Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617–1682)
Infant Jesus and John the Baptist, Museo del Prado
2nd Sunday of Advent
According to Irenaeus, Papias of Hierapolis, writing in the early 2nd century, reported that this gospel was by John Mark, the companion of Saint Peter in Rome, who “had one purpose only – to leave out nothing that he had heard, and to make no misstatement about it.”
The narrative can be divided into three sections: the Galilean ministry, including the surrounding regions of Phoenicia, Decapolis, and Cæsarea Philippi (1-9); the Journey to Jerusalem (10); and the Events in Jerusalem (11-16).
The Gospel of Mark differs from the other gospels in language, detail and content. Its theology is unique. The gospel’s vocabulary embraces 1330 distinct words, of which 60 are proper names. Eighty words, (exclusive of proper names), are not found elsewhere in the New Testament. About one-fourth of these are non-classical. In addition Mark makes use of the “historic present” as well as the “Messianic secret” to make known his Gospel message.
Christians consider the Gospel of Mark to be divinely inspired and will see the gospel’s theology as consistent with that of the rest of the Bible. Each sees Mark as contributing a valuable voice to a wider Christian theology, though Christians sometimes disagree about the nature of this theology. However, Mark’s contribution to a New Testament theology can be identified as unique in and of itself.
SON OF MAN is the major title used of Jesus in Mark (Mark 2:10, 2:28; 8:31; 9:9, 9:12, 9:31; 10:33, 10:45; 14:21, 14:41). Many people[have seen that this title is a very important one within Mark’s Gospel, and it has important implications for Mark’s Christology. Jesus raises a question that demonstrates the association in Mark between “Son of Man” (cf. Dan 7:13–14) and the suffering servant in Isaiah 52:13-53:12—”How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt?” (9:12b NRSV). Yet this comparison is not explicit; Mark’s Gospel creates this link between Daniel and Isaiah, and applies it to Christ. It is postulated that this is because of the persecution of Christians; thus, Mark’s Gospel encourages believers to stand firm (Mark 13:13) in the face of troubles.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.
A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms, he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. ISAIAH 40
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight–” John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, and had a leather girdle around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong 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.” MARK 1:1-8
Many today could sure use hearing the words God speaks to the prophet Isaiah: Be comforted, be comforted my people!
Though most of us are not experiencing the tribulations ancient Israel had to live through, there is plenty enough distress in human lives these days. Plenty enough reason for us to need to be comforted. Economic systems teeter on the brink of collapse. Political systems (or, at least, the politicians in charge of them) no longer seem adequate to the task. The old are not sure of their pensions. The young cannot find jobs. People are at risk of losing their homes.
We do not have to look only to God’s prophets to hear apocalyptic warnings in our day. We have been exiled from our usual ‘comfort zone’, exiled from the familiar comforts of a taken-for-granted prosperity. Old certainties have given way to new anxieties. It would be easy to respond with a false optimism, the kind that agitates protests but changes nothing. Everything’s going to turn out fine: when we turn out one government for another or when the politicians put another jumble of laws on the books or when the heads of nations cook up yet another half-baked debt deal.
None of these schemes seems likely to solve our problems. The stock market—that modern barometer of the world’s expectations—oscillates wildly between hope and despair, as one quick-fix solution after another fleetingly evaporates. In spite of the hardship that people are now facing, there is cause for hope. When the status quo becomes intolerable, people look for change. People demand change.
We Christians should give support to the yearnings of a broken world looking for a chance to start afresh, the chance for a new advent.
Yearning such as these must have been why so many people went out to hear the message of John the Baptist. They went into the place of ‘beginnings’ which is what the desert represented. It was there that the people of God were found by him and from there that they were led by him.
There are many these days who promise that a new world is coming. If we profess hope and believe in the possibility of change, they urge, then we can build a new world. The truth is that we cannot build it. We must allow God to build it with us and in us. We are to become the living stones of God’s new creation. As we know, John the Baptist did not flinch from denouncing injustices and demanding righteousness from those who claimed to be leaders of the people. Neither John nor the mightier one coming after him was especially interested in reforming structures or changing systems. They challenged people to change their lives.
This new world, this new kingdom begins not with a change of regime but with a change of heart—that is, with conversion. John tells us ‘your job is to change you and in this way your world will be changed’. Be comforted, be comforted my people! You can begin again; but begin with you