As part of my sabbatical I’m reading through Mark’s gospel as we camp and visit the National Parks of the northern Rockies. Part of this is pragmatic; Mark’s gospel takes center stage beginning in Advent for our Sunday gospel readings.
Beyond the planning though, Mark’s gospel has long been my favorite. You can read it through in less than a couple of hours, and the disciples—who eventually become the pillars of the faith—bumble around like the Keystone Kops. They clearly embody their humanness.
At any rate, Mark opens his gospel with the wilderness. John the Baptizer becomes one who cries out in the wilderness, proclaiming the way of the Lord. This way begins with repentance.
Far too often people proclaim the need for repentance with judgment. John’s message also includes judgment too—according to Matthew and Luke—but in Mark John the Bpatizer proclaims a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The goal of this preaching isn’t too heap on the guilt—something the church and its adherents has been far too proficient at—but rather to invite people to a new way of life.
Being in the wilderness shows us where our lives have missed the mark. It’s easy to avoid thinking about our lives in the frenetic pace of the everyday. But spend a couple of days in the desert without the common distractions, and we are faced with ourselves; who we are, what we’ve done, where we are headed.
And most of us when we do these things shudder. The truth about ourselves stops us cold. It’s horrifying.
Yet when we reality confronts us, God stands at the ready. God loves us. Full. Stop. God shows us mercy. God wants the best for us, and so offers forgiveness when we contemplate the depths of our souls and cannot believe the ugliness found there. We need not be paralyzed by that exploration. Rather we can turn to the One who created us and knows us fully, and wants to help us. God wants us to become the people we are called to be.
The wilderness shows us our true selves at this point in our lives, and then invites us to live into our truest selves. That’s what repentance and forgiveness looks like. That’s the result of the voice calling in the wilderness.