Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Gospel of Mark Challenge: Reflection One - "Follow Me"

When I issued the Gospel of Mark Challenge (click here for original post) and pledged to read and pray alongside each of you, I had no preconceived program for what form my reflections on the Mark’s Gospel would take. I planned simply to reflect on themes that occurred to me in my own reading and to speak to comments and questions offered by each of you.

There are certainly several themes and concepts that emerge in the first two chapters that would be fruitful to consider. There is, of course, the fact that St. Mark begins not with a birth narrative but with Jesus’ baptism, temptation, and immediately moves into his early ministry. Indeed, you may have noticed that the word “immediately” is a connecting word that Mark uses very frequently. Mark’s narrative moves along at a quick pace, in the present tense, and certainly has a sense of immediacy and urgency. The immediacy is also found on the lips of Jesus, “The kingdom of God has come near/is at hand; repent and believe in the good news!” The Kingdom is not something far from us, but very near, even “at hand.” Thus, in this sense of urgency and immediacy, St. Mark’s Gospel is not a narrative that is terribly interested in describing Jesus’ “back-story” but rather draws the reader/listener in the “eternal present” of Jesus’ ministry.

Then, of course, we come across the healings, exorcisms, and miracles. Much could be said about his these wonderful works. On the one hand each of these moments are signs of the breaking through of God’s kingdom, and yet Jesus’ is very reserved about sharing his identity as Messiah. Throughout the story, Jesus orders his disciples not to tell anyone who he is. How can this be if his deeds are to be signs of the Kingdom? Scholars call this problem of Jesus’ hidden identity, “The Messianic Secret.” As you read on you will note that there are many who recognize Jesus as Messiah but do not follow him (e.g. the demons that he casts out), while his own disciples often fail to recognize him. I have often thought that this Gospel might be appropriately subtitled “The Disciples – the Stupid Years.” Jesus works all these signs and yet even his followers do not seem to understand what he is about! Of course, the narrative holds a great literary irony, for we, the readers, are really the ones “in the know.” It baffles us to think that the disciples could be so dense, while demons and outsiders understand. The point is, of course, that we see through the lens of our faith and through the lens of the Resurrection, as surely as did the first readers/hearers of this Gospel. We know the story even before we read or hear it. Yet, there are times in our lives when even with all that we know, we fail to see the obvious. The point is surely this, that we do not always recognize the signs of God’s hand even when it should be most apparent to us.

This leads to my final reflection for today. A parishioner wrote to me about this passage and suggested that we live an age in which trust is very difficult. Our lawyers must double- and triple-check any transactions we make. We are suspicious of the motives of our fellow human beings. In these first to chapters of St. Mark we see Jesus calling his first disciples, Simon and Andrew, and the Sons of Zebedee. They lay down their nets, they leave their past lives, and follow him. No contracts. No lawyers looking over their new employment arrangements. “Follow me,” says our Lord, and they come. Later he calls Levi, a rather disreputable tax collector, and sat down to a meal with other tax collectors and sinners.

To answer that call, “Follow me,” involves risk. It involves leaving behind certain things that we might otherwise wish to cling to; it involves sitting down to dine with people we might otherwise not choose to dine with; it involves stepping out in faith, without the approval of others; and it involves trust. However, our trust is placed in the one who will never desert or abandon us, or leave us without hope. Our trust is a Lord who opens new doors as old ones close. Our trust is in the one who meets us in our hour of deepest need, or in our darkest night. Our trust is in the Lord Jesus Christ, who opens for us the way of life and continually proclaims the new day of God’s kingdom ever dawning upon us.

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