Our readings today provide the outlines of Jesus’ rescue mission. In the apocalyptic mindset of Jesus’ day, God was all-powerful but not all-controlling. The danger always existed that forces of chaos and death could briefly slip from God’s oversight and stir up trouble. This metaphysical reality found confirmation in the foreign occupation of Jerusalem and the Greco-Roman corrosion of Israel’s culture. In popular religion, this belief manifested itself in the fear of demons, illness and death. But God had taken action in unseen ways to set things right. God sent the Son to defeat the forces of chaos and re-establish divine kingship. Before this final battle commenced, however, the Son had come to earth to gather any who remained faithful to God during these calamitous times. Mark understood that these faithful included poor Jews and Gentiles of every sort, but not many of Israel’s elite.
‘One mightier than I is coming after me.’ (Mk 1:7)
Where has chaos gained a foothold in your life? How can Christ’s power help you overcome it?
How can you heal others or the wider world with the power of Christ that you bear?
This brief sketch explains several features of today’s Gospel. Mark emphasizes throughout his Gospel that Jesus is God’s Son. Aside from the reference in Mk 1:1 (possibly a later addition), the title appears in 1:11, 9:7 and 15:39. With this title, he affirms that Jesus Christ is God’s agent who will restore divine kingship.
Mark emphasizes Jesus’ power. John the Baptist proclaims, “One mightier than I is coming after me!” Throughout his Gospel, Mark reminds his audience that, no matter how chaotic the world had become, Jesus bore the power of God and could defeat even the fiercest opponents. To Mark, Jesus’ miracles testify to his power over death and death’s agents—physical and mental illness, hunger, poverty and despair.
John’s baptism was an act of resistance. Those who received it left death and chaos behind and publicly identified themselves as subjects of God’s authority. God’s response to these declarations, John promises, will be a second baptism “with the Holy Spirit,” in which believers will receive a share of the Son’s power to defeat the forces of disruption.
This message must have resonated strongly with Mark’s audience, who lived in a time of civil war and sociopolitical instability. Many early copies of Mark’s Gospel end with the haunting words of Mk 16:8, “They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” This almost certainly describes the state of Mark’s audience, fearful of the turmoil around them but full of faith that God was working to set things aright.
Mark reminds us that we bear the power of Christ. We who have received the Holy Spirit in our baptism carry on Christ’s struggle against chaos and death. God’s kingdom is not yet fully restored. John began the work; we continue it today in the power of the Spirit. We bear Christ’s power to unlock centuries-old chains of fear, hate, alienation and mistrust. We bear Christ’s power to forgive those who wrong us and beg forgiveness for ourselves. We bear Christ’s power to heal scars of mind and soul, to dismiss demons of loneliness, despair and self-loathing and to restore those dead in spirit to life. To prepare for Christ’s arrival, let us recommit ourselves to Christ’s mission and challenge chaos and death wherever we find them.