Continuing Reflections on Mark’s Gospel – Friday March 27th 2020

My name is Alan Neale, I am Assisting Priest at Trinity Church Newport, Rhode Island. In this time of unimaginable crisis and enforced separation… Bishop Jelinek and I are writing daily reflections so share with you a little what is on our hearts and minds.

If something we say creates a question or a thought in your mind, please know that we are readily available to talk with you by telephone or skype or whatever platform you use.

What we want to do is create social nearness while respecting the urgent call for physical distancing.

Today we come to Mark 1:9-13

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

The writer of Mark’s Gospel is the most economical in his use of language and so phrases like “in those days” and words like “immediately” appear often. What we have in Mark is a sort of “bare bones” approach to the Gospel message and to Jesus so that we might approach them with ready and easy accessibility. You may remember how Jesus warns in the Sermon of the Mount not to think that long and loquacious prayers somehow earn special merit with God; short, earnest prayers are sometimes all we can offer in times of such current stress… prayers such as “Lord, help me” and “Lord, have mercy”.

So John is engaged in his business of baptizing (just “doing his thing”) and then Jesus appears. I’m reminded of Moses engaged in his business of keeping sheep (just “doing his thing”) and then the Lord appears in the burning bush. I am encouraged by this… no matter how this wretched pandemic has radically affected our routines, our schedule… at any moment Jesus can seem close to me.

All heaven breaks loose with the baptism of Jesus, and with His baptism we see again the total, life-demanding commitment he has to identify completely with you… and me. As the writer to the Hebrews says, “We have a great high priest who is able to identify with our weaknesses.” Right now we confront weaknesses in abundance but we are not alone.

The first sermon I preached at Trinity Church, Newport was in January 1991. The text was an account of Jesus’s baptism and I preached then on the need to be affirmed and to seek that in the right place – God himself, no one else can satisfy that deep need to be affirmed. So listen, “You are my beloved child, on you my favor rests and with you I am well pleased”.
I believe our spiritual journey is to establish (and re-establish) that experiential truth in our minds and psyches.

The final verse, verse 12, speaks of the most radical physical distancing ever and in that experience of “wilderness/separation” Jesus was tested, tried, tempted. But note… the Spirit was His energy and angels waited on him.

A Prayer
Lord Jesus, thank you for your intense identification with us in our fears and anxieties, in our hopes and joys, in our tears and laughter.
Give us strength to labor day by day as best we can and keep us alert to your voice.
In our need send us “ministering angels” and in our strength may we be “ministering angels” to others. AMEN