This week’s gospel reading is again about the coming of Christ as presented in the prologue of Mark’s story of Jesus. Marks gospel has been very important to me and to Melbourne discipleship communities over the years. (Presente Athol Gill!)
This love of Mark inspired my “remix” (a rewrite in light of contemporary events) that we ended up calling The Gospel of Vic(toria). I wrote this in mid 1999 during what was to become the last days of the Kennett era. (Jeff Kennett was our Premier in Victoria from 1992-1999. He aggressively and for a time successfully, promoted the values of economic rationalism.)
The Gospel of Mark (Mark’s Version, 65-75 CE)
1:1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,”’
4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
The Gospel of Vic. (Marcus’ Remix of Mark, 1999 CE)
1:1 From the beginning of the ancient dreaming, the news of the successful takeover bid of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it stands written in Isaiah the prophet:
“Look I am sending my messenger before you,
he will construct your way;
3 A voice of one crying in the bush:
“Create space in the forward line;
a paddock inside 50 for the ‘King’ to run into.
Build a straight road for him!”
4 John the Baptiser appeared in the bush preaching a baptism of “saying sorry” and for the reconciliation of debt. 5 All of regional Victoria and all the people from Central Melbourne were flocking to him and were baptized by him in the Birrarang (Upper Yarra), confessing their debt. 6 John normally wore a possum hair coat with a leather belt around his waist and usually lived off the bush tucker of the land. 7 And he was preaching, saying, “After me comes one who is mightier than I, I am not even worthy to bend down and untie the laces of his boots. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Great Spirit.”
9 And it happened in those days that Jesus came from Moe in Gippsland and was baptized by John into the Birrarang. 10 And the moment he came up out of the water he saw the heavens ripped apart and the Spirit Bunjil Maman swooped down upon him like an eagle-hawk. 11 And a voice came out of the land, “You are my dear Son, with you I am really pleased.”
12 And straightaway the Spirit throws him out into the scrub. Satan was in the bush for over two hundred days tempting him. 13 And he was with the wild beasts and the spirits of the ancient dreaming were ministering to him.
14 Now after John was taken into custody, Jesus came into Gippsland announcing the successful takeover of the economy of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled and the Economy of God has drawn near. Change policy and acknowledge the good forecast.”
Picture of Kulin creation myth which once stood along the Princes Bridge, Melbourne as part of The Another View Walking Trail. It depicts the story of Bunjil the Eagle Hawk forming people from clay. This story was apparently first told to non-indigenous settlers as clay and stone on the Yarra was unsettled during the building of the Princes Bridge in 1840.
Mark invokes the Jewish creation myth of Genesis to give his story authority. I chose to add the creation myth of our own place by adding the “ancient dreaming” which progressive indigenous Christians believe to be as significant as the biblical Hebrew traditions of land and law.
“successful takeover bid”
The term gospel (‘good news’) is thoroughly religious to us now but to Mark’s readers it was a wholly secular term, most commonly associated with Roman propaganda announcing military victory and eulogizing Caesar as the “divine man”. By calling his story of the anointed man Jesus a ‘gospel’, Mark sideswipes the authority of Rome by expropriating their vehicle of propagation for his own, quite non-imperial “good news.” For ‘The Gospel of Vic’ I chose to adopt “successful takeover bid” to highlight the contest between Jesus’ message of the “economy of God” with the economic power and consumer messages of trans-national corporations.
“Look I am sending my messenger before you, he will construct your way;……… Build a straight road for him!”
The “On the Move” Kennett era aggressively promoted itself on the back of ambitious private sector road building projects including the ‘user pays’ City Link project with the Transurban Obiashi consortium.
A voice of one crying in the bush: “Create space in the forward line; a paddock inside 50 for the ‘King’ to run into.”
Australian football reference to a strategy known as ‘Pagans paddock.” It was designed by successful coach Denis Pagan for the then dominant player of the league Wayne Carey (nickname “The King”). Team mates would clear out of the forward line so that Carey could compete ‘one out’ with a lesser opponent.
In this verse Mark has done his own ‘re-mix’ by sampling quotes from Malachi (3:1) and Isaiah (40:3) about judgement and temple corruption. It is a way of prefacing the agenda of his story that Jesus will stand in a prophetic, apocalyptic tradition in conflict with the temple state. My prologue introduces the Gospel of Vic’s critique of ‘economic rationalist’ ideas of “progress” and the exploration of the changing nature of Aussie Rules Football as a contested community tradition.
“John normally wore a possum hair coat with a leather belt around his waist and usually lived off the bush tucker of the land.”
Mark’s introduction of John characterises him as Elijah the prophet, invoking the Hebrew wilderness survival tradition. Having started with indigenous traditions it made sense to follow through and paint John the Baptist as a Koori elder.
“Saying sorry and for the reconciliation of debt”
The controversy over the Australian government’s refusal to offer a formal apology for previous policies of the removal of Aboriginal children from their families was at its height at this time. Dubbed “The Stolen Generation” it inspired a popular response of National Sorry Day. “Reconciliation of debt” is a viable translation of the original Greek and on the lips of a Koori elder gives us a much fuller sense of the political significance of “forgiveness of sins” which is often spiritualised in our context. Perhaps this explains John’s arrest in verse 14.
“All of regional Victoria and all the people from Central Melbourne were flocking to him”
This image always reminds me of the huge marches of people crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge or Swanston Street in Melbourne for the marches for Reconciliation. (held sometime after this was written. Pic#1) Marks prologue emphasises an interruption of business as usual for people as they take a movement away from centres of economic and religious power such as the temple. This will become a standard of discipleship in Mark. The crowds from the margins are a key character throughout Marks gospel. Ironically it was a backlash from rural areas that saw a Kennett’s unexpected electoral demise later that year.
“Jesus came from Moe in Gippsland”
For Mark’s audience Nazareth was another way of saying “nowheresville” whereby he continues to emphasise polarity between social centres and margins. At the time of writing the infamous Jaiyden Leski child murder case ensured that Moe was widey characterised in the tabloids as a rural backwater of child abuse, domestic violence, chronic unemployment, welfare and drug dependency….an unlikely place for a Messiah!
“the Spirit Bunjil Maman swooped down upon him like an eagle-hawk. And a voice came out of the land…”
Beyond verse 8 I move beyond the lectionary but wanted to include the baptism and temptation in this reflection to demonstrate how I continued to adopt indigenous cosmology in replacement of New Testament imagery throughout the rest of the passage. Bunjil the Eagle Hawk was the creator spirit of the Kulin tribes that occupied the area around Melbourne (Pic #2 above). The “over 200 days” is a play on Marks 40 days with which he invokes the Hebrew’s 40 years of “wilderness trial”. It is a reference to years since non-indiginous ‘settlement’ of the land. I thought it was a useful way of describing the wilderness experience/trial of indigenous Australians since colonisation.
Thoughts for Advent 2005.
Any attempt at remixing various ancient sacred traditions with contemporary politics is fraught with difficulty and is inherently political. I would suggest however that this is exactly what Mark is attempting in his own text and to not do so now is to lose the power of the gospel for our own historical moment.
Obviously appropriating indigenous imagery is a sensitive issue that brings many reactions from indigenous and non-indigenous, Christian or otherwise. I don’t do so uncritically and simply ask for your reaction. What do you think or feel?! How does it sit with you? How does it change or reinforce the way you understand God or the emergence of the ‘good news’ in our world, then and now? Is it useful or unhelpful; liberating or domesticating from your perspective?
What does it mean for us to have ‘a way’ prepared? God breaking in to our reality! This weeks lectionary made me think about a number of important interruptions to ‘business as usual’ that are presently taking place.
A number of “Seedy” people marched in silence last Thursday night as part of the Amnesty vigil for Van Nguyen, the Australian man convicted for drug trafficking and executed by hanging in Singapore this last week. The march also marked the 1000th person executed in the USA since the reintroduction of the death penalty. In light of the fact that John and Jesus were both victims of state execution let us pray and act for the Nguyen family and those who are presently on death row.
Across the world people walked in the “Walk against Warming” marches to strengthen resolve of governments to act on fossil fuel emissions and draw attention to Australia’s refusal to sign the Kyoto protocol. More marches will take place across the world in this next week to continue the “Make Poverty History” campaign. For Melbourne details email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Sunday saw people walk with Michael Long, the Aboriginal Aussie rules footballer who last year walked to Canberra to speak with the Prime Minister and thereby draw attention to the stalled reconciliation process and inequalities face by indigenous people in this country. “The Long Walk” at Melbourne’s Princes Park raised funds for a leadership development program named after the great indigenous Christian leader Sir Doug Nichols.
It gives me hope to see popular movements for personal and social change. I am encouraged that people can still interrupt business as usual for the sake of the good news about the emergence of alternatives in our world. In the tradition of John and Jesus we announce such movements as “the successful takeover of the economy of God” and cry out from the margins,
“The time is fulfilled and the Economy of God has drawn near. Change policy and acknowledge the good forecast.”
For more info and download of Gospel of Vic