Mark 1: Comments, Questions, and Challenges

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins…And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

This passage suggests a kind of non-panentheistic theology at work in Mark. The baptism of repentance and the forgiveness of sins is “mere water.” It is not divine until Jesus shows up to baptize. A more panentheistic interpretation of John’s baptismal practice would see it as divine rather than “mere water.”

12  The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

“Spirit” with a capital “S” here. So, its safe to say that this “Spirit” is one of the good guys. The Spirit could be God, but the details of the identity of this spirit doesn’t matter for the question I’d like to ask. Why would a good spirit lead Jesus to be tempted? What was the purpose? Presumably, the original hearers of Mark would have recognized the purpose of Jesus being driven to be tempted, for Mark provides no explanation of why the spirit drives Jesus to into the desert.

Speculations: Perhaps it is a test of Jesus’ will? If this is what’s going on, we might have reason to think that the original hearers don’t accept the classical theistic picture of God as omniscient. Perhaps the temptation is to show us that Jesus is the shit and he can overcome tough situations. Perhaps it is something done to prepare Jesus for his ministry? If this is what’s going on, its difficult to see how not eating for a long time could be preparation for…well…anything.

Meh. Let’s set the exegesis aside for a moment and just use the text as a spring board.

Interesting: the question that I am asking here reveals that I accept the intuitive view that if X is good, and X does something that appears bad, there must be some reason that justifies this action. This question, then, might be useful as a way of explaining the intuition that gives rise to the problem of evil.

Is there a sense in which my life bears any resemblance to this season of temptation or wilderness season? Sure. I am living far from home, far from the communities that sustain me. This distance invites me to rely on the Divine for sustenance justice as Jesus’ distance from food and water invites reliance on God. (Mark doesn’t talk about Jesus fasting, but I think “wilderness” probably invoked images of harshness that would lead easily to seeing a wilderness time as a time that you rely on God.)

But what does this reliance amount to? And what is the point of this reliance? Let’s answer the second question first. In the story, the purpose of the reliance can be read as straight forward: rely on God so you don’t die. The purpose of relying on God in my situation can similarly be straight forward, albeit less dramatic. Now, the first question: relying on the Divine amounts to keeping It at the forefront of my thoughts, to be constantly conversing with It.

Reliance implies expectation of action. What am I expecting will happen through my reliance? I’ve already said it: that I will be preserved.

These are all consequentialist type considerations like the one I mentioned in my last post. That doesn’t mean they are bad I suppose as long as these considerations are not the sole reason for my reliance on and love of the Divine…I think.

Conclusion to be drawn from this non-exegetical excursion: I’ve got extra reasons (more than just the normal reasons) to be concerned with conversing with the Divine during this Bostonian season.

Back to the exegesis.

saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

The coming of the kingdom is accompanied by actual baller stuff going down. The rest of the first chapter (and a little of the second one) is Jesus healing, exorcising, and inviting folk to join him in the ushering of the kingdom.

Ergo, as cooperating members of the Divine-us kingdom ushering duo, we’ve got to actually do stuff! I know that already. I just need to live it.


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