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  • Writer's pictureJohn Bryant

Mark 1: 1-8: The Wild Man Who Summons You to the Drinking of Coffee and the Reading of Scripture

Updated: May 25, 2020

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the

Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send my messenger before

your face, who will prepare your way,

the voice of one crying in the

wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the

Lord, make his paths straight,’”

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

You don’t know what it’s like to be summoned. To be living your life in the place where your life has been lived, in a small house, or a market, or an alley, and to then have some wild man, some Don Quixote, some shaggy figure of a bygone era summon you.

There are more than enough mixed-up, wild-eyed people walking around, talking to you, but this one is outside of town, summoning you.

And you go not because you are brave or kind but because, somehow, the thing that makes that voice a voice you can hear (louder, somehow than the kids and the market, and distinct from all of it) is the thing that makes it a voice you will follow. To call you from what you’re doing and from you are (which, if we’re honest, is the same thing). And to come out to the wilderness.

The wilderness is where you go to get reduced. You cannot make a home in the desert. You cannot make a fire, you cannot cook or clean. All you can do in the wilderness, you’ve been told, your parents have told you, is be fed by God or die.

You leave the things that have made it possible for your life to mean something—which is things and what you can do with things---you leave the story you are in, to go into a place where there is little you can do. You come out, into the dirt and sun and an empty horizon, as someone who hears.

John the Baptist is supposed to come to the people of God, to scream and yell and point them toward God coming for his people.

The One who shows up next will be God and what God has to say—this strange, elusive figure, this Christ himself, a solemn, final Word to God’s people. The Word that settles things. Leaves things Quiet. Finished.

And the people, surprised, are called into the water by the wild man.

And you surprised, let the wild man handle you. Let him have you, near strangle you in the river.

You are not there to wash, but to be washed, he says.

Not to do but to hear.

With old river water this time, probably choked with slime and feces, but when Jesus has done his work, and shown the wounds to the Father, it will be done again with fierce divine power by the Holy Spirit. And His Holy Spirit comes with two things: Death and Resurrection. To make what was His finally Ours.

And we, when we sit down and read, when we sit down and pray, go out with the people of God into the water, to wash ourselves again, to reapply his Death through hearing. Wait for the Word we hold in our old bibles, with words stumble over and complicated words we can’t pronounce, words we say lazily and halfheartedly to ourselves over coffee, wait for the Word to bear Christ to us, wait the Spirit to come and make us New Hearts by Death and Resurrection.

We must be careful as we read, as we hear. Reading the Bible with others is like following a wild man out to a river, hearing him rant and rave. It is like undergoing Judgment.

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