Tale of Two Heroes: Reflection on Mark 1:14-20

by Nestor Ravilas

In all materialist reading, there are two conspicuous stories in the introduction of the gospel of Mark.  Far from the romanticized version of Matthew and Luke, where in a poor baby Jesus was born in an unfriendly world, the Markan version skips the nativity story and starts rather his narration on the rise of the new revolutionary to replace the falling one.    This actually is a trite plot; usually done to show that the coming power is more potent than the old it was about to replace.  That the emerging one promised more than what the old has accomplished.

It is not literary accident that the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus was introduced along with the note that John the Baptist was incarcerated.  It is the literary formula of falling and rising.  While one is now taking his steps down the stage, a new face is claiming it to himself.  It is now the problem of Mark to prove both the legitimacy of this heir to the people’s social struggle and his qualification that promises not only continuity, but a significant advancement far than what his supposed mentor has achieved.

Three symbolic powers were conjoined that accomplished this crucial introduction of the new hero.   There himself the “supremo” giving affirmation on his speech about his supposed heir right after baptizing him into the “kilusan”.  This is enough to assuage any doubt coming from any disgruntled faction as to the legitimacy of the chosen one.    But more cogent is the affirmation of two eternal powers perennially engaged in eternal conflict.  Both God and Satan sanctioned the transition in different manners.

As I have said, the new leadership should not present itself as mere continuity.  It must offer new inspiration to retain and foment more the fire of revolution.  Jesus’ manifesto – “the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” must be understood as “manifesto upgraded“ of the “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” of the Baptist.   What makes this more cogent from the old one depends on how this would instill and inspire the yearning for social reforms and equality.  But whatever the old epoch has bequeathed to the emerging power, it has to leave the stage to give way to the new form of struggle.  It has to shape its own engagement; with this goes also the need for new “kapatiran” that are neither loyal to the old leadership of the revolutionary movement nor afraid to thread this new path of struggle.  Thus the calling of his lieutenants-would-be who would compose the inner circle of the new movement comes after the declaration of Jesus’ revolt.

The Baptist-Jesus saga is the story of humans’ refusal to be reduced to something that diminishes their good nature inherited from the very God who created them.  The transition shows this undying fire for more humane existence in the midst of gnawing evil.  One rises as one is falling; the struggle must continue.  Chapter 6 narrated the complete elimination of the Baptist from the scene of social struggle.  But not long after this, Mark ended his story/gospel with the brutal death of the heir to the Baptist.  There are many contentions as to what transpired after his brutal death in that ignominious cross.  But few have asked as to the fate of the movement’s struggle for prosperous and more humane social existence.

Many claimed to be heirs to this particular line of social revolution but none so far is powerful enough to hobble the advancement of evil.  What kind of declaration of struggle and protest is inspiring us now after Jesus’ -“the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” – that would inspire us to engage this social malaise?  Or are we now in the retreat mode and give up completely this world and our entire yearning for happy and harmonious life we deem to be impossible to win anymore.  The Markan narrative ended with the risen Jesus declaring this –

“In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

Thus marks the death of social revolution and the birth of the cult as the continuation from the fallen Jesus to the risen Christ – the new heir to the legacy of activism.