I need a bath. Wait! Wait! Stay with me!
“The good news according to Caesar, the Son of God” was the beginning of imperial announcements by Caesar throughout the Roman Empire.
Into this imperial world comes “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God ” (Gospel of Mark 1:1). For the First Century hearers, the irony was clear. This was a counter-narrative to the narrative of empire — a rebuke of it, and a revolutionary alternative to it. But the announcement was also only the beginning of the good news.
Unlike the imperial messengers dressed in official garb, the announcer of this good news in Mark’s Gospel (in the time it was written the term “gospel” had not yet been used to describe a book such as we know today: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) wears no royal clothing. He wears camel hair and eats locusts and honey. He appears in the wilderness, far from the centers of religious authority in Jerusalem and policial-economic power in Rome. There is no advance warning of his appearance. He appears suddenly, without explanations, and without trumpets.
“Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” John is one odd duck! Not the kind of figure one expects to win friends and influence people. Unless the people were ready for his message: the overthrow of the reign of Caesar, the “Son of God” according to the imperial cult.
Flash forward to 2017.
“It’s okay to say ‘Merry Christmas’ again, says the President of the United States, as if restoring Christianity as the established religion of the United States of America and everywhere else in the world that is part of Pax Americana. Strange how a gospel whose beginnings offered a counter-narrative to Caesar and the empire’s divine claims of national exceptionalism would be used to scorn the original beginning of the good news in Mark’s revolutionary Gospel.
“John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. … I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
In the First Century of the Common Era, a ritual bath represented a cleansing from sin and the act of repentance, embarking on a new way. Twenty centuries after the “beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” I’m baptized. So are the president and a senatorial candidate from Alabama. It’s confounding. I feel dirty all over.
I need a bath!
- Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Dec. 11, 2017.