Hey it’s me Mark!
So the Gospel at mass this last Sunday was from the beginning of Mark’s gospel:
Hey, it’s me the gospel writer Mark!
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, and had a leather girdle around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
People think the Bible is boring. They think it’s this old dead book. Dry. Stodgy. But it’s not! I mean, read this passage! Mark is basically a screenwriter!
Look again, but this time look at it as if it was the beginning of a movie. Mark is setting the stage. We begin in black. We hear the desert before we see it. The wind drifts by, lazily raking sand beneath the scrub pines. On screen, in a tasteful yet readable font, we see the words,
“Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Isaiah
CUT TO – HELICOPTER SHOT
We start high, come in low. Wilderness for as far as we can see; mountains, valleys, trees, no signs of men. As we skirt the trees, below us we notice people; thousands of people straggling their way across the wilderness. Approaching the river, the crowd thickens. In the middle of the river stands a figure: the one these people have come to see.
CUT TO – EXTERIOR – RIVER
We see John closer now. He is skinny, almost starved. The people coming to him seem well-fed. Their clothes all look similar. Muted colors. Simple fabric. He is wearing a camel hide, tattered and only secured by a strip of old leather tied around his waist. But authority lives in his voice.
After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
Come on! That is a great opening to a movie.
Screenwriters know that you need to get the audience asking questions early. Those questions are what drives them forward and keep them engaged in the story. Mark’s gospel starts with some huge ones.
The first line tells us that this is a story about Jesus Christ. But then, Mark calls back to the Old Testament, talking about the one who will come before Jesus. Then he introduces us to John.
Who is John?
It’s hard to get ten people to like a facebook status. But here is John, out in the middle of nowhere, and people are flocking to see him. Why? Is he giving out free iPod Nanos? Is it 2010 there? Nope. Is he polished? Is he this impressive figure, drawing the people to himself with the power of his image? Nope. He’s this scraggly little dude who looks crazy. It’s not like people back then wore a lot of camel hair. He looks like a beggar.
And yet all these people are still coming out to see him. They’re coming across the wilderness to see him. This isn’t a nice little day trip to the beach. These people are enduring hardship to get out and see this guy. Why?
We never get any explicit answer to this question. But it’s obvious: John is special. Really special. Underneath all the crazy is a person worth packing up the kids and walking out into mountain lion country for. The dude’s a rock star.
But what is his first line of the movie? “There is someone coming who is a million times better than me.” And we know he’s talking about Jesus. And this is a story about Jesus. So if you’re talking about cool ways to build up the drama of unveiling your story’s hero, the gospel of Mark is a great example.
Humans Love Stories
Have you ever wondered why we have the Bible? It’s the word of God. It’s beautiful. It’s powerful. It’s wise. It’s been around for a while. It’s baked into a lot of Western culture. But have you ever stepped back and asked yourself why God gave us the Scriptures?
It’s a story. The Bible is the love story between God and man. You’ve got the meet-cute in Genesis. The dramatic turn in Eden with the apple. Things go downhill. There’s an ark. Things get a little better. There is a covenant. There is another covenant. There is Egypt. There is David. There is some love poetry. And finally, Christ comes.
But why? Why did God give us this story?
We’re busy. We’re distracted. As a general rule, it’s difficult to get people to pay attention. So how do people get around this? They become marketers.
Marketing people spend their time trying to get people to pay attention to what they are saying. They do this in a bunch of different ways.
- Some aren’t great: they send out spam email, they put ads on YouTube videos so you have to wait until that little timer counts down so you can just watch the video you wanted to watch in the first place without being interrupted. Sheesh!
- Other ways are actually pretty good. They find things that you’re interested in and talk about them. They give you information. They entertain you. And more and more, what marketers are finding is that a great way to grab and hold people’s attention is storytelling.
People love stories. One of the fastest ways to get a kid’s attention? “Once upon a time…”
God wants us to pay attention. He wants us to listen to him. He’s also not dumb. He knows that it’s hard for us to pay attention. So he told us a story: the story of how we met and the story of where we are going.