Gospel for Sunday, December 10: Mark 1:1-8
II Advent B
“1Beginning of the gospel of Jesus, Christ, the Son of God .2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah: Behold, before you I send my messenger: he shall prepare your way.3 Voice of one crying out in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.4 There was John, who baptized in the wilderness and proclaimed a baptism of conversion for the forgiveness of sins. 5 All the region of Judea and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem flocked to him. And they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. 6 John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his hips, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And he proclaimed, “He comes after me who is stronger than I: I am not worthy to stoop down to untie the laces of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you in the Holy Spirit.”
Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Misericordie, I am Carlo Miglietta, doctor, biblical scholar, layman, husband, father and grandfather (www.buonabibbiaatutti.it). Also today I share with you a short meditation thought on the Gospel, with special reference to the theme of mercy.
“The passage of the Gospel according to Mark proposed by the liturgy today contains the title of the work, which is particularly significant… The first word of the title is “beginning” (arché), the same word with which the book of Genesis opens, thus the book of the holy Scriptures of the ancient covenant. Indeed, a new history, a new creation, is inaugurated with the proclamation of the ‘good and beautiful news’ (euanghélion), of the joyful message concerning the event of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God (Mk. 1:1)” (E. Bianchi).
The figure of John the Baptizer had great prominence in the early Christian community. Jesus called him “the greatest among those born of women” (Lk 7:28). Luke’s Gospel says generically that Mary and Elizabeth, mother of the Baptist, “are related (synghenìs)” (Lk 1:36). The Orthodox Church, however, venerates Elizabeth and Mary as daughters of sisters (Esmerìa and Anna), and therefore John the Baptist as Jesus’ second cousin.
To build the picture of John the Baptist, Mark (Mark 1:6) refers to the austere Elijah who wore a “cloak of fur” (a prophet’s customary garb) and a “leather belt” (2 Kings 1:8). “John’s food is the wild products of nature, roots and wild honey; his ascetic, rough life is that of a man who frequents neither the powerful nor urban places. Yet “the whole region of Judea and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (Mark 1:5), emphatic expressions, come to him in the solitude of the desert” (E. Bianchi). He is called “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness” (Mk 1:3). The Old Testament prophecy referring to John the Baptist is mistakenly attributed, by Mark, to Isaiah alone: “As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before you; he will prepare your way. Voice of one crying in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord, straighten his paths'” (Mark 1:2-3); in fact, this passage turns out to be a merger of two different prophecies: one from Malachi (“Behold, I will send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and immediately the Lord, whom you seek, will enter his temple; the angel of the covenant, whom you sigh for, behold, he comes, says the Lord of hosts” (Mal 3:12)), and one from Isaiah (“A voice cries out, ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord, straighten in the steppe the way for our God'” (Is 40:3). A few copyists in the early centuries also attempted to remedy the inconsistency in Mark’s Gospel by changing the introductory formula from, “As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,” to the more generic, “As it is written in the prophets.” In contrast, Matthew, who relies on Mark’s Gospel, correctly reports the quotation, “He is the one who was proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah when he said, ‘Voice of one crying out in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight!'” (Mt. 3:3). There is still debate about the possible relationship between the Baptist and the Jewish community of Essenes, who lived in monastic communities in the desert, awaited the coming of the Messiah and practiced baptism as a purification rite.
The Gospels tell us that John declared several times that he recognized Jesus as the Messiah announced by the prophets, especially after Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan (Jn. 1:3; 3:30). But perhaps some doubts remained in his mind if, while he was imprisoned in the prison at Macheron, he sent some of his most trusted disciples to ask him on his behalf whether he was the one to come “or whether one should wait for another Messiah to come” (Mt 11:2-3). However, John decided not to disband his school and follow Jesus as one of his disciples. Instead, he continued his mission and went so far as to condemn the marriage between Herod and Herodias, who had divorced Philip (Mk 6:18), who had him imprisoned and beheaded. “After the Baptist was executed, a group formed that invoked his name and even went so far as to identify him with the Messiah, thus turning into a rival to nascent Christianity” (A. J. Levoratti). The novelty of John’s baptism, compared to the ritual-type ablutions already known in the Jewish tradition, consisted in the specific commitment to “conversion” on the part of those who went to be baptized by him.
“John calls for the preparation of a way to the Lord and conversion with a view to the remission of sins. Why prepare a road to the Lord? Because the Lord never asks that we open a road ahead of us and travel it to go to him, but exactly the opposite: he asks that we clear the road on which he reaches us, comes to us. The road is not ours, but his, the Lord’s! The encounter is due to his grace, to his seeking each of us, not to our own initiative” (E. Bianchi).
Pope Francis affirms, “Like the Baptist, the believer is the one who, through his making himself close to his brother, exercises the ministry of consolation: he ‘opens the way’ in the desert, that is, he points out traces of hope even there where it seems impossible and does not allow us to give up, especially in the face of negative situations…
Since this journey is never complete, like the Baptist the believer is called to always orient his life and that of those with him afresh, starting with the knowledge that by letting the Gospel reach him, one can begin to live again, to plan, to commit. Indeed, a different life does not come from stopping to note what is wrong, from the problems and pessimism that takes the breath out of going, but from that good news that is Jesus himself. The Christmas we prepare to celebrate is meant to be an encounter with the One who crosses the desert of life with us. Let us learn not to complain about the fatigue of the journey nor to become discouraged or sad; rather, let us love the time we have, let us value it with care…: each of our days then becomes a favorable time to recognize the gaps to be filled, to smooth out the necks of pride and to make room truly for the One who comes, the only Bridegroom of God’s people.”
Happy Mercy to all!
Anyone who would like to read a more complete exegesis of the text, or some insights, please ask me at email@example.com.