Allowing Ourselves to be Cleansed

 

Salted with fire - purifying agents 9.49.

If there is to be stringency or watchfulness it should be directed at ourselves - first, to ensure that we are not the cause of anyone else stumbling - then to ensure that we are do not stumble ourselves. Self-awareness and constant vigilance. A certain ruthlessness in dealing with anything in our character or behaviour that causes ourselves or another to go astray. The consequences matter. We are to take them seriously. 9.42-49.

Salt only has value if it is salty. It can only do what salt does if it is true to itself. If it can be true to itself. If salt loses its saltiness, it can no longer function as seasoning - what use is it then? How can it regain its saltiness?

The process of purification is intended to make us more ourselves, not less so, and to enable us to live at peace with one another. (a useful corrective). Hence the depth of failure in divorce (10.10-12).

 

The image of baptism shapes the early chapters of Marks Gospel. There is a persistent emphasis on cleansing: that is, on the need for people to be cleansed of those spiritual obstacles, influences, forces and entities which hampered them from receiving the full blessing of Gods Spirit, and the abundance it would give them. These obstacles and influences are identified as sins, which need to be confessed[1]; diseases, which need to be healed[2]; and unclean spirits, which need to be exorcised[3]. While these various obstacles and influences can be distinguished from one another, they also reinforce one another, resulting in situations where people cannot receive the fullness of life that God wants them to receive. So the people who struggle, sin and suffer need to be cleansed of all that hinders them, and all that blocks and distorts and distracts them from the grace that God is pouring out, and that God longs for them to receive in full.

This image of God’s work amongst us as unified, coherent and harmonious and, at the same time, divers, various and multi-dimensional, is consistent with the prophetic tradition as a whole. The prophets, from Elijah to Malachi, had sought to cleanse the people of all that hindered the freedom of God to move amongst them. With passion, images, stories, drama, symbolic action, vivid interventions and vivid writing, they had appealed to the people to purify themselves, not for the sake of piety alone, but so that they might enjoy the full blessings of a restored, renewed and deepened bond between themselves and God.

The prophets had received a glimpse of how much God had to give. It was more than people knew: more than they could ever know: and it was there for the claiming. A life of prosperity in the land God had given to their ancestors; freedom from the power of their wrongdoing; the rebuilding of ruined towns; the replanting of desolate places; an increase in population; length of days; a tranquil old age; honour among the nations. Confession and cleansing makes possible all these blessings. It makes them accessible, because it helps us to believe God might give them. It makes them available, because it makes space in us so that we can receive them.

So Mark’s emphasis on cleansing points beyond itself. gather and cleanse the people implied and anticipated everything else. It was more than a preparation: it was the proclamation of God’s Good News. And it was not a restricted proclamation, either, but the initiation of the transformation process practised by earlier prophets. Such a proclamation assumed God’s promise of abundant life and demonstrated God’s abundant resources for the wilderness journey to the Promised Land.

Emphasis on cleansing Mark 1.7-8, 21-28, 34, 44; 3.11-12, 15; 19b-29; 5.1-20.

[1]   Mark 1.4-5, 14-15; 2.5-10, 15-17; 3.28-30; 6.12.

[2]   Mark 1.29-31, 34, 40-45; 2.1-12; 3.1-6, 10; 5.21-43; 6.5, 13, 53-56; 7.31-37; 8.22-26.

[3]   Mark 1.21-28, 32-34; 3.11-12, 15, 20-27; 5.1-20; 6.7, 13; 7.24-30.

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