“He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.” ~ Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea
Every path needs a starting point. In order to leave port, a ship must lose its mooring; in order to begin his journey, must choose his goal. But there are times in life when we feel stuck and unable to take the next step. We feel lost and are unsure where to turn. The mountain seems insurmountable and the trail too long. In the end, we stay put, but our hearts are unsatisfied.
He who opens the Gospel of Mark feels uplifted by words of consolation: “The beginning of the good news…” The Good News is already in the very first word: a new beginning is possible! Here is a road to walk, a path that you can begin. If you think the die is already cast, you can close this book because it will have nothing to tell you.
In the beginning, things are usually unclear, like when you read a story. You have to read a while and make the effort to see where the story might take you. But the Gospel of Mark tells you where this road will take you right away: it will take you to Christ. It is not road of blind turns, it is not a raffle, and it is not about being lucky: Christ is waiting for you – walk towards Him! This is the Good News. You no longer have to wander unfamiliar and fearful streets.
Jesus Christ can be the new beginning for you. Mark uses a Greek word here that would have been very familiar to the philosophers of the time: the word arché, which means not only beginning, but also “cause,” “motive,” “reason for which…” Many times we stay where we are because we don’t find any reason to move forward and we are disillusioned because we can’t find any desire worth fulfilling, as if our sky were so dark that not one star to follow could pierce it.
This is why the first word of the Gospel is one of consolation: the good news is that we can begin again – always – like a book the can be reread in a new way, starting once more from the beginning. It is a story that we can keep writing, but in order to start a new season we must put a period at the end of this paragraph and start a new one. We can’t start a new season of our lives by writing on the same line as the previous!
Sometimes we can feel lost and without faith and incapable of starting out again, like the people the prophet Isaiah is addressing as he tries to encourage those in exile to return to the fatherland: he who returns from exile, he who has been far from his own life, he who has not lived, who is afraid to take up his own history because he fears he will find only rubble. The prophet gives words of consolation, words the people would recite line by line on their journey. In this way, these repeated words became the courage they needed to move forward and return to their land.
Every beginning needs a physical sign; otherwise, it risks being nothing more than a desire, a good intention. This is why John the Baptist did not simply invite his followers to conversion, that is to simply change their way of thinking, but asks them to accompany this change with a physical sign, to go down to the water, to experience death and rebirth, like the first time when we left our mother’s womb. The beginning is always a time of tension. There is the enthusiasm of new beginnings but the fear of the unfamiliar path also. Baptism holds these two elements together: it means dying to what has been and, at the same time, bringing something new into being.
The beginning is the threshold of history. It means struggling to say goodbye to the past but also not having returned home yet. John baptizes on that threshold of the Jordan. It is the river that Israel had to cross to enter into the Promised Land. John shows the way but he won’t be the one to accompany us on this journey. John opens the door, but it will be Jesus, the new Joshua, that will come and take us by the hand to make us enter into the new Promised Land that is eternal life.
Questions for personal reflection:
- Which words help you move forward today and which ones block your way?
- Do you feel the need to start writing a new season of your life?
A reading from the Book of Isaiah (40:1-5, 9-11)
Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; indeed, she has received from the hand of the LORD double for all her sins.
A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
Go up on to a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings; cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news! Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: Here is your God! Here comes with power the Lord GOD, who rules by his strong arm; here is his reward with him, his recompense before him. Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.
The Word of the Lord
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark (1:1-8)
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. And this is what he proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
The Gospel of the Lord