Saying, Seeing, Separating and Calling
Gen 1:1-5 & Mark 1:4-11
I love the relationship between the Hebrew Bible reading and the gospel reading this week. Both passages discuss beginnings. The Genesis text proclaims: “In the beginning of God’s creating the Heavens and earth… “ (Gen 1:1) and the gospel of Mark answers, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God…” (Mark 1:1). The Greek word arche is used in both the Septuagint [our primary Greek First Testament] and the Gospel of Mark to signify that an important new thing is just starting.
Looking specifically at Genesis, God’s actions in creation take center stage. In the Bible, God did not create out of nothing, as philosophers argue, but there was some sort of deep ocean already, and God’s Spirit hovered over it. Instead of being content with a vast watery waste, God took action, specifically four actions. God spoke, saw, separated and called.
As God created the light in Genesis one, God spoke it into being (“Let there be light,” verse 3), God saw that it was good, God separated light from darkness (verse 4) and finally God called the light “day” and the darkness “night” (verse 5). With a few notable modulations, these four actions play a major role in how God went about creating the universe. God brought the world into being by saying, seeing, separating and calling.
And these actions play a major role in the introduction of Jesus and his ministry in the Gospel of Mark. Before Jesus was introduced, the gospel writer quoted Isaiah the prophet:
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,”
The gospel accordingly opens with the words of God through the prophet Isaiah. To make it ever clearer the God is speaking a new creation into being, the prophesy from Isaiah centers on a messenger, and a voice crying out. This is the “saying.”
God’s word through the prophet Isaiah seems to have had the desired effect. Just as the Septuagint uses the Greek verb egeneto to confirm that “there was [light],” the quote from Isaiah in Mark’s gospel is immediately followed by egeneto Ioannis o Baptizo/ “There was John the Baptist.” The command to let there be light and the prophesy that a messenger would be sent to cry out in the wilderness are both followed with the same matter-of-fact conclusion that what was spoken came into being.
So Jesus came to John the Baptist out in the wilderness to be baptized. And what happened next combines the other verbs of creation into just a couple gospel verses. As Jesus was coming out of the water, he saw a vision. And what was that vision? That the heavens were separated [literally “cleaved” or “rent in two” from the Greek schizo]. Then a voice from heaven called Jesus God’s beloved son. God’s spirit spoke through John the Baptizer. Jesus saw a vision. God separated the heavens and God called Jesus his beloved son. Say, See, Separate and Call, just like the first creation.
This is no mistake or even coincidence. The writer of the gospel purposefully echoed the language of creation to talk about what God was doing through Jesus. Why? I think to point out radical continuity and radical departure.
God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. We Christians worship the God of the Hebrew Bible and not just of the New Testament. One of the earliest heresies that the church sought to suppress was that of Marcion of Sinope who argued that Christians should shun the God of the Old Testament and worship only God the Father of Jesus. We rightly reject this idea because the God of the Hebrew Bible IS God who is the Father of Jesus and us all.
We would absolutely expect that God’s actions at the beginning of the universe would be echoed again and again throughout scripture and human history, because God’s actions are good and perfect. If God does a thing wonderfully well, why not do it wonderfully well again? Across the Bible, God is always in the business of creating, forgiving, saving and loving. Thus Mark’s gospel introduction serves as a reminder of the ongoing creative work of God in ushering in a new era of salvific history by the same creative actions that started the universe.
But the creative actions in Mark’s gospel also confirm that something radically new was happening. Just as the created universe is profoundly different from the pre-creative waters, so is the time of the advent of God’s kingdom here on earth through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus profoundly different from the time before it. Jesus is our Immanuel “God is with us” in a radically different way than Hezekiah, of whom the prophesy in Isaiah 7 originally spoke.
Mark’s gospel uses the old creation language to link the coming of Jesus to the creation of the universe. God’s ways of old continued into Jesus’ day and continue into ours as well. However, God did a new thing in sending Jesus to save us. One of the paradoxes of God is that in doing something very old, God does something very new for us!