I’m not religiously inclined, not at all, which is probably a bit of a disappointment for my brother Rod, who is the Uniting Church minister for beautiful Phillip Island in Victoria. He has his own manse and everything, with a pretty church right in the backyard. He is also an aspiring author of young adult fantasy. I may be no church-goer, but I’m a great admirer of witty and/or unusual perspectives on ordinary things. So when Rod told me about a recent sermon he gave, (yes he actually gave this sermon!) I just had to share part of it. What writer could resist this editorial take on an excerpt from the Gospel of Mark! 🙂
Mark 1:9-15 ‘In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, and he was tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God …’
“In fewer than 150 words Mark covers Jesus baptism, the temptations and the beginning of his ministry. The baptism gets the most coverage, about 65 words – telling us about the descent of the Spirit.
I can imagine what Mark’s editor would have said.
‘Now Mark, it is important to jump into the action, especially with a fast-moving narrative like yours, but really, you have to bring your readers with you. Show not tell – not even much telling here. You’ve done all right with John – camel’s hair, wild locusts – that’s good, we get a sense of someone unique, fanatical even, calling for change – you could do more, still, it’s ok. But with Jesus, your main character – ‘In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan.’ I mean, really. It’s lame.
What was he doing in Nazareth? Why did he go to John – I mean if he was as special is you imply in the rest of the story? Take us into the event – we have to be there. Was it hot? Were there crowds? Was the water muddy? What about a conversation, with someone in the crowd, or John? And that voice and vision – it gives a whole new meaning to ‘omniscient narrator’. Who heard it, who saw it? Describe the reaction of the crowd: amazement, fear. Bit of work there I think.
Now, the next part. Wilderness is good. From the deserts the prophets come. Grounding himself in God, people will get that. But, honestly, forty days blah, blah, blah – ‘and he was tempted by Satan.’ And he was tempted by Satan! My God, is that all you can say. Ultimate battle between good and evil – that’s what you’re writing about– ‘and he was tempted by Satan’. How was he tempted? What was it like for him? Did he nearly give in? That’s good, he almost fails – try that. We have to be there, we have to feel for ourselves what he was going through, the struggle, the turmoil. Lot of work there, but done right it could set up the whole story. Oh and get rid of the angels – we could all vanquish Satan if we had angels. The next bit, again it’s good that you don’t hit the reader over the head by explaining every little detail but perhaps a bit more wouldn’t hurt. I know you’re concerned about the word count. Honestly there’s nothing to worry about. Anyway have a think about what I’m suggesting. I’ll see you again in a couple of weeks … Ah, Matthew, come in.’ ”
Thanks Rod. ‘ … and get rid of the angels.’ I love it!