The Gospeler Mark would have been great on Twitter.
In just six short verses, each one just one sentence, he pretty much tells us everything about Jesus’s incarnation.
That doesn’t mean we don’t need to study Scripture anymore. It does tell us, though, all about God’s vast love for humankind, a love so vast that he set aside his crown and came down to show us the face of that love and how to show it to others. That was important then; it is vitally important now, on January 21, 2018.
Aside from later flashbacks, Mark dispenses with the story of John the Baptizer and then barrels straight into the main event. John is the opening act, but Jesus is the superstar everyone was waiting for. Drum roll, fireworks, hoopla . . .
“Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the Good News of God,” we’re told. In fact, Jesus WAS the Good News of God, God incarnated, God we can see and hear and touch. Ain’t a that a good news?
The time is fulfilled, Jesus says. He’s not talking about chronological time; he’s talking about God’s time, metaphysical time, the RIGHT time, the time is ripe for the unfolding of God’s dream for mankind, to redeem his beloved children and bring them back unto himself.
What a time it was! For the Jews, it was yet another time of upheaval, of being ruled by a foreign power. Zealots planned insurrections; the Jews longed for Messiah to come and speak truth to power, to break the chains of Rome and set them free.
They got instead a simple man, this humble Jesus, clearly not a warrior, not wielding a sword or a knife, but saying words that did speak truth to power if only they could understand what true power is. Nonetheless, many would hear the ring of truth in them and follow him.
No, the Jews who were expecting a warrior Messiah didn’t get the fireworks, the drum roll, the hoopla. Because that’s not how God works and it wasn’t how Jesus worked then or today, is it?
“The Kingdom of God has come near,” Jesus says, because he represents the Kingdom of God and he has come down to model for us the way back to God and the way to make God’s will come on earth as it is in Heaven.
“Repent, and believe in the good news.” Repent, literally change your mind, open your inner vision, think outside the box and understand what good news really means in God’s world.
Jesus came quietly, at first, walking on a beach, seeing fishermen who were probably dirty and smelly and he said to them, “Come, follow me.”
And they did. They immediately left what they were doing and followed him. The time was right, and somehow they knew it.
Some would scorn Jesus, the temporally powerful, the influential, the priests and scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees, the ruling class. Someone would say, upon learning where Jesus grew up, “What good can come out of Nazareth?”
Does that sound familiar? Does that statement resonate with anything said, oh, the week before last? What good can come out of Haiti, of Africa, of El Salvador?
Those Jesus asked to come and follow him were, for the most part, humble, disenfranchised people. Some were outcasts. Some were simple laborers, concerned with subsistence living and maybe even selling enough fish to save some money up. The wealthy young man Jesus asked to follow couldn’t do it; the poor could because they had nothing to lose, and that is often the point where true power in God’s world begins.
As Jesus modeled for them the will of God to bring heaven on earth, he brought healing to other outcasts, crazy people, lame people, lepers, blind beggars, all were what might have been considered the lowest of the low. Yet these were the ones to whom he gave not only physical healing, but spiritual healing, the kind of healing that only comes from an encounter with the divine, the healing that comes with being made to know unconditional love.
Jesus chose people who, in theologian Howard Thurman’s words, had their backs against the wall. They were free of the entrapments of the world, and he knew they would get things done after he had given his very life for them.
In his book, Jesus and the Disinherited, Thurman seeks to answer a question that had bothered him for many years, a question put to him by a Hindu college president while he was on a fellowship mission with the YMCA in India.
The question was, how can you, a black man whose grandmother was enslaved, preach the gospel of the white man, a gospel forced on your people as a way to sedate them and keep them from thinking of freedom. It took Thurman many years to come up with his answer.
“The solution which Jesus found for himself and for Israel, as they faced the hostility of the Greco-Roman world, becomes the word and the work of redemption for all the cast-down people in every generation and in every age. I mean this quite literally. I do not ignore the theological and metaphysical interpretation of the Christian doctrine of salvation. But the underprivileged everywhere have long since abandoned any hope that this type of salvation deals with the crucial issues by which their days are turned into despair without consolation. The basic fact is that Christianity as it appears in the mind of this Jewish teacher and thinker appears as a technique of survival for the oppressed. That it became, through the intervening years, a religion of the powerful and the dominant, used sometimes as an instrument of oppression, MUST NOT [my emphasis] tempt us into believing that was thus in the mind and life of Jesus. ‘In him was life; and the life was the light of men.’ Wherever his spirit appears, the oppressed gather fresh courage; for he announced the good news that fear, hypocrisy, and hatred, the three hounds of hell that track the trail of the disinherited, need have no dominion over them.”
If I believe in anything, I believe that if Jesus came to earth today, he would seek first the Haitian, the Salvadoran, the Mexican, the African, the African-American, the Dreamers, all those whose backs have been shoved against the wall.
Does that mean he wouldn’t seek us? Are our backs against the wall? Are we victims of fear, hypocrisy, and hatred, the three hounds of hell as Thurman describes them?
Well, we are if we let the status quo reign supreme. We are if we pass up a chance to speak out. We are if we don’t recognize that as followers of Jesus, everyone who suffers in the temporal world is our sister and brother in God, for whom we have a responsibility to them and to God to lift up.
For Jesus does call us too! Every morning when we awake, we are called anew to follow Jesus, to help bring the good news of God’s love and redemption into the world, to help bring the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven, and to let the Holy Spirit work through us to say no to the powers that create the disinherited, the marginalized, the disenfranchised, to stand up for God’s justice, and God’s equality.
Because if we don’t share that love and that redemption with those whose backs are against the wall, we don’t deserve them. They don’t exist in a vacuum. If anyone is made to feel unworthy, then we are all unworthy.
Don’t forget that Jesus also modeled anger for us well as love. He let his anger loose when he saw the perversion of God’s will in the usurers in the temple marketplace and those who insisted that if you didn’t sacrifice an animal or birds, you couldn’t get close to God, in the priests who hid behind the temple veil as if only they could decide what God wanted of God’s people.
The time is fulfilled! Prepare yourselves! Humble yourselves! And when you hear the tender voice in your inmost heart saying, “Come, follow me,” you’ll know what to do.