The Gospel of Mark does not open with a nativity. Instead, we learn about how Jesus was the One for whom the Israelites were waiting for. Mark reaches back to the Prophet who wrote told of either a wilderness voice crying out about making a straight path for the Lord or a voice crying out in the wilderness about making a straight path in the wilderness.
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
A voice of one calling:“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the LORD;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Regardless of where the punctuation should go, the important point for the author of Mark is that Jesus has someone doing his advance work. And that guy is described thusly.
And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
What was John doing in the wilderness? Why does it matter that he ate locusts and wild honey? This passage reminded me of something that Adam Smith wrote.
Among civilized and thriving nations, on the contrary, though a great number of people do not labour at all, many of whom consume the produce of ten times, frequently of a hundred times more labour than the greater part of those who work; yet the produce of the whole labour of the society is so great, that all are often abundantly supplied, and a workman, even of the lowest and poorest order, if he is frugal and industrious, may enjoy a greater share of the necessaries and conveniencies of life than it is possible for any savage to acquire.
Wealth of Nations, Bk I, Ch.I, para 4. Adam Smith makes the point that in advanced nations there is a structure wherein the labor of many go into producing goods for everyone. Which in turn makes the individual beholden to the system. Although not a primary point for Smith, such systems also enable “a great number of people [to] not labour at all.”
By contrasts, eating wild honey and locusts does not require the support of that social matrix. Furthermore, while John is hanging around the capital city, he is doing his baptizing out in the wilderness. Makes me think of a militia man or off-the-grid organic farmer of ancient Palestine. Is this an accident that Mark opens this way?
Marcus Borg probably doesn’t think it is. He writes, “[Jesus] was a voice of peasant social protest against the economic inequity and violence of the imperial domination system, mediated in the Jewish homeland by client rulers of the Roman Empire.” In his book, plainly titled Jesus, Borg notes that Jesus’ ministry comes in a time when the relatively new economic system, a system that Adam Smith would describe as civilized, is causing significant injustice.
I buy it. I think this economically efficient system presented injustice. I also think that Jesus’ coming was about challenging that system. What do you think? Is this too much of a stretch?