February 15, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
Having finished the gospel of Matthew, I’m going back to Mark to fill in gaps. Mark’s was the first gospel to be written and so is closest in time to the life of Jesus. It is also the shortest of the gospels. I’ll start at the beginning, Chapter 1:1-8.
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ [the Son of God]. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.'” John [the] Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. And this is what he proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the holy Spirit.”
This seems appropriate for the beginning of Lent. The Jews of Judea were attuned to John’s message. They willingly came to him to repent of their sins and to be immersed in the River Jordan as a sign of God’s cleansing forgiveness in anticipation of the coming of God’s kingdom. Isn’t it interesting how the Holy Spirit moves us to do something for reasons we don’t yet understand but yet opens us to possibility, to anticipation of something wonderfully fulfilling? There is something deliciously enticing about seduction! God never tired of seducing His chosen people and He doesn’t tire of seducing us today.
Marcus Borg in Jesus tells us that the word “repentance” meant something different to the Jews of Jesus’ time. It actually had two meanings. “It was associated with the return from exile; to repent is to return, to follow ‘the way of the Lord’ that leads from exile to the promised land.” What is interesting is that Mark’s quote is not from Isaiah; it is a blending of verses in Exodus and Malachi. The Exodus reference is the promise of guidance to the promised land, the return from exile, and “Malachi” is Hebrew for “My Messenger.” The Book of Malachi, the last book of the Hebrew Testament, is a rebuke of the abuses by priests and rulers of the Jews and the promise of a new order to be created by God in which good will triumph over evil according to the notes of the New American Bible.
The related meaning of “repentance” according to Borg comes from its Greek root, “‘to go beyond the mind that you have’ — to go beyond conventional understandings of what life with God is about….It is not enough to be descendants of Abraham. Something more is called for: repentance — a path of return, the way of the Lord, ‘going beyond the mind that you have.'” It reminds me of a book that Darren gave me that I’ve just started reading — Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell. She reports that the Pew Research Center’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey of 2008 found that only 60% of Catholics believe in a God with whom a personal relationship is possible. In her interviews with thousands of Catholics she discovered that most thought of Catholics as “ordinary” or as “saints.” She has come up with something in between, what she calls intentional disciples — to act like Peter. “Simon’s experience was not exceptional, either in human terms or in the tradition of the Church. No one voluntarily sheds his or her job, home, and whole way of life accidently or unconsciously. Simon Peter’s ‘drop the net’ decision is what we mean by ‘intentional.’ From the moment he dropped his nets to follow Jesus, he was a disciple. Peter did not, of course, know what the full ramifications of that decision would be for himself or for the world. No disciples ever does….It is the same with us. Intentional discipleship is not accidental or merely cultural. It is not just a matter of ‘following the rules.’ A disciple’s primary motivation comes from within, our of a Holy Spirit-given ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness.'”
Mark is telling me right at the beginning of his gospel that I have to “go beyond the mind that you have.” That’s what Lent is about. It is a time for me to change that way I think and behave in order to draw closer in my relationship with God and to conform myself to His will, to the way He wants me to live my life. For me, it’s not about giving up something unless that is keeping me from Him. It is about doing something positive, about being proactive, in following the way of the Lord that leads to the promised land. It is about being intentional, purposeful. I am like the Jews of Jerusalem who came out to John to be forgiven for their sins in preparation for the coming of the kingdom. But that’s just the first step. John tells me that the next step is to be baptized with the Holy Spirit. That is my journey this Lent, to be immersed in the Holy Spirit. To follow the way of the Lord intentionally. I don’t know the ramifications, but I do trust that the Holy Spirit will give me a “hunger and thirst for righteousness” that Jesus will help me quench. The Oxford English Dictionary defines righteousness as “conformity to the requirements of the divine or moral law.” That divine law is compassion and justice, the kingdom of God.