To Begin in the Wilderness

After the Advent time of waiting, after the joy of Jesus’ birth at Christmas, after the magi have made the long journey to worship the Christ Child, the Christian year “fast forwards” to an adult Jesus presenting himself at the Jordan River for baptism by John the Baptist.  Our scripture lesson is Mark 1: 4-11, Mark’s description of Jesus’ baptism. As a faithful Jew, Jesus would have no doubt experienced the various Jewish rituals that would be celebrated in homes or the Temple or the synagogue, but for the beginning of his public ministry he chooses what seems to be an unlikely location: the wilderness.

Or maybe not such an unlikely location. The Rev. Bonnie Thurston, PhD writes in her book The Spiritual Landscape of Mark, “The wilderness is where people meet God. . . .[The description of Jesus’ baptism there] makes the connection between Israel’s past and the Jesus story. It is in the desert that God’s people find God, or, more precisely, are found by God: in the desert they repent; in the desert they find forgiveness; in the desert they rediscover their original inheritance as God’s children”.  The children of Israel experienced all that as they  wandered 40 years in the desert; after Jesus was baptized, we learn that “The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness”  where he was to experience the 40 days of his temptation.  On the First Sunday in Lent we’ll think about Jesus’ temptation, but for this Sunday we will focus on the meaning of Jesus’ baptism in the context of beginning his public ministry.  Some questions to think about that are raised by Bonnie Thurston:  why did people flock to the desert to hear John? What were they seeking? What did the center of religious life and worship [in Jerusalem] not provide?  Why were they choosing the call of the desert over institutional or organized religion?

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