18th February 2018
Many nations have an ancient story about a massive flood that covered a great deal of the earth (http://creation.com/many-flood-legends); it is a traditional tale that they like to pass on to each generation. The Old Testament presents its version of this story as a desperate measure taken by their God, angry because of the huge wickedness of the people that he had created. It extends into the story of the ‘salvation’ of Noah in the Ark together with his immediate family and a viable sample of all living creatures; with this it becomes the story of a new beginning, a second chance and especially a firm promise from God that He will never react this way again – a covenant for a new beginning. The story relates that God arranged that the appearance of the rainbow would remind people of this settlement. This version of a flood story can still give us confidence in the love of God for us that can extend into forgiveness for whatever sins we have and of which we repent. It is symbolized well by the combination of rain and sunshine producing the rainbow which we still rejoice to see. Indeed, just as we are told that none of us in fact see the same rainbow, so God’s attitude to us treats each one of us as a beloved individual person.
This letter comes from a period when the Christians were clearly a distinct and new religion and were liable to criticism and even persecution from Jews and from those who followed the Roman or Greek gods. The letter is attributed to Peter, but written too late to be his; it reads as a general letter to a number of churches from an overseer (a bishop). Its content definitely relates to the sacrament of Baptism and our reading comes from a section that is like a sermon explaining the symbolism of water in terms of the flood story – it is a new beginning for people and even though times might be hard, they were hard for Jesus too (unto death) but because of Him, difficulties can be lived through, for He now lives in glory with God. The original recipients were quite likely to suffer persecution from Roman authorities and possibly ostracism from members of their own family and onetime friends. If we are trying to live in an upright way as shown to us by Jesus, then we will face difficulty both from the situation we are in and the temptations that we will have, then this ‘sermon’ will have something to say to us.
This extract is typical of the author’s short and pertinent style. John is a man who preaches conversion; not a change of religion but perhaps, a renewed, commitment to live up to the ideals that one knows one should – appropriate for Lent; his message is often summed up with the word ‘repent’ in the Greek original (μετανοιειτε) “change your whole way of thinking.” Mark writes that Jesus (we suppose at about the age of thirty) leaves his life in the little village of his family and friends, Nazareth, and comes to John to symbolically express this dramatic change in his way of life thenceforth. Mark emphasizes this ‘new beginning’ by relating three life-changing moments: firstly, Jesus saw (we might say envisaged) the heavens ripped open; secondly, just as at creation, the Spirit of God hovered over (with creative power as in the opening words of Genesis); and finally, the creative voice of God (Who said ‘let there be… and there was…”) declares Jesus to be His Son, loved and doing what pleases God. It is from this moment of commitment that Jesus’ life begins to be really a struggle; he is lead by the Spirit into the desert – a traditional place for difficulties, and among wild and lawless people, though attended with the heavenly angels. Then Mark’s abrupt style puts John to one side and Jesus straight into His public ministry, as we call it, of encouraging this same conversion in others, which is really good news for them