By Barbara Klugh
Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8. Go to www.lectionarypage.net for the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s readings, Isaiah offers words of hope and forgiveness, Peter tells us how to live until Jesus comes again, and we are introduced to John the Baptist in Mark’s gospel.
Isaiah: This week we read from the prologue to Second Isaiah, chapters 40-55, which was addressed to the people in exile in Babylon c. 540 BC, where they have been in captivity for around 40 years. In chapters 1-39, Isaiah warned the Israelites of the coming of God’s judgment (and later restoration) because of their idolatry, economic injustice and exploitation of the vulnerable. In this week’s reading, the people wonder if God has rejected them forever, and are in need of comfort and consolation. Now we hear words of hope, forgiveness, and restoration.
Isaiah brings good news. “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” The people are forgiven and the Lord will bring them home.
God calls on the divine council (the heavenly hosts): “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God… Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” But there is also a word of reality. The prophet is told to cry out about the transitory nature of human life and the permanence of God, “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.” And more good news: God will come with mighty power to free his people and will tend his flock like a shepherd.
Psalm 85: In this week’s psalm the people praise God for his gracious favor in the past and pray for his forgiveness, deliverance, and justice. They express optimism that God will grant peace and prosperity to his faithful people.
2 Peter: In the judgment of many scholars and Church fathers, both ancient and modern, the apostle Peter was not the author of 2 Peter. Yet I like what The Life with God Bible says: “No matter who we settle on as the author though, it is important to remember that the Church has accepted this letter into the canon as a trustworthy guide for us who wish to follow Jesus as Lord.” For the sake of convenience I will call the author Peter.
Peter wrote the letter because he was aware that he was nearing the end of his life. He wanted his readers to grow in Christian faith and to participate in the divine nature. He also warned against false teachers and scoffers who said that the hope of the Lord’s return was untrue.
In our reading for this week, Peter argues against the scoffers by pointing out that the “delay” in Christ’s return is meaninglesss because “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.” Instead, Peter says that we should understand the delay as an example of the Lord’s patience, giving time for all to come to repentance. But the Day of the Lord will come suddenly and unexpectedly, ‘like a thief.” When Jesus comes, the heavens will disappear with a loud noise and fire will burn up the earth and everything on it. This is so they can be replaced by new heavens and a new earth.
While I’m not a scoffer, I find the idea of the Second Coming difficult to imagine. That said, I still try to live life trusting in God and growing in grace and peace. So in a way, I am preparing for the sudden and unexpected appearance of my Lord.
Mark: Our reading this week is the prologue to Mark’s gospel. It begins with a bang. “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Mark then introduces John the Baptist as the “messenger” spoken of in the Old Testament books of Isaiah and Malachi. John is the long-awaited (400 years!) prophet who comes in the likeness of Elijah to herald the arrival of the Messiah. Out of the long silence comes John, preaching a baptism of repentance and telling of the one who will baptize in the Holy Spirit. John’s baptism is a sign of purification, of turning to God and accepting God’s forgiveness, whereas Jesus’ baptism ushers in a new reality, linking God and humans.
The Rev. Katheryn King suggested that we read the entire gospel of Mark for an overview of the church year–that it’s only 16 chapters. If you want to read it with a fresh translation and commentary, I recommend Mark for Everyone by N.T. Wright, which was suggested to me by retired priest and Grace member David Lillvis. N.T Wright is a great scholar, but this translation and commentary is very accessible, written in a vivid conversational style. For example, here’s his translation of 1:7-8:
Someone a lot stronger than me is coming close behind; John used to tell them. ‘I don’t deserve to squat down and undo his sandals. I’ve plunged you in the water; he’s going to plunge you in the Holy Spirit.’