Publish Glad Tidings: Redemption and Release

ἐγένετο Ἰωάννης ὁ βαπτίζων ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ καὶ κηρύσσων βάπτισμα μετανοίας εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν. (Mk 1:4)

"And there was John: the one who baptizes in the desert, and who proclaims the baptism of afterthought for the release of failures."

Besides the absurdity of baptism, of flooding, drowning, washing away, of the effusive cleanliness that only massive amounts of water can bring -- besides the absurdity of this taking place in the desert, there is something beautifully stirring about the words of Mark here. Words whose sense is not adequately transmitted to us by the English, "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins."

It is said that the origin of the word "metaphysics" was a matter of sequence: having written the physics, the author proceeded to the next book, which came "after the physics." The Greek word metanoia has the same basic feeling, when we grasp it intently. Noesis is simply sensible, perceptive thought. Metanoesis is what happens after you've thought about what has happened -- it is reflective realization. Afterthought in the aftermath. Metanoia is that moment when it dawns upon you what you've done, and how, and the effects of your action sink in to your consciousness. It is regret, even in the face of the best of actions. It is regret because of hamartia, which simply means "missing the mark." What we have done falls short of what we must do, what we should have done, how we should have done it better.

There is a Sittler quote that begins to do justice to this sensibility, and it comes from a sermon at the University of Chicago in 1961:
Now, the Bible takes the whole dialectic of remembrance and forgetting with considerably more seriousness. The Bible ... assumes the truth that men are not morons of pasted-together moments, that life is organic, that the whole of the past does constitute the substance of the moment. The Jew, for instance, whose words we heard in the Old Testament lesson this morning, the man who stood by Babylon’s waters, where an alien people demanded of him chipper music: this man knew himself to be defending his sanity when he cried out in pathos, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem ....” And this same people knew the other side of the contradiction: that nevertheless, without a forgetting, a blotting out and a removal from the groaning back of the present of the pressing past, life simply could not be lived. And therefore, this same people could cry, “Blot out my transgressions from before thine eyes; let not my secrets come before the light of thy countenance.”
"Without a forgetting, a blotting out and a removal from the groaning back of the present of the pressing past, life simply could not be lived." And here, today, by the river whose streams make glad the city of God, the river that flows in the desert, stands John, washing away the failures of those who dwell in afterthought, whose minds are obsessed with the aftermath of their actions. For, as Sittler also says, "Life is constituted by remembering, but it is lived by forgetting." We lean upon the God who both remembers and keeps promises forever, and who will never forget us -- and we lean upon the God who both releases and forgets our failures so that the people of promise may live.


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