Fr. Michael Schleupner, friend of our Center and frequent retreat presenter, shares about the best kind of breaking news on our blog today. Let’s take a few quiet moments to read his reflection…
Today, when we watch the news on TV, we often see the words Breaking News. Breaking News appears when a story is new. It is intended to grab our attention.
For example, a few weeks ago, we saw Breaking News when an American pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, announced that it had completed its phase-three clinical trials on a vaccine for Covid. It said that the vaccine looked to be 94% effective. Days later, we heard similar Breaking News from Moderna, another American pharmaceutical company. Two other companies, including one right here in Maryland, are also close with their vaccines.
We have also heard that the FDA may give emergency authorization to Pfizer and Moderna very soon, and that people will begin to get vaccinated by the end of December. So, all of this is Breaking News and, thank God, it is good news.
I think this context helps us to appreciate today’s gospel. This passage is the very beginning of Mark’s gospel and he starts off this way: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” The word for gospel means proclamation.
It is the same word that civil rulers used back then when they had something important to proclaim to their people. So, in effect, Mark is saying: “This is the proclamation, the Breaking News, the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Notice, right in this first sentence, Mark explains why there is a proclamation, Breaking News, good news about a man from Nazareth. Because God has entered our world in the person of Jesus and he is “the Son of God.”
More News: John and Jesus
Then, right after telling us this, Mark gives us some background – kind of like the next thirty seconds worth of Breaking News. Mark tells us that a man named John the Baptist is introducing Jesus and telling us something about him. And John is doing this even by his own lifestyle.
So, John’s diet consists of locusts and wild honey – not my idea of a good snack! These foods are symbolic. In the Old Testament, God sent a plague of locusts to punish the evil pharaoh in Egypt – in other words, to overcome evil. And so, John’s eating locusts tells us that Jesus is coming to do good things and to overcome evil.
Jesus will fulfill the images that we hear in today’s first reading – levelling mountains and filling in valleys and smoothing rough roads. These images, like the locusts, are symbolic and they point to how Jesus will do good and overcome evil.
For example, Jesus will level the mountain of human ego when we place ourselves or our group above others. He will introduce the humble way of seeing ourselves, along with everyone else, as God’s sons and daughters.
Then, Jesus will fill in the valley of hopelessness that can be caused by poverty or by loneliness. He will move us to care for those who are hurting in any way, as if we were caring for him. And Jesus will also smooth the rough land of injured and broken relationships. He will show us the way of taking the first step and trying to forgive and even to reconcile.
So, the locusts that John eats are symbolic – symbolic of the good that Jesus will introduce and the evil he will overcome.
And the honey that John eats is a Biblical symbol of God’s loving care for us. It reminds us of those first words in the Isaiah passage today: “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.”
Jesus, as Mark says in his opening sentence, is the Son of God and gives us the comfort of God’s presence. That is the proclamation, the Breaking News, the good news of these Advent Scriptures today.
~Fr. Michael Schleupner