debates with religious authorities, stilling a storm, feeding 5000 … well, you get. A lot. 

In the final verses of Chapter 8, I think we hear something new and important that sets the context for the Transfiguration. In fact, those words are the turning point of the Gospel. Jesus tells his disciples he will face suffering and death and rise after 3 days. And to follow him is to take up a cross. I imagine it added another layer of "revelation" for the disciples... and Jesus.

Then Jesus repeats the message about suffering, dying, and rising to Peter, James, and John as they head down the mountain. By Chapter 10 they begin to move toward Jerusalem and the cross. That seems like a good place for us to pick up the story and start our Lent with Mark.

But we don’t. 
Instead, we immediately, we zipped back to the first chapter. Déjà vu.

This time, we include those two missing verses.

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Forty days in the wilderness. Between baptism and proclamation. Driven out by that same Spirit that descended on him. I imagine that in his first week in the wilderness he could probably hang on to that sense of identity and affirmation of his baptism. But Jesus was in the wilderness almost six weeks; what about as the time dragged on? Remember how difficult it has been to even know what day it is during this wilderness of COVID. Wilderness is disorienting; that’s why in the physical wilderness you either have a really good compass and map, or you stay on the trail.

While Matthew and Luke record a conversation between Satan and Jesus to show us how Jesus was tested, Mark merely says he was tempted by Satan. Immediately before it, Jesus heard God claim him as his own and pronounce pleasure in him. And because we’ve already been to the next verses, we know that John has been arrested and Jesus begins to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God.

Since Mark doesn't say, we need to imagine what sorts of temptations Jesus faced. 
What clues might the context give us? Something about his identity? Maybe questioning whether that voice at the baptism was imagined? Something about what is next? Did Jesus wonder if the wilderness is all there is? Is there something else after this? What exactly is he here to do?

Besides the temptations, the two verse scene also includes Jesus “being with” wild beasts. And angels serving him. Hmmm.

The wild beasts. Did Jesus learn something about himself by being with wild beasts in the wilderness? Did Jesus learn something about the kingdom of God being with the wild beasts? 

 I really like those possibilities. There is something off-trail about them. Being in the wilderness means staring down specific things that can tear you apart. Fear, uncertainty, anger, hopelessness. Meeting the reality of the kingdom eye to eye? God’s kingdom is not a pie in the sky deal. The kingdom confronts the wild beasts of injustice and hatred and prejudice head on. And don’t forget the cross Jesus will face but also remember his words from Mark 8 If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

And the angels served him. Pretty good compasses I imagine. Aligning Jesus when he becomes disoriented.

Finally, remember who brought – actually drove Jesus out here. God’s spirit did not abandon him in the desert. Through temptations and wild beasts and 40 long days and nights, through the struggles and uncertainty, the Spirit was with Jesus each step as his identity and his mission became clearer and more certain.

Those two verses we skipped first time around provide the foundation for the rest of Mark's story as well as our own wilderness wanderings. I'm grateful we went back.

How to Find Us

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245