I like the way the third chapter begins by telling us who was ruling. It reminds me of a good storyteller. It is akin to someone saying, “Remember when Mr. Smith was the principle of the high school and Mrs. Jones taught math?” Knowing the details sets a visual and contextual way to recall who was and what was going on. Once we get our bearings we are set for the rest of the story.
Cousin John is the focal point of the story. He was the front man, the guy who set the stage for Jesus. We all have a front man or woman, someone in our lives who paves the way for us to make our entrance. John challenged people with his words of preparation. “Wake Up!” he boldly proclaimed. What I really like about John is his centeredness. He knew who he was and was not. He was not pretentious. He was John, not Jesus. To know who you are is a grace. He was John, the one who called the people to repent, if you have two coats, give one to the poor. It was an issue of justice and compassion for John. His message was the precursor of Jesus’.
In chapter four, Jesus is led by the spirit into the wilderness where the devil tempted him. The temptations began with if you are the Son of God… In the wilderness, Jesus wrestles with his identity. We all do at some point. Are we smart enough? Can I really take care of my family or myself? What do I want to do with my life? Who am I? Many questions cause us doubt. Jesus shows a way to walk through this dark valley and not be lost. It was the angel who led Jesus into the desert and it was the angels who ministered to Him. He was not alone.
When Jesus left the wilderness he headed to Galilee and his ministry began but it was not easy. He ruffled feathers, challenged the very people who knew him as a boy. He had grown up, matured, but the neighbors did not see him as he was. They kept him in his place as a boy. This sounds so familiar to us. We like to see people grow up but when they begin to instruct us, lead us, we hesitate. What do they know, we ask ourselves. It is hard for us to accept younger voices as adults sometimes who might know more than we do. God help us get out of the way.
In the fifth chapter, Jesus calls his disciples, gathering those who he would mentor along the way. This chapter also has one of my favorite stories, the one about the healing of the Leper. The Leper approaches Jesus and says, “Lord if you choose you can make me clean”. Jesus replies, “I do choose.” Jesus always chooses to heal, to love, to give life. What impresses me is the man who gets in the way of Jesus and asks for help. I wonder what my life would look like if I had asked for help when I needed it instead of keeping silent?
As you read these passages what stood out to you? What did you hear Jesus say to you that was new and life-giving? What help do you need?
The Rt. Rev’d Morris K. Thompson, Jr.
Bishop of Louisiana