Of the Beginning of the Good News


We are now in Year B of the Lectionary, so we’ll be reading from Mark’s gospel mostly throughout the year until Advent. Aristotle teaches us in his Poetics that the prologue of a rhetorical piece of literature predisposes its theme; that the entire narrative is informed by how it begins. Mark’s Gospel begins with the Baptism of Christ. It is the only gospel that begins this way. So every reading from Mark during the coming year will relate to Baptism; the Baptism of Christ, and the Baptisms of those who follow him, Jesus being the archetype of all the Baptized.

Mark’s style is terse, edgy, and expedient to the point, and his Gospel begins by cutting to the chase: “The beginning of the Good News about Jesus the Christ.” The so-called “good news” for Mark doesn’t come about at the climactic end of his gospel. It doesn’t come about at the crucifixion of Jesus; nor does it come about at the empty tomb. It doesn’t come about amid apocalyptic grandeur. The “good news” begins at Baptism. God’s salvation doesn’t become manifest because of Jesus’ death, the church’s doctrine of “substitutionary atonement” notwithstanding. God’s salvation is engendered at Jesus’ initiation into  vocation. In other words, it is not the death of Jesus that is the atoning sacrifice, but Jesus’ choice to live his life for the good of God’s cause, the cause of justice, and mercy, and compassion. What brings atonement is the life-long vocation of calling out the structures of sin in the world that oppress and disenfranchise and isolate; and then acting for restoration and change; acting for God’s goal of love whose means is justice, to quote Rheinhold Niebuhr.

This incisive gospel is punctuated throughout with the word “immediately.” Jesus after his Baptism goes ‘immediately’ into the desert. When the disciples are caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee, the wind ceases immediately. When Jesus’ raises Jairus’ daughter from the dead, she stands up ‘immediately.’ So this Good News is not reserved for the future. It doesn’t come at the end of things. It is immediate. The Baptism of Jesus is emblematic of our own, and at every baptism the veil of the Temple is torn in two. At every baptism the boundary between heaven and earth is breached. Our vocation as the baptized is in short to set loose love into the world. So that means the life of faith is not about smug piety, but about mindful advocacy; that salvation is not about ‘me,’ but about the ones we are called to serve… and brothers and sisters, that call is not part time, nor a hobby. That call is our life’s work… the beginning of the Good News… and it is immediate.


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Rob Gray
January 8th, 2018

Amen, Brother! You should be getting enough of these to make for one helluva book…

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