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A Tale of Two Gospels, Pt. 3

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him and were baptized by him in the river Jordan. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.
And a voice came from heaven,
“You are my Beloved child in whom I delight.”

The gospel of Caesar was also a gospel of certainty. There was no room for nuance, no space for reflection or interpretation. There was one way to think, one way to behave, and one way to believe—Caesar’s way. Any thought or behavior or belief that did not tow the imperial line was a threat to the empire. Caesar was god on earth. Whatever he decreed was right and righteous—end of story. Further reflection, interpretation, or understanding was not needed nor encouraged.

The gospel of the Christ, in contrast, opens with an invitation to change your mind—to be open to new ways of thinking, behaving, and feeling.

In Mark’s gospel, John the Baptist appears in the wilderness and calls people to come out from empire and into a baptism of “repentance.” Now, in the language of our day, the word “repentance” carries a lot of baggage. It tends to make people feel guilty—like they’ve messed up or they’re somehow unworthy but, friends, can we all just agree that is not good news?

I would invite you to consider the possibility that shame and condemnation are not what’s going on here.

The word that we translate as “repent” or “repentance” in the Christian scriptures is the Greek word metanoia—and it means “a changed mind” or “a higher mind.” Noia or nous in Greek means “mind,” and meta can mean “change”—as in metamorphosis, or “higher”—as in metanarrative, or “transcend”—as in metaphysical. In the same way that we use the Greek word paranoia to describe someone who is outside or apart from their mind, metanoia describes a changed, higher, or transcendent mind. I would submit to you that the gospel voice crying out in the wilderness is not a summons to a groveling, self-flagellating confession of shame.

Rather, it is an invitation to an opened mind.

It is an appeal to let go of certainty and be subject to change. It is a challenge to think higher thoughts—

a call to transcend.


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