A Provocation: First Sunday in Lent: February 18, 2018: Mark 1:9-15

Mark 1:9-15
1:9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

1:10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.

1:11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

1:12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

1:13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,

1:15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

A Question or Two:

  • Why does the storyteller tell us that Jesus saw the heavens torn apart?
  • Why only Jesus?

Some Longer Reflections:

There are many things worth pointing to in this little scene: the heavens are torn, the Breath of God cast Jesus out into the wordless wilderness, while he was there, he was tested by the satan in preparation for serving as the messiah.

All of those moments are worth a slow, attentive reading.

When Jesus was tested, the wild beasts were with him, which seems an important part of the testing.  They are a reminder that anyone who imagines that the world is safe and under control has missed the most important point.  Nothing is under control.  At least nothing important.

But what seems really important to me this time through this text is the word that is translated as “repent.”

The word is μετανοεῖτε, and it is the word that generally is read as “repent.”  But the word itself is not quite so specific.  It means, simply, “change the way you think.”  That could surely imply repenting of sinful acts or ways of being, but it needn’t imply that at all.  

This time through the text what I see is a call to change the way you think so that you can entertain the possibility of actual good news.

Look at the phrase (either in English or in Greek).  If the approach of the reign of God is the motivation for Jesus’ words, then it makes more sense (to me, at least) to see the change he calls for as involving daring to hope.

We all learn, as we grow, that the way things are is the way things ARE.  The clouds are not made of ice cream, no matter what we thought as children.  And abusers who hold power are very likely to continue to hold power.  We learn such lessons whether we want to or not.  And we find a way to cope and get on with living.  But in the process we learn that hope is a luxury that we cannot always afford.  We make do.

Jesus is saying that, this time, the world is being turned right side up.

This time.  This actual time.  Now is the time to dare to hope.  “Change your mind,” he says.  “Now is the time.”

So I wonder, now perhaps more than before, if it is safe to hope, if I dare to give up on my hard-won cynicism.  I surely am not ready to go back to being naïve, but is this a moment in which hope might be necessary, not just possible?

One thing I do know: this kind of μετανοεῖτε seems more life-changing than much of what passes for repentance most of the time.  Even in the face of real wrong-doing, the question of whether it is safe to trust that this is actually a moment of change is the most important question of all.




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