1The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
4 John the baptiser appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptised by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.”
What to do with this educator’s commentary
This commentary invites you as a teacher to engage with and interpret the passage. Allow the text to speak first. The commentary suggests that you ask yourself various questions that will aid your interpretation. They will help you answer for yourself the question in the last words of the text: ‘what does this mean?’
This educator’s commentary is not a ‘finished package’. It is for your engagement with the text. You then go on to plan how you enable your students to work with the text.
Both you and your students are the agents of interpretation. The ‘Worlds of the Text’ offer a structure, a conversation between the worlds of the author and the setting of the text; the world of the text; and the world of reader. In your personal reflection and in your teaching all three worlds should be integrated as they rely on each other.
In your teaching you are encouraged to ask your students to engage with the text in a dialogical way, to explore and interpret it, to share their own interpretation and to listen to that of others before they engage with the way the text might relate to a topic or unit of work being studied.
Structure of the commentary:
The World Behind the Text
See general introduction to Mark.
The world of the text
Text & textual features
Structurally this passage is interesting.
It opens with a single verse that does not contain a verb. This serves to create a kind of title for the Gospel, suggesting that everything that follows will demonstrate the “Good News”. Mark uses the first verse to establish the intent of the Gospel…This is the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
The passage then moves to quote the Old Testament and a prophet Isaiah who says that a messenger would come to invite people to prepare the way for the Lord. For Mark, John is this one, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah.
Finally the passage concludes with the fulfilment of that prophecy: John is that messenger.
The opening verse introduces two titles for Jesus that would have been understood by the audience of Mark: Christ (Christos in Greek, meaning Messiah…anointed one) and Son of God. The title ‘Son of God’ would have been familiar to any Jews within Mark’s community as it occurs three times in the Hebrew scriptures: 2 Sam 7:14, Psalm 2:7, Psalm 89:27-28. Mark, however, will explain his own understanding of these titles, which establish his view of Jesus rights from the start, as his Gospel unfolds.
According to Jewish law, purification – to become ritually clean – occurred through immersion in water. Baths especially designed for this purpose, were placed all around the temple to allow those who wished to enter it to ‘cleanse themselves’.
Repentance required a change of heart and mind, however Mark makes it clear that he is only baptising with water. His role is to prepare the way for someone greater who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.
Characters & Setting
The chief character in this opening section of the Gospel is John the Baptist. Mark tells us nothing about John. From Luke’s Gospel we know him as the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah (Luke 1:39).
The setting of the passage is most commonly believed to be near ‘Bethany beyond the Jordan’, about 30kms from Jericho, with the river being the River Jordan. ‘Bethany beyond the Jordan’ is associated with the prophet Elijah (2 Kings 2:7-8). This geographical connection helps establish John the Baptist as great prophet as do his clothes (Mk 1:6). Mark is therefore able to present John the Baptist as the new Elijah heralding in the messianic age foretold by the prophets.
The River Jordan is a significant water way and for the purposes of baptism it meets the Jewish purification precepts as it is was “living (moving) water”.
Questions for the teacher:
The world in front of the text
Questions for the teacher:
Please reflect on these questions before reading this section and then use the material below to enrich your responsiveness to the text.
The notion of spiritual cleansing is not unusual: however, it raises the question of cleansing for what, or from what?
John invited people to be baptised into the living waters of the Jordan to emerge with a changed heart and mind. This challenges a rigid, legalistic, notion of cleansing: strict adherence to the law and its traditions without a mindset of conversion is not enough. Indeed, Jesus’ message will live this reality – what is taught is then lived and modelled. How does a holistic notion of conversion challenge society? Pope Francis calls us to have an integral ecology… what does this mean?
Meaning for today/challenges
The opening of Mark’s Gospel reminds us of God’s good news which is found on the edge… of everything, the peripheries as Pope Francis would say. Mark reminds us that the Good News goes beyond the boundaries of where we thought God was supposed to be. The people of the time were seeking a connection with God not in the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem but outside the city walls, in the margins, or the peripheries. For us today, especially during Covid, we have had to seek God beyond the Church buildings and formal structures we are used to.
Many of us have found ourselves at the edge of things because of our local Covid situations. We find ourselves needing to reset ourselves. Mark wants his readers to know that the good news brings hope to all those who find themselves in the chaos of our world. Through the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, we find there is no place on earth God will not go or be for us and this brings us great hope.
The reading from Mark is used on Second Sunday in Advent Year B and heralds the coming of the Messiah and calls us to prepare for his arrival.