Mark begins his Gospel with the preaching of John the Baptist, a new religious voice from the riverside instead of the temple, and from there calling for change (which is the real meaning of the poorly translated word repent). Big Truth invariably comes from the edges of society, or those who have been to the edges, or the “wilderness” as it is here called ( Mark 1:3 ).
Jesus’ new reality is affirmed and announced on the margins, where people are ready to understand and to ask new questions. The establishment at the centre is seldom ready for the truth because it has too much to protect; it has bought into the system and will invariably protect the status quo. As Walter Brueggeman says, “the home of hope is hurt,” and it is seldom comfort or security.
John wore a garment of camel hair, and he lived on locusts and wild honey—surely a non-establishment costume for a son of the priestly class. John is amazingly free from his own agenda, his own religious and cultural system, and also his own ego. “He must grow greater, I must grow smaller” ( John 3:30 ), he says. John is able to point beyond himself. He’s not trying to gather people around himself—which is why he becomes the proto-evangelist. He sets the gold standard of pointing beyond himself and his own security or status—to the Mystery itself. Ministry cannot be a career decision, but an urgent vocation.
One can only conclude that Mark began in this way, not just because it was historically true, but because it mirrored his own journey. Some scholars today, especially with new information from the Gnostic Gospels, think that the anonymous man who “runs away naked” in the Garden of Gethsemane ( Mark 14:50-52 ) is very likely Mark himself. He is quietly admitting that he also “deserted him” (verse 50) and ran from suffering and humiliation. His “nakedness” is not just his but ours, too.