«The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God». This is the solemn and joyful start of the Gospel of Mark. But what follows abruptly, without any warning, goes on to talk about the urgent conversion that the whole people needs to make in order to receive their Messiah and Lord.
In the desert there appears a new prophet. He comes «to prepare the way of the Lord». This is his great service to Jesus. His invitation isn’t just directed to the individual conscience of each person. What John is looking for goes beyond the moral conversion of each one. It’s all about «preparing the way of the Lord», a concrete and well defined path, one that Jesus will take as he upsets so many people’s expectations.
The people’s reaction is moving. According to the evangelist, they left Judea and Jerusalem and marched «into the desert» to hear the voice that is calling them. The desert recalls their ancient faithfulness to God, their friend and ally, but above all it is the best place to hear a call for conversion.
There the people take stock of the situation they’re living in; they experience their need to change; they recognize their sins without blaming one another; they feel the need for salvation. According to Mark «they confessed their sins» and John «baptized them».
The conversion needed in our way of being Christian can’t be improvised. It takes a long process of openness and inner work. Years may pass until we can bring about more truth in the Church and recognize the conversion needed to more faithfully welcome Jesus into the heart of our Christianity.
Our temptation today could be this: don’t go into the «desert», avoid the need for conversion, don’t hear any voice that calls us to change, distract ourselves with just any old thing in order to forget our fears and cover over our lack of courage to open ourselves to the truth of Jesus.
The image of the Jewish people «confessing their sins» is admirable. Don’t we Christians of today need to make a collective examination of conscience at all levels, in order to recognize our faults and sins? Without this recognition, is it possible «to prepare the way of the Lord»?
José Antonio Pagola
Translator Fr. Jay VonHandorf