Second Sunday of Advent Year B (10 December 2017)
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 85:9-14; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8.
Theme: Prepare the Way of the Lord
The first words of Mark’s Gospel in nearly all English versions are “The beginning…”, e.g. in NRSV, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” [1:1]. However the Greek text does not include the word “The” and reads “Beginning of the good news…” There is no verb in this first verse so it is now regarded by many scholars as the title for the book rather than its introductory statement [Boring, 29-32]. The implications are profound if it is the whole book, not just the first verse, that is the beginning of the Good News. The whole Gospel is just the beginning of something much greater!
Mark immediately grounds his story of Jesus firmly in the Hebrew scriptures with a quotation from “the prophet Isaiah”. The quotation is actually a composite one, the first part from Malachi and the second from Isaiah. Malachi 3:1a, “See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me”, is the voice of YHWH promising to visit his people. But Mark has changed the quotation to “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you”, as a reference to John the Baptizer coming ahead of Jesus. John the Baptizer is seen as an Elijah-like figure, dressed as Elijah was in a garment of hair and a leather belt [2 Kings 1:8], and calling all to prepare for the coming of the Lord [cf. Isaiah 40:3]. Mark is presenting Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel’s deepest hopes and dreams.
The “Lord” who is coming in Isaiah 40:3 is YHWH, but in Mark the “Lord” probably refers to Jesus [cf. 5:19; see Hurtado 15-16, 23-24]. Isaiah 40:4 goes on to specify what needs to be done in the wilderness, the lifting up of every valley and the levelling off of every mountain and hill. Is it the obstacles in the wilderness of our lives that need to be smoothed out so that the Lord can come to us?
Most English versions have John proclaiming a “baptism of repentance” but the Greek word metanoia in 1:4 implies much more than “repentance”. John is calling people to a radical change of mind and heart; he is calling them to abandon their current world-view and adopt a completely new one. The rest of Mark’s Gospel spells out the radical and counter-cultural nature of the world-view proclaimed by Jesus.
John’s last words about Jesus are that he will “baptize you with the Holy Spirit”. Marc Bregman has explored the rich Jewish tradition of the “Holy Spirit”, Rua Ha-Qodesh, the breath, or spirit, of the Holy One, and its evocation of the first creation story in Genesis. He points out that in rabbinic literature the primary meaning of Rua Ha-Qodesh is as the source of prophetic inspiration [see commentary on Deuteronomy 18:18 in Midrash Sefre Devarim 176, https://www.sefaria.org/Sifrei_Devarim.176?lang=bi]. In addition he draws attention to the stream of rabbinic interpretation beginning with Hillel that accepts the wide accessibility of the Holy Spirit to all people of good will, an approach developed in later Christian thinking.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. If the whole of Mark’s story of Jesus is just the “beginning of the good news” where might we find its continuation? 2. What might be some of the mountains that need levelling and valleys that need filling in our society today? 3. What does it mean for you to be baptized with the Holy Spirit?
Bibliography: Boring, Mark (Louisville KT, 2006); Bregman, The Holy Spirit in Judaism (Unpublished, 2009); Hurtado, New International Bible Commentary: Mark (Peabody MA, 1989).
This week’s Sunday Gospel Commentary was prepared by
Br Kevin McDonnell cfc, PhD., Australia. Bat Kol Alumnus, 2003, 2004, 2005.
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PLEASE NOTE: The weekly Gospel commentaries represent the research and creative thought of their authors, and are meant to stimulate deeper thinking about the meaning of the Sunday Scriptures. While they draw upon the study methods and sources employed by the Bat Kol Institute, the views and conclusions expressed in these commentaries are solely those of their authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of Bat Kol. Questions, comments and feedback are always welcome.
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