Sermon Ideas For Mark 1:4-11 Part 3
I am not aware of the existence or previous use of the word, dis-acquisition. But, such a word might be used in connection with the ministry and witness of John the Baptist. The long history of artistic rendering of this New Testament figure bears witness to the one who stands aside in the presence of the Savior. John the Baptist, in standing aside, divests himself of the central role in the gospel's proclamation in order to gesture to another.
The theme of dis-acquisition runs through the Baptist's life and may be seen in his proclamation of repentance, his disciplined separation from public spheres of commerce and social interaction, his austere lifestyle, and his devotion to signs of an approaching, new order. His call is for people to divest themselves of their sin and thereby to be ready for the gift of God's forgiveness.
To us, themes of dis-acquisition challenge the indulgent, self-involved lifestyle where we are bombarded continually by admonitions to buy and to acquire. Artistic traditions of John the Baptist press, however, in the contrary direction. The Baptist is usually rendered with a simple staff, a common animal skin draped across his body and body language indicating his deferral to the presence of another. It is by dis-acquisition, both spiritual and material, that the modern soul finds its way back to God. The Baptist is the gateway to this journey back to God. John, the Janus figure at the opening of the gospel of Mark, must be encountered in the modern context as a figure that confronts an age so feverishly invested in acquisition, self-aggrandizement and gain.
An early 16th Century altarpiece accents these themes of dis-acquisition. The altarpiece is by the painter Parmigianino, 1503-1540, and can be seen the National Gallery London. The painting is a vertical rectangle with a half circle top. At the top, sitting serenely on a cloud, is the virgin Mary. The child Jesus stands between his mother's legs. An explosion of light streams out from behind the virgin's head while a crystal nimbus floats over her. Below on ground producing rather exotic looking vegetation, is John the Baptist. The Baptist looks like he is about ready to emerge out of the picture plane and join the space of the viewer of the painting. He captures the gaze of the viewer with an intense look of warning in his eyes, as he crouches down on one knee. He holds behind him a bamboo shaft which has crudely been fashioned into a cross. He points with an elongated finger to the Jesus child above him. His clothing is the color of his skin and seems just to emerge from his own body. He holds no office, wears no colored robe, and has no rings to designate his authority. He is the embodiment of the ideal of dis-acquisition, and as such, he points the way to God.