By placing the opening scene of his book at the Jordan River, who is Mark’s author alluding to?
Gospel Reading: Mark 1:4-11
For Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012: Year B—Baptism of Our Lord
Mark knows how to move it along. Written in the very midst of the Jewish revolt against Rome in 66 C.E. (a minority view, but the way I am going to read the text), the urgency can be felt in the velocity of his narrative.
Even the opening line, the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, suggests that the author isn’t convinced he will make through to finish the rest of the story.
At the Jordan
Mark presents John and Jesus in quick succession placing them in an environment rich with biblical/historical significance. They are at the Jordon, a point repeated twice in four verses. This is where Joshua led the people into the Promised Land and, like the Red Sea, the waters miraculously parted for them.
As Jesus comes up from under the waters of the Jordon, parting the surface of the water, is he emerging as a Joshua figure that will lead the people against their enemies and retake their land? This would be a welcome reading for a people in the midst of a revolt against their Roman occupiers.
It is also the place where Elijah’s mantle was passed on to Elisha, illustrated by Elisha performing the same miracle that Elijah had just performed: the parting of the waters of the Jordon. After which the company of prophets saw him and said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” This seems similar to the way John saw the Spirit resting on Jesus.
Much has been written comparing this tearing open of heaven and the voice pronouncing “This is my Son!” with the tearing of the temple curtain and the soldier’s pronouncement of, truly he was God’s Son, as a kind of cosmic crossing into time. Is this a tear in the firmament that separated the realm of God from the realm of humanity. Is this a parting that will never be repaired? God will continue to be among God’s people in a way God has not been before.
This cosmic crossing is further emphasized by its location at the Jordan River, where miraculous crossings have occurred in the past, one by a conquering leader of his people and the others by great prophets who speak truth to the leaders.
The Hardest Question
By placing the opening scene of his book at the Jordan River, does Mark’s author intend to allude to Joshua or to Elisha? Or does he intend to bring both to mind? And what does that tell us about the nature of Jesus’ mission?