Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Stage Right!

OUR STUDY begins with a lesson for the First Sunday of Lent as read from the Gospel According to Saint Mark. As a Master of Ceremonies who would set the stage for the main course of a play, our author provided us with introduction for what was to come.

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.”
  The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him.
 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.”  (Mark 1:9-15)

Our Author?
Those of us who once again experience our walk through the Sundays of Lent, and are led to the foot of the Lord’s cross, know the redemption story... and are brought to love its flow. But the community of Mark did not write this gospel just for entertainment. Mark wrote for another definite purpose. Highly likely, is the assumption that the writers gathered myriads of oral material for this text. Therefore they deliberately blended the witnesses of Peter and Mark… and proceeded to introduce a written story center stage. The text we read is primarily purposed for those who had not yet heard the Good News.
 If we look closely at the beginning, we can see seams. The Divine drama gradually unfolds. First the topic was noted clearly, like a headline placed yesterday on a marquee or in the theater lobby. As told by Mark 1:1, the purpose was prominently advertised... hear the good news… the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
 In rapid sequence then, as if supplied by an unseen emcee who existed as an off-stage voice, your mind’s video presentation becomes anchored... introduced by ancient text from Isaiah. Rooting we readers or listeners to a divinely familiar stage, the gospel record quickly opens with the word… “Behold!
 In our modern terms, the authors by the power of the Holy Spirit thus said, “Pay attention!” Effectively the writers thus announced that the prophets had predicted a messenger would tell of the Messiah’s appearance. That person was interpreted by the Markan author to be John the Baptist. John quickly takes center stage only as a preparatory character, pictured not as the fulfillment of God’s promise, but as a sent witness. His purpose was to call the audience’ attention to our sinful human failures before God. He was poised only then to tell of the steadfast love that God provides. Our guided conclusion echoes rightly within us,,, "We cannot get clean on our own!"
 The literary stage was therefore set in rather liquid fashion by Mark. The waters of the Jordan River, like the waters of our baptism, provide us with the needed backdrop for life. Familiar to many… to those who walk in the faith of the Church both then and now… the watery curtain opens on the story of Jesus’ baptism as carried out by John. The writer immerses us in the flow.
 Subsequently, this seems to be the real beginning of the story… for the author boldly uses historical terms, “In those days…” he says! Erroneously, we who are seated in sin often see this curtain opening as fable. Some might deem it as a familiar, “Once upon a time…”.
 It would be so were it not anchored in reality. Witnesses spurred by the Holy Spirit know that the story is not fiction. This drama is not a just mystery! It does not address the uncertainty of, “Why would the sinless Son of God need to receive baptism for repentance?’ You see, our Lord's baptism was not at issue for Mark or his gathered community, so that uncertainty was not voiced. 

Enter Stage Doubly “Right”
As so professed by some scriptural critics, the central message of the drama begins here. Jesus appeared on stage as an adult. He was rightly announced by John as the greater of the two persons, yet received baptism by John. Jesus appeared without any discussion over a need for cleansing… since there was none. He was thus boldly presented. Jesus was described as the One who would baptize us with the Divine, special... and set-apart Spirit.
 For Mark’s writer then, Jesus was the main, revealed character, to be presented in spotlight by the subsequent story. The revelation written pointed the audience toward Jesus alone as the Beloved. Jesus stood boldly before all who read or hear.
 Here we see, however, that the Greek word ευθυς appears in Mark. Rendered in English as “immediately” or “straightaway”, we find that the word resounds repeatedly through the entire writing of Mark. The word occurs like the literal soft “click” of a slide projector control,  or “enter” button of a computerized video presentation. The word smoothly fades our attention to yet another scene. The word transitions us in faith therefore… moving us along toward revealing the Truth.
 To illuminate this flow, please note that a quick change of scenery backdrop unfolds “immediately” in the gospel writing. Our author next related a statement and little more, about Jesus’ journey into the wilderness. However, our gospel does not allow us to remain on the edge of out seats for very long. We cannot remain dwelling in a wilderness of doubt and testing. Quickly the story propels us past the arrest of John the Baptist without further explanation, and brings us back as the reader audience to the central purpose of Jesus’ arrival on the central stage of history.
 You see, according to Mark, the good news was not about John, nor the Satanic demonic in the wilderness as told by Matthew and Luke. The purpose was to boldly tell us that Jesus is the both Messenger and the Message. He is the good news! Jesus is both the evangelist and the sure arrival of the eternal Savior! 

High Drama!
 Mark stated the gospel clearly and concisely. Jesus said right away in Mark that the time in which he spoke was a “now” time… as not in “chronological" time, but in “right" time. In God’s eternal “right” time keeping, Mark thus stated to his readers… both the then and the now of the gospel… that the time for us is still “now” as the Gospel is read or heard. 
 I echo to you that most certainly the kingdom of God was at hand then as our Lord spoke, and is yet available. Mark gave to those in his audience long ago, what he through the Holy Spirit now offers also to us. Mark gives to those who read and will witness the Good News, the Gospel… instructions to believe and follow Jesus.
 Our Lord Jesus, who is the Son of God according to the witness of the Holy Spirit… gave us Good News. All of humanity, those of us who have been sinfully immersed in writing our own life scripts… are given clear direction for our lives. Repent! Turn!
 Scripture reveals that those who have been trapped… hidden behind the world’s darkened stage lights… are called to squirm in theater seats. With the scriptural spot light lowered upon us from center stage, we face condemnation under the Law, followed by the brilliant love of our Father in heaven. "Believe the Good News" we are told. Our gentle Lord stood, telling us… "For the kingdom of God is at hand."
 People of God gathered onto the Divine stage of creation during the coming weeks of Lent, let us consider just what that means for us. Let us study the Word together.

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