Mark observed the members of the Way as they gathered, most bringing food with them to share. This sharing of table fellowship – breaking bread together – had marked the Way since its beginning. Just as it marked the life of Jesus, Mark thought. He was glad to see Yiftach and his friends return, and Yiftach nodded a brief greeting as their eyes met. Benyamin’s grandchildren had returned, and Mark turned to see his mother smiling indulgently as she watched the youngest, David, climb a tree, and then try to drop olive leaves in the cups of the people dining below.
After dinner someone led the community in the singing of a song of praise before Simeon invited Mark to address the gathering. Mark raised his cup and said, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” They responded, “And also to you,” then raised their cups to their lips. Yiftach and his friends did likewise, although Mark noted a wry smile playing about Yiftach’s mouth as he did so. “My young friends,” he began, addressing them directly, “I am glad you returned tonight. You asked some questions – very observant questions, I might add – which I have been reflecting upon. You were right to declare that while I introduced my quotation of scripture as being the words of the prophet Isaiah, they were in fact, the words of the prophet Malachi. And Malachi’s words are almost verbatim those of Moses in the book of the Exodus: ‘Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the land I have prepared for you.’ We are known as ‘The Way’ because we believe that just as Moses led the Hebrew people on their way toward liberation, Jesus has led us on the way to our liberation.”
A member of the Way spoke up. “But Yohanan, have you not slightly changed the words of the prophet?” Mark turned towards the questioner. “Yes I have. And naturally, you want to know why.” He turned back to the group. “This ‘way’ is no mere path to be laid out before us: an entirely new way of life is being constructed in the shell of the old world.” One of Yiftach’s companions called out. “This ‘new way of life’ – the prophet Malachi wrote that the messenger would come to clear the way, and then the Lord, whom we have waited for all these long centuries to come and judge the pagans – would suddenly come to his temple. Yet when you spoke of Malachi last night, you did not complete his oracle. Instead, you quoted the words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness, make ready the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ You must have done that deliberately. Why?”
“The answer to your question,” said Mark, “lies in our story as a people. And in its recent history. You have fought in these last few years for control of the temple, have you not? Most recently, the Zealots, allied with the Idumeans, slaughtering the forces of Ananus – and many other citizens of Jerusalem. Even now the talk is that G-d will not allow his temple to fall to the Romans. Tell me – what kind of ‘liberation’ is that – fellow countrymen killing each other? No, my friend, the way to liberation has always begun in the wilderness. Moses led our people into the wilderness on our way to freedom; those who have confronted the powerful on behalf of the oppressed with the word of G-d have always fled to the wilderness, including Elijah. Have not even your own revolutionary movements begun in the wilderness?” He paused, allowing his words to sink in. “The temple has always been the center of the life of our people, some say the very hub of the world, where one day all the nations will come in pilgrimage to honor our G_d. The wilderness, well it has always been the place of marginal existence. And yet John the baptizer – Elijah the prophet, as Malachi wrote – did not come to the center of power, the temple. No, he appeared in the wilderness, and all the country of Judaea went out to him, as did the people of Jerusalem. The way begins not in triumphal pilgrimage to Zion; it begins with all of Zion going out to the wilderness.”
“So,” said Yiftach, “this John the baptizer prepared the way for our G_d, and yet here we are, years later, surrounded by Romans: it would appear the way was not prepared well enough!” Once again, his words were greeted with muttering by some and nodded agreement. Mark responded. “When I went out to John in the wilderness he was preaching. First a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And then, he spoke these words:
‘After me one is coming who is stronger than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’
“And this one is your Jesus?” asked Yiftach. “Indeed,” said Mark. “And,” asked Yiftach, “did he come to the wilderness – or to the temple?” “Oh,” said Mark, “he came to both. But he began in the wilderness. For he came from Nazareth in Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. But I will say more of that when we gather again.” And with this, he rose to offer a parting blessing.
After the community left, Miryam looked quizzically at her son. “Your words raise many questions for me. Not least, this one: Who is the messenger that God sends to construct the way? Is it John, constructing the way for Jesus? Or is it Jesus, constructing the way for his disciples?” She paused. “Or is it you, my son, constructing the way for those you address in writing and proclaiming your gospel?” Mark offered her an enigmatic smile before saying, “Yes.” Miryam raised an eyebrow as Mark offered her his arm, and led her inside to retire for the night…