On New Year’s Eve, I walked into the backyard and greeted my neighbors. I said something that I think many people were hoping, “May 2021 be better than 2020”. I’d have to say, as we come to the end of the first month of 2021, those hopes have not yet come to fruition.
We made it through a tumultuous election year, and though the TV ads and robocalls have stopped, deep divisions and mistrust continue in our nation. Though we ended the year with the promises of vaccines to come, it now seems as if it will take months for enough of the world’s citizens to be immunized to have a significant effect on the spread of COVID-19; and so many continue to die. We celebrated last Christmas by hearing angels promise “Peace on Earth and goodwill to all,” and yet violence threatens the very halls of Congress, not to mention our city streets.
Yes, the year has started in some disappointing ways, but that makes this week’s gospel especially appropriate. This Sunday, we hear about the launch of Jesus’ ministry in Mark, when he casts out an evil spirit and is received as one who teaches with authority. This moment marks the first public action Jesus takes.
Those who study the Gospels like to take note of such “first things.” These first public actions of Jesus tend to set the tone for much of what is to come. In Matthew, Jesus climbs a mountain to teach and interpret the law, like Moses. In Luke, Jesus announces that the Lord has sent him to proclaim good news, release, and healing, a message that exemplifies his ministry even as it is met with rejection. And in John, the first thing Jesus does is multiply the wine and blessing at Cana, demonstrating the “grace upon grace” promised in the Prologue.
So what does this “first thing” tell us about Jesus according to Mark’s story? That he has come to oppose the forces of evil. And how does Jesus define this evil? Evil is anything and everything that robs God’s children of life. And though this has been a particularly challenging time, the forces of violence, fear, and injustice have always been with us.
And the gospels speak to this.
As a matter of fact, the presence of evil and God’s power to oppose it are the very reasons they were written in the first place. As the early Christians realized that Christ’s return was not as imminent as they first thought, they retold the stories of Jesus to equip his disciples for the long haul. In particular, it is Mark’s gospel that ends by promising that Jesus has gone ahead of the disciples and they are to follow him. Jesus inaugurated God’s kingdom, resisted the forces of evil, and opened up a future of possibility and hope. Jesus’ spirit equips us to live into that kingdom now, even while we wait for its full consummation at the end of time.
So even though we may be past the time for New Year’s resolutions, it is never too late to ask ourselves, how are we living into God’s kingdom today? To borrow categories from the prophet Micah:
· Each day of this new year, how are you continuing to do justice?
· As divisions deepen, how are you loving kindness?
· As the challenges of this particular year continue to multiply, how are you walking humbly with your God?