Sunday before Theophany: The Work of Christ Requires Preparation2 January 2022
Today’s Gospel reading (Mark 1, 1-8) is from the beginning of Mark’s Gospel. ‘The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it has been written in the prophets’…, etc. Thereafter the excerpt talks about John the Forerunner. He’s the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
You see, in order to preach his Gospel, in order to reveal God’s will, in order to call people to believe in his Gospel, to believe in him, Christ himself prepared the way, prepared for the task. He did so through Saint John the Baptist- whom we also call the Forerunner- the great prophet who was sent from God before Christ to prepare the ground. It appears that what has to be done can’t be done without preparation; that preparation is needed is true of everything, as it is here also in the work of Christ.
If you want to build a house, you first have to make preparations. You can’t start work without first preparing things. And in any other job you have to do, any other issue you wish to accomplish, you have to make appropriate preparations.
So, here too, Saint John comes and urges people to prepare because the kingdom of God is approaching: ‘Repent, then, for the kingdom of God is at hand’ (Matth. 3, 3). He calls them to repentance, to repent. Even the baptism which Saint John performed was for repentance; it was a baptism of repentance. Later, Christ would come and he would baptize in the Holy Spirit all those who believed in him. He would give to these people what humankind had lost at the fall: the grace of the Holy Spirit, so that they could commune with God, be united to him, find him again. People could begin to live, no longer alone, but with God within them, could have a life in common with God. So Saint John came and announced a baptism of repentance. He preached repentance and prepared people to receive Christ the Savior, to receive his message, his glad tidings, to hear his word and to believe in him.
I shall dwell a little on this opportunity in the excerpt which was read today at the liturgy and begins, as we’ve said, with the words ‘Beginning of the Gospel’. I insist on this because we see every day that there are Christians who have good intentions, and certainly make some effort and attempt to live spiritually, to believe in Christ, to accept his Gospel, to be saved, but in the end, because they don’t prepare, come up short and don’t find what they’re looking for. What they try to do is performed carelessly, in a slapdash manner which can’t last: it collapses, falls and disappears.
If you’re going to prepare, you have to ask yourself how much you believe, how much you don’t believe. How far you hope in God and how far you don’t. You should question how repentant you are, to what extent you’ve brought order to your soul, how far you’ve decided to get rid of some of the things you have within you. This is hard, because it costs.
So people don’t abandon their preparation by accident. People don’t merely have the thought that’s in their mind at any one time, they also have intuition. In the body, lots of organs function without us thinking about them- the body itself takes care of their workings- and, by the same token, people have deeper intuition. Everyone, though some more than others. And when you sense that something’s going to hurt you, going to cost you, going to take you out of your depth, going to harm you, you take measures to protect yourself. In other words, if people have become used to satisfying their passions, to gratifying their passions, their desires and they’re then called upon to do something which they suspect will harm them, which will stop them enjoying and satisfying their passions, they’ll go on the defensive.
We’ve talked elsewhere about the fact that there are mechanism which work within the human person. We know this from psychology, but also from purely spiritual experience. When the ego, the passions, sense some danger, the other person who’s within us puts the defensive mechanisms into operation. And although we possess our nous and the power and the grace of God and could well stand up to these mechanisms, yet we pretend we don’t know what’s happening, we leave them alone and let things go their way. We may have labored, we may have managed to do some things, but, in the end, we haven’t benefitted from them.
Let me stop here. I don’t want to tire you further. But I would ask you to consider all this, if you want to benefit and improve yourselves. For no other reason but that you really want to open the path of the spiritual life, really open the way to the Christian life, this life which is in the Holy Spirit, this life where you feel that life is no longer simply human but theanthropic.