The One Coming: questions

Baptism-JesusMark begins his writing with a statement by the narrator: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ (the Son of God).” For the people in Mark’s narrative the realization of who Jesus is will come only in starts and stops. As readers of this gospel, right from the beginning, we are given the answer to the question, “Who is he?” We already know this is narrative is good news for us; news about what will happen to us and for us. Yet even as the opening answers big questions, we are left with other important questions, ones that will help us to plumb the depth of this good news. Continue reading

The One Coming: context

jbaptistmafaMark 1:1-8   1The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ (the Son of God). 2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. 3 A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’” 4 John (the) Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 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. 6 John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. 7 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. 8 I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Continue reading

The kingdom at hand: who comes

john-the-baptist11 I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire.While vv. 8–10 may be understood at least in part as continuing the address to the Pharisees and Sadducees, now John’s address is specifically to those whom he is actually baptizing.

The superiority of the “stronger one” is explained in terms of two baptisms. John’s water-baptism is a preliminary ritual with a view to repentance, clearing the way for the real thing, the “stronger one’s” baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire. Water is an outward sign, but the work of the Holy Spirit will be inward. Since fire occurs in both v. 10 and v. 12 (and probably also by implication in v. 7 in the imagery of the snakes escaping the fire) as a metaphor for God’s judgment, it should probably be taken in the same sense here. The coming of the Holy Spirit will burn away what is bad and so purify the repentant people of God. (France, 113) Continue reading

The kingdom at hand: response

john-the-baptist1 In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea 2 (and) saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

Our Response:  What should be our response to the coming of heaven? Should it be worship, praise and giving thanks? Ironically, those are good responses, but in Matthew’s gospel, not the ideal ones. Jesus never reprimands people for failing to worship or give thanks in this gospel (compare Luke 17:17-18), but he does rebuke those who have witnessed his mighty works and not repented (11:20-24). For Matthew, the ideal response seems to be repentance. We know from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew that people can worship God with their lips even when their deeds demonstrate that their hearts are far from God (15:3-9). Thus, the responsive worship of the crowds in 9:8 and 15:31 is commendable but will be in vain if performed with unrepentant hearts.  It is Matthew’s warning to the overtly religious of his day, the Pharisees and Sadducees – and perhaps to us in this season of Advent – it is good to want to celebrate and praise, but make your priority repentance.  Let the coming one change our lives. Continue reading

The kingdom at hand: repent

john-the-baptistLuke introduces the ministry of John the Baptist with a careful historical introduction listing the year, the emperor, the rulers of the surrounding territories, and the high priest who was in office. Matthew introduces John’s ministry with a very general, “in those days.” The point is not that Matthew was unaware of the interval of about thirty years that he is passing over. Rather, his purpose was to show that the birth of Christ and the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry are part of the same flow of God’s activity in salvation history. There are two major sections within this passage. Verses 1-6 introduce the ministry of John the Baptist while verses 7-12 summarize the message of John. Continue reading

The kingdom at hand: herald

john-the-baptist1 In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea 2 (and) saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” 3 It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:“A voice of one crying out in the desert,‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’”  4 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him 6 and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. Continue reading

The kingdom at hand: context

john-the-baptist1 In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea 2 (and) saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” 3 It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: “A voice of one crying out in the desert,‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’”  4 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him 6 and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. Continue reading

A Road Map

Old-Waterford-RoadThis past May I was visiting friends and relatives in the Washington DC area. I got to spend a couple of days out in Loudoun County, Virginia, to the north and west out along the Potomac River. I used to own a home out in those parts in a little hamlet two wrong turns off the dirt road. After growing up in Florida and always living near the ocean, suddenly I was inland and living on the first ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I also managed to set up house in a country without a public swimming pool. After I-can’t-remember-how-many years of swimming, I suddenly needed a new sport. Continue reading

The Path of Hope

thepathofhopeI have been wondering about cities, towns and villages – or more specifically, why they are where they are. Cities along the sea-coast, more particularly, on inlets, rivers, and bays leading to the ocean make sense to me. They are places with harbors, protection from direct ocean storms, access to fresh water, and other factors. Water certainly plays a major role in locating cities – not only for drinking purposes, but for transportation and strategic control of an area. The Shawnee nation understood that. The three rivers area of western Pennsylvania was the center of the Shawnee nation. Today, we call that center Pittsburgh. Continue reading

A Joyful Hope

advent_2ndThree weeks ago, the first reading for the Sunday mass was Proverbs 31: 10-31, sometimes known as the “Ode to a Worthy Wife,” it describes a woman who is more valuable than pearls; lucky the one who entrusts their heart to her. The same weekend the gospel was the “Parable of the Talents.” I suspect the gospel was the focus of most homilists, as it was the focus of my homily. But the passage from Proverbs did not go unnoticed by me. The reading reminded me of my mom. Continue reading