Mark’s Gospel begins almost as strangely as it ends. Remember that scholars believe that the actual ending of Mark leaves the women who had seen the risen Lord seized with terror and amazement. Some of those scholars go further and attempt to get into the mind of the author of Mark’s Gospel, suggesting he leaves it open ended in order that the reader might turn back to chapter one and start over. I’m not sure that’s why it ends so abruptly, but it works for this blogpost, so we’ll buy it for now.
When the reader turns back to chapter one, at least in modern Bibles, she is confronted with this as the first verse, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ the Son of God.” For a Gospel seemingly obsessed with keeping Jesus’ Messiah-ship a secret, the first verse or subscription or title doesn’t mix words. This is a book that is 1) only the beginning of the story, 2) most definitely good news, and 3) about Jesus who is the Anointed One (Christ) and Son of God. What strikes me then, is how this good news starts.
The good news of Jesus Christ starts with the Babylonian Exile. That is, after all, where the quote from Isaiah comes from. Isaiah 40 opens a new phase in the life of the people of Israel. For 39 chapters, the prophet has been warning them of the doom to come. Finally, after refusing to repent of their sinful and selfish ways, God destroys his own Temple, sacks Jerusalem and sends most of His Chosen People into exile in Babylon. It is in the midst of this heartache, a fate so terrible that the people can’t even bring themselves to make songs anymore – they’ve hung their musical instruments in the tress (Psalm 137:2), God speaks to the prophet and says, “Comfort, Comfort my people” and “I am sending a messenger to prepare the way for the Messiah.”
The good news of Jesus Christ starts with Roman Occupation. Mark’s audience is living a life of Exile in place. They pay taxes with coins that violate the first two commandments. The Temple of God, if it hasn’t already been destroyed when Mark puts ink to parchment, is the second tallest building in Jerusalem. The palace of Herod, the Roman puppet king of Israel, is bigger. The people are living out the judgment of God for their sinful and selfish lives when a prophet comes and says, “Prepare the way of the Lord. Repent and be baptized.”
The good news of Jesus Christ starts in places that don’t seem very good at all. It starts in the streets of Ferguson, MO. It starts in the infusion room of the local cancer center. It starts in the free breakfast line at Foley Elementary School. The good news of Jesus Christ starts even at the grave as we make our song, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia. It starts in these seemingly God-forsaken places because God is there, and often that’s the only time we’re caught short enough to notice. The good news of God has no beginning and it has no end, but it does have a place where we are able to enter in.