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Tearing Down the Barriers Between Earth and Heaven
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This week we begin our journey into the New Testament as we meet Jesus again for the first time, by diving into the first three chapters of the Gospel of Mark. Virtually every scholar now believes that Mark is the first Gospel to have been written down, probably in the late 60s or early 70s – some 30 to 40 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Although we cannot be certain who authored this Gospel, from the earliest days tradition has attributed it to John Mark, a friend and companion to Apostles Peter and Paul. The tradition also has suggested that Peter’s eyewitness experiences of Jesus and his ministry are the foundation upon which Mark wrote his Gospel.
Mark’s Gospel is a whirlwind account of Jesus’ adult life and ministry. There is no birth narrative at all. It begins abruptly and with great confidence: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mk. 1:1) The Greek word we translate as “good news” is euangelion. In Anglo-Saxon, this Greek word became “godspell.” Which means “good story,” but I like also how it conjures the image of a story that casts a good spell through the tale it tells.
In the original Greek, the word euangelion meant a proclamation from a place of authority, usually from the imperial court, about something very important: the birth of a son and heir, the conquering of an enemy, a new enterprise to promote prosperity and health. And in a very real sense, the Gospels are just such proclamations from “on high” – from the royal throne-room of the Emperor of the Universe: the Holy One of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For the story about Jesus told in each of the Gospels does proclaim him to the son of God, God’s heir, the one who will conquer the greatest enemies of all – sin and all the misery and mischief it brings about, including death, and will establish a new enterprise to promote the wellbeing of all people in every corner of the world.
But there is one significant, earth-and-heaven-shattering difference between the sort of good news that each Gospels proclaims, and the typical official euanglion that came down from “on high” in the Roman Imperial court. And it is Mark’s Gospel that makes this difference crystal clear. In Mark’s Gospel, the distance between “on high” and “down here” is destroyed, as the son and heir of the Emperor of the Universe comes to live among his people as one of them, one of us. He comes unshielded, not wielding self-protective power, but instead moving among us – and especially the most powerless – to distribute power and heal all the barriers that have separated us from God, from one another, and from the depths of goodness and life that God intended us all to share in from the beginning of Creation.
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” said the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 64:1) Although Mark does not quote this specific verse from the Prophet Isaiah, it seems to be a leitmotif throughout his Gospel as Jesus becomes the catalytic force for the tearing open of barriers of every kind that had prevented the good news of God’s love, mercy, and compassion from coming into the midst of People – Jews and non-Jews alike. In these first three chapters of Mark that we read this week, the very first event narrated is the baptism of Jesus himself by John the Baptist (Mk. 1:10), during which we see “the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove.” This Holy Spirit – this divine and life-giving breath – is now no longer trapped in some place called heaven, but is breathed out into Jesus first, and then through him into every person and situation that he touches in his ministry.
In situation after situation, we see Jesus “tear open” old ways of doing things, and old barriers between people, for the healing of the individuals, the society they are meant to share, and the wider world. In just the first three chapters of Mark, we see this Spirit of Good News work through Jesus to break through all sorts of barriers and the troubles they cause. Demonic powers in the wilderness and in the demon-possessed in everyday life are tamed; the barrier that won’t allow a man to touch a woman to heal her is overthrown; the barriers caused by “fear of infection” are destroyed as Jesus touches and heals a leper and brings him back into the society from which he has been banished; the barrier that holds back the paralyzed from being healed is torn apart, and the man’s paralysis and the assumption that it is caused by sin are both overthrown; an outcast tax collector is made one of Jesus’ first disciples; and even the “unwashed” Gentiles – those who are not part of God’s Chosen People – are taught and healed.
What barriers in life – your personal life, the life of your family, the life of your workplace, the life of your city and nation, the life of the wider world – still need to be broken open by Good News? How might Jesus’ Good News work to begin breaking open and healing in those places? How might you “cooperate” with God’s Good News to help healing happen?
"A Poem About Jesus' Baptism"
Beginning here we glimpse the Three-in-one;
The river runs, the clouds are torn apart,
The Father speaks, the Spirit and the Son
Reveal to us the single loving heart
That beats behind the being of all things
And calls and keeps and kindles us to light.
The dove descends, the spirit soars and sings
‘You are belovèd, you are my delight!’
In that quick light and life, as water spills
And streams around the Man like quickening rain,
The voice that made the universe reveals
The God in Man who makes it new again.
He calls us too, to step into that river
To die and rise and live and love forever.
~ Malcolm Guite (1957-) A Hymn about The Holy Spirit
The lone, wild bird in lofty flight
is still with you, nor leaves your sight.
And I am yours! I rest in you,
Great Spirit, come, rest in me, too.
The ends of earth are in your hand,
the sea's dark deep and far off land.
And I am yours! I rest in you,
Great Spirit, come, rest in me, too.
Each secret thought is known to you,
the path I walk my whole life through;
my days, my deeds, my hopes, my fears,
my deepest joys, my silent tears.
~ Henry Richard McFayden (1877-1964)
Cover Image: Jesus' Baptism by Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337) - See Above
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