This weekend we meet the figure of John the Baptist, the messenger sent before the Saviour to prepare the way and to make his paths straight, prompting us to live lives without spot or stain. The Gospel account of the emergence of John the Baptist and of his preaching could point us to the sense of hope given by heroic figures in history who have stood up for a principle. These need not all be religious figures or representing a religious cause.
Mark states the theme of his gospel in his opening verse and then introduces the traditional prelude to the Good News ‘beginning from the baptism of John’. The title defines the whole work as ‘ the gospel of Jesus Christ’; the gospel of the crucified and risen Lord – the gospel that is Jesus himself. For Mark, the gospel is somehow the presence of the saving power of Jesus. Two of Mark’s significant Christological titles are here at the start; Christ (Messiah) and Son of God. The beginning and abiding source of this gospel lies in the historical appearance of Jesus who, in the perspective of the Easter faith of the Church, was recognisable as the Son of God.
John the Baptist solemnly proclaims the coming of the One greater than he, who will pour out the gift of the Spirit. John is the sign that in the wilderness God is about to renew his covenant with Israel. The mission explains his clarion call to repentance or metanoia, a radical conversion, finding symbolic expression in baptism. John who had uttered the call to repentance now proclaims the coming of the greater than he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. ‘The Lord’ is now Jesus whose way John prepares. In contrast to the other synoptists who give a summary of the ethical preaching of the Baptist, Mark focuses on him as the one who points the way to the Coming One. We see the coming of John the Baptist as fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah and preparing the way for the Saviour.
Canon Francis Brown