Mark is an Evangelist who doesn’t mess about. He goes headlong into things. As he tells us, here we have the beginning of his Gospel. Then in only the first eight verses that we have as our reading for today he briefly gives us an important prophecy from the prophet Isaiah, and then pushes John the Baptist on to the stage. But in four short verses he manages to sum up completely his whole life.
Then in the very next verse he brings on Jesus and, before you know it, has him baptised. We are swiftly moved on to Jesus temptation in the wilderness and by verse fourteen, before we have even turned the page, Mark launches into an account of Jesus’ public ministry. Whew!
It is breathtaking, and it is wonderful. Mark goes straight for it. He is a no-nonsense Evangelist, no frills, just the essentials. But you can understand his logic. It is after all Good News, and so why go around the houses. Get down to basics, and do it fast.
Not only is he swift but he is also uncompromising. We get the prophecy about a messenger coming before Jesus and as soon as he gives it to us Mark says: ‘…and so it was that John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness.’ No qualifications. From prophecy to fulfilment in one breath.
And not some people from Judea and not some people from Jerusalem went to receive Baptism from John. No, for Mark tells us it was all the people from Judea and all the people from Jerusalem.
Neither is it the Good News about Jesus who was a nice bloke and who from reading this story about him you might come round to thinking that he was the Son of God. No, for Mark, it is unequivocal. This is the Good News about Jesus, the Son of God.
Mark is a true believer and he is not going to hang around and wait for you to make up your mind. He gets in there and proclaims the Gospel. He is, in a way, just like John the Baptist—uncompromising. And I believe that is just how one should be with the Gospel—uncompromising. Why be anything other? Why water it down. Why apologise?
We have been given a precious treasure. We have been given a sacred duty by the High King of Heaven. In the words Mark himself uses, we have been instructed to ‘Go out to the whole world, proclaim the Good News to all creation.’
In his own way the prophet Isaiah is just as uncompromising: ‘Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill laid low.’ Plenty of work there for the JCB drivers in our congregation. And I’m sure they wouldn’t hang about either.
But Isaiah also gives us a tenderness that is found missing in Mark. Yes he has the trumpeter go up the high mountain to blare out his message at Jerusalem and he has the Lord coming in glory, with power and as a victor. But he also lets us know the gentler side that the Lord will be like a shepherd feeding his flock and gathering his lambs to his breast.
But what is all this about? The answer is clear: both Isaiah and Mark, in their somewhat similar but yet also quite different ways, are proclaiming to the world the most important event that ever happened or ever will happen to the human race —the incarnation of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
This incomparable event that burst on the world over 2000 years ago deserves some direct language. And I suggest that it deserves some direct language even today, perhaps more especially today. People around us are watering our religion down, in fact we do it ourselves, ‘Oh, it’s only a small sin, God wouldn’t worry his head about that.’ Listen to yourselves saying it to yourself if not to others.
When it comes to Christmas even Christians reduce the holiest night of the year to the level of twittering robins on a glitter covered so-called Christmas card with a capital X. The razzmatazz of the multi-million pound shopping conglomerates has hijacked Christmas and reduced it to a saccharine coated message of shop-till-you-drop.
Mark and Isaiah and John the Baptist, and even Jesus himself, all used uncompromising language. Why? Because surely they knew better than anyone that the message of God would be compromised all down the line till today and well beyond.
But it wasn’t what the commercial world would do that bothered them it is what you and I do. It is about our belief and our faith and whether we actually do give precedence to the teaching of Jesus and the rules and doctrines of his Church or not.
So, let us stick to our guns. Let us have the confidence of a Mark or a John the Baptist and stick our necks out a bit and take up the task that Jesus has given us to go out and proclaim the Good News.
Notice the words ‘go out’ —not stay in and watch the mass from Westminster Cathedral on the telly. Be clear about it, just going out to Church on a Sunday morning is already in a very concrete way already beginning to carry out this mission.
But it is also more active than that. It is important to get this far, here to Church on a Sunday; but from here we are impelled much further. As the priest says at the end of each mass, ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.’ That’s active. After all, loving and serving the Lord can’t be done sitting slouched on a sofa.
Loving and serving the Lord is what we are here for, it is our privileged task; we were chosen and selected for this sacred ministry by God himself. So, let’s not shrink back from it, let’s not water it down; let’s not compromise it.
And by our loving and serving we will be creating that ‘new heaven and a new earth’ that St Peter talks about. The world about us will one day collapse into flames and something entirely new will be revealed by God.
But it won’t be new or unfamiliar to us, because we know that it will be the fulfilment of all that God has promised, of all that we have been proclaiming, of all that we have been waiting for.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket