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1/10/2008
WORD OF FAITH
Matthew, Mark and Isaiah
REV. ROGER KARBAN


One of the most rewarding aspects of critically studying the Christian Scriptures is to discover how one evangelist changes the words or the theology of a prior evangelist.

That's especially easy to do when you're reading Matthew or Luke and have a copy of Mark at hand. Each had Mark's manuscript unrolled on his desk when he composed his own Gospel. For the most part, both faithfully copied the sections of Mark they included in their works.

But, in some passages, the changes they made or the material they left out is quite significant.

Baptism

Nowhere is that more true than in Matthew's account of Jesus' baptism (Matthew 3:13-17), especially in what the "voice from heaven" proclaimed as He "came up from the water."

Matthew changes just two words. He switches Mark's "You are..." to "This is...." The change alters the whole direction of the narrative.

In Mark, Jesus' baptism includes an annunciation informing Him of His divine condition. Just as Matthew narrated an annunciation to Joseph and Luke posited an annunciation to Mary, Mark thought it necessary that Jesus also receive a heavenly notice about "what's going on."

The voice directs, "You are my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased!" to Jesus. By changing two words, Matthew addresses this recognition and approval not to Jesus, but to anyone who happens to be in that specific area of the Jordan River.

Matthew's change of words mirrors a theological change that was taking place in the early Christian community. More and more, Jesus' followers zeroed in on what He meant for them instead of concentrating on what He meant for Himself.

They've become more concerned with what's going on in their minds and hearts because of Jesus' ministry than what was going on in His mind and heart during His ministry.

We know John's baptism played a crucial role in Jesus' life. Early Christian proclamations of the Good News, including the one in Sunday's second reading (Acts 10:34-38), almost always mention the Baptist's activity:  "You know...what has happened all over Judaea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached."

As I mentioned above, Matthew makes the event an occasion for people to begin discerning who Jesus is. Mark makes it an occasion for Jesus to begin discerning who Jesus is. In doing so, Mark is following the lead of the greatest prophet of the Hebrew Scriptures: Isaiah.

Like Mark's Jesus, Isaiah has to discover his "calling," not just a generic calling to discipleship, but a specific calling, directed uniquely to himself (Isaiah 42: 1-4,6-7).

Isaiah isn't called to be just any prophet. Yahweh summons him to be a prophet unlike any of his high-profile predecessors. He is expected to develop a persona quite different from Amos's or Jeremiah's.

He'll convey Yahweh's word, "not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street, a bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench."

Not only his style, but also his audience will be unique. His words will go beyond his fellow-Jews. Yahweh informs him that he is "to bring forth justice to the nations [Gentiles,]"

assuring him "the coast lands [also Gentiles] will wait for his teaching."

As followers of Jesus, it's essential we discover how His presence in our lives affects our lives. But it's also essential to surface how that presence informs us of our unique calling, a calling only we have received, a calling for which only we are responsible.

(01/10/08)












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