Lesson 50 –
1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
If you do some digging, you will find that there are many stories of healing in the book of Mark. The way this particular gospel depicts healing and miracles are quite unique, compared to the other three gospels. In this chapter, however, we get thrust right into the story of Jesus as an adult. This is to be contrasted, for example, with Luke or Matthew, which start off by depicting the circumstances surrounding Christ’s birth. Later in this first chapter, we dive right into Christ’s work. He is tempted, he calls the disciples, he heals at multiple locations and he preaches. In your own devotional period, read Matthew 1, Mark 1, Luke 1 and John 1. What feels the same? What feels different?
Today’s lesson will focus on leadership in unexpected packages. Read the scripture out loud together.
Discuss with someone in your home. When was the last time you judged someone wrongly? How did you feel when you learned who that person actually was?
What’s happening during this passage?
The writer opens the passage with a framing from Isaiah. Using this cultural reference, John appeared in the wilderness offering the ritual of baptism and repentance. People from the countryside and from Jerusalem heard of it and went to see him. John was dressed in camel’s hair and was known to eat insects and honey. Again, referencing the culturally significant statement, he says, “someone greater than me is coming, and I am not worthy to stoop down and untie his sandals.”
How does John talk about Jesus?
John speaks with compassion towards Jesus. If you have ever watched two Black men encourage each other in the barber shop, then you know what this scene looks like.
“Hey, my man! I see you!”
“Man, I’m just trying to get like you!”
John recognizes that while people are coming to him to be baptized, that there is still someone “more powerful” coming after him. He is keenly aware that he is not the first, the last, or the only useful person to the community. And in his recognition of this fact, he gives honor to Jesus. Somehow, he finds a way to baptize (to serve) the one he believes is “more powerful.”
Why wouldn’t Jesus baptize himself?
As we have learned in the past few months, there are just some things you need other people for. Of course, in a global health crisis, we have to do what we can to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But certainly, we have learned that some things require other people. It’s difficult to braid the back of your head. It’s hard to shave your own beard close when you’re used to seeing the barber. It’s tough to give yourself a nasal swab. It’s hard to get married, or have a funeral, or have a birthday party when we can’t be together in the flesh. Even though John recognizes the power within Jesus, Jesus submits to John’s leadership and skill set. This is a reminder that no matter what we do, and no matter how we ascend, we still need people.
What’s up with John’s outfit?
Mark describes John as an eccentric figure. He behaves weirdly, he eats strange things, and he wears clothes that are… unique to say the least. And yet, as strange as he is, Jesus welcomes it. And nowhere in this passage does Jesus ask John to change who he is in order to serve. That the writer of this gospel makes a point to describe John’s clothing is a clue that perhaps people found him odd. After all, he snacks on locusts and wild honey. It would be easy for someone to write him off.
What questions do you still have of this scripture? How will you commit to journeying with this text this week?
CONNECTION TO TODAY’S WORLD
In February, Michael Jordan gave a passionate and heartfelt speech about his friend and little brother Kobe Bryant. Bryant was killed in a horrific helicopter accident earlier this year. With eyes filled with tears, he began to reflect on his relationship with Bryant. He saw Bryant not as someone who was replacing him or his competition. He saw Bryant as a little brother who would “get in your stuff, your shoes. But that nuisance turned into love over a period of time.” He recalled a story where they went to see Phil Jackson and Kobe asked, “Did you bring your shoes?” Jordan wasn’t thinking about playing at all. In Jordan’s narration of the story,
Bryant’s “attitude to compete and play against someone he felt could enhance and improve his game.” Choking back tears, Jordan, arguably the most skilled player ever said “I can’t wait to get home to become a GirlDad… Kobe taught me that by how he responded and reacted with the people he loved. These are the things that we will continue to learn from him.”
Journal: Can you think of someone who taught you something unexpectedly? What did that person teach you?
Closing: Sing/watch “Believe in Yourself,” sung by Lena Horne.
If you believe within your heart, you’ll know
That no one can change
The path that you must go
Believe what you feel
And know your rights because
The time will come around
When you’ll say it’s yours
Believe that you can go home
Believe you can float on air
Yes, click your heels three times
If you believe
Oh, then you’ll be there
That’s why I want you to
Believe in yourself, yes
Right from the start
You got to believe, believe in the magic
Right there in your heart
Go ahead believe all these things
Not because I told you to, no
Believe in yourself, oohh yes
Believe in yourself
Believe in yourself, as I believe in you
PRAYER: Dear God, You are the God of Then, Now, and Later. You are the God of our ancestors, of our peers, of our future descendants. You are bigger than time and you are time itself. You break into time and hold time. We are often encouraged to compete with each other. We are socialized to size each other up and to compete beyond healthy limits. We are even discouraged from working together because this world only lets one of us win at a time.
God, help us to take the advice from Jesus and John. Help us to be humble enough to submit to trust the leadership of our peers. No matter what we look like or how we dress, we know that you have hopes for us. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.