Two Words

Mark 1:4-11 – the 1st Sunday of Epiphany (Baptism of the Lord) – for January 8, 2012

“…in those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee…” (Mark 1:9)

The professor* surveyed his office. With retirement probably troubling his thoughts more than next semester’s plans, his gaze fixed on the student perched on a chair. The old scholar’s eyebrows, like lenticular clouds—the disc-shaped, high-elevation clouds sometimes mistaken for UFOs—raised as he dropped stapled papers onto his desk.

The document landed near the student. No grade. No scribbled notes.

The student glanced up at the still standing professor. (A quick, stolen look, because he feared eye contact with the person who’d determine the fate of his passing or failing Introductory New Testament.) And yet, before the student averts his gaze, he knows the professor, with brows still arched, concentrates only on the waiting, anxious younger man.

The anxiety was obvious wasn’t it? How could it not be obvious to the old man? After all, he’d likely taught thousands of students during a distinguished career. He surely knew his silence and high-elevation eyebrows and power to bequeath a grade could make almost every young man or woman awaiting his judgment as nervous as . . .

. . . a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs?

No, don’t use a worn out trope to describe the feeling of impending doom. How about as nervous as . . .

. . . a student doubting his decision to go to seminary rather than law school, or just simply doubting and self-analyzing and dreading there’s no future. Yeah, that feeling.

Can’t the professor see that? Smell it, even? Doesn’t the cramped office reek of fear and looming disappointment?

And why, damn it, was there no grade on a paper that took hours and hours to write?

The professor speaks. “A fine essay,” he says. “Solid writing. Not the best in the class, but good. You should feel proud.”

Proud? Not with doubt lurking. Not with knowing this old-as-the-hills and wise-as-a-serpent scholar probably always begins with a compliment, with a bone tossed to the foolish student. After the opening niceties, there will be criticism, laughter, humiliation . . . all leading to the professor telling the student—as he has revealed to those multitude of other students—that he gave no grade because it wasn’t even worth an F. If F is the worst, then “no grade” meant you’re so bad you can’t even detect the faint shadow of an “F” in the far distance.

The student can’t hear “fine essay” or “solid writing.” Not when the worst is yet to come.

The professor clears his throat. Then he offers two life-changing words. Two transformational, glorious and unexpected gifts.

This is how the professor begins his sentence, this is how he begins creation, this is how he helps transform a fearful student into a curious pastor and writer and person: “What if . . .”

Those. Two. Words. Continue reading →