Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Second Sunday of Advent, Year B, Mark 1:1-8, December 4, 2011
IF THERE IS anything that we always welcome with joy, it is good news! Did not Fidel Ramos jump with joy when the news spread that the Marcoses had been transported to Hawaii? One can just imagine how happy a woman is after being told by her doctor that she has no cancer, after all! That is certainly good news that can make her face glow! For a person accused of murder, the good news is none other than the pronouncement of the judge that he is not guilty! These examples illustrate to us what good news signifies—it means liberation, justification, vindication to someone who, in one way or another, is undergoing negative experiences. These experiences are transformed into something positive that gives liberation, freedom and healing.
The First Reading (Isa 40:1-5; 9-11) provides us with an example of what good news means to God’s people in the Old Testament. Sometime in 697 BC, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, attacked Jerusalem and besieged the city. As a result, he took captive the King of Judah, together with the ministers and government functionaries, the officers and men of the army, craftsmen, smith, and “none was left among the people of the land except the poor” (2 Kings 24:11-17).According to the prophets, this happened because of the perversion of Israel (Jer 16:10-13; Isa 1:21-23; 10:1). The exile suppressed the national identity of the Jews, destroyed their spirit, and humiliated them—“we today are flushed with shame” (Baruch 1:15).
It was to this situation that Isaiah, 59 years later, proclaimed the reading today: “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is atg an end. Go up on a high mountain, Zion, herald of good tidings, cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of the good news! Here comes with power the Lord God, who rules by his strong arm” (Isa 40:2a.9). To hear that God would finally put an end to their servitude and exile—that was certainly good news! It was the answer to their prayer and confession of sins (Dan 9:18-19). One can just imagine the joy of the Jews, who have been living in exile for a number of years in a land foreign to their culture and life, at hearing this news of liberation! They must have been dancing on the streets and highways!
This brings us to the Gospel reading (Mark 1:1-8). Mark opens his work with a proclamation that it is a gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God (Mark 1:1). By gospel he does not refer to his work, the book which we read and which is divided into 16 chapters. Gospel—which originally denoted good news of victory in battle—means “good news”! And the “good news” that Mark proclaims is a person—Jesus himself. The greatest news is Jesus himself In Aramaic, Jesus is Yeshua, which is a late form of the Hebrew Yehoshua, meaning, “Yahweh is salvation”. In him, God reveals himself as Savior. In other words, the good news is Jesus embodies the salvation of God, which all people long for.
There are two best known Jesuses in the Bible. In the Old Testament, there is Jesus or Joshua, son of Nun, successor of Moses (Num 13:16). In the New Testament, there is Jesus of Nazareth (Luke 2:21). Just as in the first Jesus, Joshua, God executed his plan to bring his people into the land that he swore to their fathers he would give them (Deut 31:7-8), so in the second Jesus, the man from Nazareth, God will accomplish his plan to give his people healing, liberation and salvation. This means that in Jesus, God is acting again on behalf of his people just as he did for Israel of old. In Jesus, God brings liberation and salvation to his people. In Jesus, one finds the answer to the fundamental problem of existence. Today, we are enmeshed in many negative realities—injustice, exploitation, global greed, oppression, political and economic inequality and disenfranchisement, suppression of human rights, abuse of power, and destruction of environment, among others. All these involve separation from God and severance of common brotherhood, which are the essence of sin. But Jesus came to save his people from their sins (Matt 1:21) and its consequences. This is the good news. In Jesus salvation, integrity, healing, new life—all this is possible, can be given to humanity.
Jesus will accomplish this as Son of God (Mark 1:1), not as Son of Man, Prophet, or Son of David. What does this mean? Notice: that Jesus is the Son of God is never recognized in Mark’s account, except at the end, when a pagan soldier, seeing how he died on the cross, declared that he is the Son of God (Mark 15:19). This means that for Mark, salvation can only come from dying. Jesus will be able to give life, healing, salvation and integrity precisely because he is able to endure suffering and give up his life. And what does this imply for Christians? Since the purpose why Mark wrote his story is to know Jesus as Son of God, and since to know him is to believe that he is the suffering Messiah who died on the cross, the evangelist therefore wishes to ask us, who are Christ’s disciples, to follow the crucified Messiah in loving service and suffering, even to the point of dying. In this way, we become good news to people in need of liberation and salvation.