Readings: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8
Faced with my favorite passage from Isaiah and the opening of Mark’s Gospel, which always moves me, I was wondering where to begin. There’s too much richness here.
What jumped at me from both readings was the desert setting; would anyone else describe these passages as rich, given the setting?
Why the wilderness?
The wilderness known to Jesus is a barren, uninhabited place, incapable of supporting agriculture. Life has to be wrestled from those arid rocks, that hard, dusty earth. All the same, such a desert is teeming with life–and teeming with light. There’s energy and clarity and simplicity in this wild balance.
The austerity of the setting cannot support the luxury of denial or spinning fanciful, self-aggrandizing conclusions. Either are fatal in this environment. The Italian poet, Pier Paolo Pasolini mused that monotheism was inevitably born in human consciousness in the severe clarity of the desert; a Golden Calf can’t long survive there.
God seems immediate, blinding, unmediated in the desert, God’s grace as available as it is unexpected.
John the Baptist, the desert dweller, is the first person we meet in Mark’s Gospel and the first to recognize who Jesus is. Even before he has met him, he describes him in his preaching. John even knows himself in this unseen follower.
How often do I find myself in the wilderness, unsettled from my comfort zone by events I cannot control?
Or is the better question, how often do I flee that wilderness to grasp any comfort, any consoling distraction?
In the long run, how unsettling would it really be if I allowed God to become the probing question that my life attempts to answer?