Today we begin our continuous lectio divina – prayerfully encountering Christ in the words of Sacred Scripture – by reading and praying with the Gospel according to St Mark. We remind ourselves that it is Christ whom we seek, and his voice, addressed to us in the sacred writings, which we wish to hear. We ask the Holy Spirit, who is Christ and the Father’s Spirit, and who is the true author of Sacred Scripture, to open the ears of our hearts so that we might receive the word which God has prepared for us for today, which he has kept as a precious treasure for us from before time. We ask the Spirit to write this word on our hearts, so that we may carry the word which Christ is speaking to us with us through the course of today and the week ahead.
St Mark’s Gospel begins with a direct address to us – The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
We might take a moment, and as long as we need, to reflect on ‘beginnings’. The invitation to begin again, in all that we do; the invitation to begin again if we have suffered some disappointment; the invitation to see each day as a beginning, despite what has gone before, good or bad. This is the prayer of those who lived in the desert of Egypt in the fourth and fifth centuries, and it can certainly be our prayer as well – ‘Today I begin again’.
God’s beginnings are creative – recall the opening words of the Book of Genesis – In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…. He begins a new creation in me when I open myself to his presence; he asks me to be co-creative with him in my relationships with persons and things around me. He gives me a stewardship which serves and invites to new life.Consider the greatest new beginning at the opening of the Gospel according to John – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. With Christ, a new creation is set in motion and brought to completion. And I am part of that.
This is the Good News, the Gospel, about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In these few words Mark, who is the most direct of the Gospel writers, asks us to enter into a relationship with Jesus in the fullness of his person. Mark has no infancy narrative, as do Matthew and Luke. He doesn’t need one – everything about who Jesus is, True God and true man, is contained within those few words. It’s almost a profession of faith – to accept it, to articulate it, to share it, is to become a bringer of Good News. And the rest of my life can be spent living into this mystery that God became man in Jesus the Christ. So, how does this statement fit in with my belief and how does it challenge it? How do I feel with this as a prayer and profession of faith?
Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.
The message needs a messenger – so, Mark quotes the prophet Isaiah. Right from the beginning there exists in this Gospel an invitation to me personally to become ‘messenger’ – one who stands in the place of another and speaks with the voice of another and announces the words of another, but which have mysteriously become my own. This is the business of the prophet, both Isaiah and John the Baptist – the word of the Lord becomes the prophet’s own word, and the word is made flesh, as it were, in the life and preaching of the prophet. And prophecy is a characteristic which belongs to the followers of Christ, those who, by baptism, are incorporated into his Body.
The wilderness in which this message is proclaimed is not necessarily a desert. More likely it is a tough place to live, challenging, putting a strain on our resources, personal and shared, a place in which survival is challenged and which makes demands on me. Those demands are human, psychological, spiritual, emotional, rational and irrational. But, tough and all as it may be, it is a place where I can seek out a communion with others. The wilderness is not a place in which we should become isolated or alone – we seek a community because it is there that God reveals himself.
The great Jewish philosopher Martin Buber wrote – We expect a theophany (a moment in which God reveals himself) of which we know nothing but the place, and the place is called community.
The wilderness can also be a precious place of stillness, of waiting, of praying. A place where, when we have been able to set aside the burdensome things which often try to define our lives, we can enter into a real discernment – what is it that God wants of me and want with God? This discernment is always a process which allows me to make a decision which triggers my action. I bring all of it, no matter what the issue at hand, to God for his accompaniment. Dag Hammarskjöld, the second Secretary General of the United Nations, a man given to reflection which moves into Christian mysticism, once wrote:
In many ways, this expresses both the activity, if there is that, of the desert and the wilderness, and the necessary context for lectio divina. Stillness is a place where God lives with me.
John the Baptist makes his appearance and offers us his accompaniment in this tough place – Repent, for the forgiveness of sins. Make a life-changing decision which separates from past burdens and re-establish the relationships which are formative – with God, with those about me, with myself. This forgiveness – the utterly restorative and recreative intervention of God for the human person, in the human person, for me and within me, from the other to me and from me to them, from me to myself and within myself.
*Take this short passage – Mark 1:1-5 – and read it frequently over the next week. Take the reflections above and see what they help to prompt from the Scripture. This is the word which God is addressing to you – perhaps simply, ‘Begin again’; or, hear the invitation to come to get to know Jesus again (this is the whole purpose of the Gospel!); or, begin to recognise that the tough place which you inhabit is inviting you to prayer, community, dependence on those who draw you into a loving and transformative community, with persons with whom you can be of one heart and one soul; or, seek forgiveness, and offer forgiveness..
*And carry that word or thought with you, recalling it frequently throughout the day.
*Then bring the thought back to God, who is waiting for you – in thanksgiving, in praise, in petition for yourself, or in intercession for someone else.
-Part of our continuous lectio divina on the Gospel according to Mark-