“The time is fulfilled, and the reign of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news!”
Verse 14 points to the message that Jesus is proclaiming in Capernaum, and that the gospel of Mark has at its core. The Good News is that the time of waiting is over and that the Reign of God has begun to take shape among them. That is the message, and Mark – whoever she or he really was – gave us in last week’s and this week’s text the effect the message has.
Without keeping that in mind, Chapter one appears to read like a choppy series of unrelated incidents. While it is true that the gospel showed us last week Jesus’ power as an exorcist, and this week as a healer, it isn’t trying to tell us, “Hey, this guy Jesus is a great preacher … and exorcist … and healer!” The gospel is telling us about the Good News in this opening summary – the gospel of the Reign of God – and starting to flesh out what it looks like from a purely Markan perspective. Jesus is not only the bearer and herald of the Good News of the Reign of God; Jesus is the Good News of the Kingdom. Where Jesus is, the kingdom has drawn near.
[Special thanks to http://lectionary.wolsblog.com/ for helping with this starting point]
The Markan perspective is unique among the gospels. Consider the way the story of the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law. This story, as it appears in 3 of the 4 gospels is indicative of how Jesus is portrayed in each one. In this one story, we can see the underlying theology about Jesus that each set of quthors have.
Let me explain.
Actually, let me show you one primary difference between the ways each of the gospels portray Jesus. I need three volunteers to act feverish like Simon’s mother-in-law. Well, actually, you don’t need to act at all, unless you want to – you just need to let me play act with you as a prop.
First we have the gospel of Luke: The healing of Simon’s mother-in-law. [Minister stands aloof from person.] “FEVER – I REBUKE YOU.” Now you’re supposed to get up and serve me.
Then the gospel of Matthew: [Touches the hand only, and the person is healed] Now you get up and serve me.
And then the gospel of Mark: [Take hold of the hands and gently lifts them up]
Do you see the difference – more than any other gospel, the Markan version shows a Jesus who is personal and intimate – who obviously cares deeply, even in the most mundane ways. Okay! Now, serve me. Yeah! That’s gonna happen.
Actually, there’s an interesting thing about what we hear as serve. It doesn’t mean serve at all. The word, diakoney, means “minister to”. It is a word used to describe what the disciples do, what the contemporaries of Paul do, and what Jesus does. The translators generally are guilty of what’s called glossing over – inserting their own ideas in place of actual meaning. She got up and ministered to them – in what way we don’t know, but we can pretty sure she didn’t just don an apron and make dinner. Even the King James Version and Young’s Literal Translation got that one right – they both used the words “ministered to”. It’s just the more modern translations that can’t seem to accept that a woman could or would minister to the disciples and Jesus.
So, anyway, we have a distinctive quality about Jesus in the gospel of Mark. The Matthean Jesus is powerful but somewhat withdrawn and aloof. The Lukan Jesus is powerful in an almost militant way. The Markan Jesus is more sensitive and intimate – not less powerful, as the stories so far indicate – but powerful because Jesus is more relational and gentle with those in need.
So, when the author of Mark tells us that the good news of the Reign of God’s love is Jesus, he or she also tells us how deeply and lovingly Jesus interacts with those being engaged or healed or exorcized. In this gospel, then, the Reign of God is also very personal and intimate, and it calls US out to be the same way with those WE come in contact with.
For many, the gospel of Mark is more the gospel for women than the others. In Mark, Jesus is changed by the women that engage, touch or argue with Jesus. And Jesus embraces the change, while acknowledging the faith of these women. On the other hand, the disciples remain virtually clueless throughout the gospel – actually blind to the power and divinity of Jesus. The women get it – the men don’t. As a healer, Jesus has more of a bedside manner than in the other gospels. Jesus touches more when healing.
Morna Hooker, a pre-eminent scholar on the gospel of Mark, emphasizes that this book was written to be spoken and heard, not simply read. A spoken work, especially one that is delivered over a span of days or weeks, makes heavy use of repetition – with the repetitive portions indicating the key concepts.
Perhaps the most common repetition in the gospel of Mark is the way in which the hearer is constantly put in the position of deciding for or against Jesus. In Jesus, the hearer is confronted with the Reign of God in action – not just parable, but in concrete action that illustrates how to live into the Reign. Put simply, deciding against Jesus is as basic as denying the need to act like Jesus. Deciding for Jesus is to mimic Jesus’ actions.
The disciples – those closest to and most influenced by Jesus – represent the faithful who do not yet fully understand, but try to live into the Reign as best they can. Sometimes they fail, but they keep trying to mimic Jesus even as they are still developing a fuller knowledge about who and what Jesus is. In this sense, then, the disciples are probably the best representation of the church through the ages. In this sense, they are not clueless but simply growing – just like us. We try and sometimes succeed and sometimes fail to live and act as Jesus did. But, no matter what, we keep trying and striving to be what Jesus would have disciples be – faithful and persistent.
In chapter 1 of Mark, the overarching themes for action are laid out – in sometimes repetitious and seemingly choppy ways. Spirits of death and denial are rebuked – with a word and with a hand. But people are not rebuked – just the spirit that negates the actions and power of Jesus. People are touched and engaged intimately. Healing occurs always with a touch. Ministry occurs with touch. Intimate physical presence is a critical part of who Jesus is, and who disciples are to be.
Constantly in this gospel, as in others, Jesus is challenged by the same authorities who oppress those that Jesus champions. Just as constantly, Jesus will be found standing with and for the oppressed and downtrodden – engaging them intimately and rebuking those who would continue to abuse them. Jesus primary attention goes, not to the faithful, but to those who have yet to embrace faith – not to the disciples, but to those even the disciples would overlook.
Jesus, in the gospel of Mark, is the parent, sibling, counselor and healer of those not in the fold – yet. Jesus, to the disciples and the faithful, is a challenger – constantly pushing them to be more Jesus-like. In reality, the disciples are not idiots in this gospel, as some suggest, but rather still immature in their faith and in need of growth. Jesus simply presents them with more opportunity and motivation for growth, rather than patting them on the back and saying, “You’ve got it.” There is no failing in this gospel except for those who stand with the abuser as opposed to the oppressed – for those who resist the urge to be intimate with their neighbors.
Paul sums this up as:
“In my proclamation, I must make the gospel free of charge.” The reading from 1 Corinthians states that living the gospel does not mean claiming OUR full rights, but in making those full rights available to others. What others? All others!
Those who live in a righteousness based worldview are to be won over to the gospel, by becoming as one of them. Those who see themselves totally apart from Christ’s laws are to be won over to the gospel, by becoming as one of them. To the weak, we are to become weak – to become as one of them. Why do we do this – so that some might be brought into the fold. Not all! Not most! But that some might be saved.
Ultimately, Paul tells us, do this for the sake of the gospel, so that it’s blessings might be shared. This requires action, spirit and persistence. It can be tiring. It can be, at times, discouraging.
Listen to Isaiah. “Have you not known? Have you not heard?” It is God who gives the power – God who knows and calls each one of us. Even though we may grow weary and feel powerless, it is God who renews our strength and courage. If we do not give up, God will lift us up on wings of eagles. We shall run and not be weary, walk and not be faint.
Ministry to the faithful is a good and right thing. But, ministry to those who are not yet faithful and in the fold is the point to our existence as a church. It is not about us in here, but about people out there and how we touch and engage with them.
In paraphrasing the words from a hard-rock band, Blues Traveler, I think we can sum up this message.
First from the song “Just Wait”:
“Do you not know? Have you not heard?
I hope for you and cannot stop at hoping,
Until that smile has once again returned to your face.
There’s no such thing as failure who keeps trying.
Coasting to the bottom is the only disgrace.
Just wait. And it will come.”
And also from the song “Brother John”:
“And it’s hard to be believed
what can be achieved
With an outstretched hand.”