Lectionary reflection Mark 1: 40-45: The Theme that Won’t Go Away

            In our exciting scenes from last week we read, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (NIV).  It could not be more plainly spoken.  He came, not to travel around places like a vagabond, but to preach.  He came to preach – to tell us about God and ourselves – to teach, and then to confirm the validity of his words through action, the greatest of which was his death and resurrection. 

            Why should that be so hard to understand?

            Well, here at the beginning of Mark’s gospel we see why that was so hard.

            First (Mark 1: 21-28) we hear him teaching “with authority” and the people are “amazed.”  But then he casts out an impure spirit and the people are so shocked that “even the impure spirits obey him,” they lose all track of his words.

            Then (Mark 1: 29-39), after the disciples get him to heal Simon’s mother-in-law, we see the people bringing him every sick person and demon possessed person they can find.  It got so bad, probably got so crowded, Jesus had to escape to a quiet place just to pray and get some peace.  When they found him, he said, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (NIV).  The people in that place had stopped listening altogether.  All they wanted was the miracles.  They wanted the actions but lost track of the words.

            So Jesus and his disciples went elsewhere and met a leper on the road.  The leper fell to his knees and begged.  “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”  Why would Jesus get indignant?  What possible thing could motivate him to indignation?  I suspect someone got the word that he came to preach and they probably interpreted it this way:  “He wants to preach.  He doesn’t want to do miracles.”

            Have you ever been misunderstood?  Some people can’t even hear plain speaking.  You see, we all have a particular worldview, deeply ingrained, and it is mostly unconscious to where we don’t normally even think about it.  These are our cherished notions and preconceptions about the way the world works – about reality, what is real versus what is impossible or not real.  When we speak to one another, everything we say will be connected to our worldview, and everything we hear will be filtered, like it or not, though our same worldview.  When we have a disagreement, even when we actually agree in fact, it is because the words that filter through to us just don’t sound right.  Even when we agree on principle there can be something in the words, the expression or tone of voice or something indescribable about the person themselves that makes our hair stand up and we want to shout, “No!  You are wrong.” 

            I know I have said things in speaking and preaching events that have come back to me the total opposite of what I said.  That is why I said last time, if you have ears, hear.  That is why I am still debating with myself a series of Wednesday posts which I would call “RumiNations,” but which I perhaps ought to call HTLF & PoP.  I will try my best to write in plain speak, but who knows what people will read?

            So here I figure people – not necessarily bad people, though no doubt gossips – are trying to understand this man and make him fit into their worldview (preconceived notions about life, the universe and everything).  He came to preach?  Okay, then I guess he did not come here to do miracles.  But that is fine because I was not entirely comfortable with the miracles anyway.  I mean, I saw them with my own eyes so I could not exactly deny them, but they made me terribly uncomfortable because they did not fit with the way I understand the world is supposed to work.

            To this day some people have a hard time accepting any miracles.  It’s that worldview thing that gets in the way.  Somewhere in their youth (most likely) they got the notion that this universe always acts in a predictable and understandable way.  Thus, any notion that something (or someone) from what must be an imaginary place outside this universe altogether can step in and disrupt the normal course of events must (according to the worldview) be nonsense. 

             There are some who believe the universe (what they might call “reality”) is orderly, understandable and predictable.  What they deem outrageous (or might peg as “insane”) comments are not even heard, and miracles are flat-out impossible.  It is pre-decided.  Those who hold this rather limited (narrow minded?) view of reality can have a real hard time with the Christian faith, not the least with the resurrection.  But there are, at a guess, millions of otherwise faithful Christians to this day who have a seriously hard time with the Miracles of Jesus.

            So I suspect someone back then fit that category and on hearing that Jesus came to preach, erroneously concluded that he did not come to do miracles.  The leper probably heard this.  But he was desperate.  He got to his knees and begged, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”  He did not doubt that Jesus was capable, only thought that Jesus was not interested.  Jesus got indignant because he undoubtedly knew what was being said about him.  It was not indignation directed at the leper.  That much is certain.

            He straightened out that erroneous thinking when he said plainly, “I am willing.”  But then he added a thought.  (paraphrase):  Look, don’t tell anyone or make a big deal out of it.  We are facing message difficulties here.  People are so into the miracles right now, the message is getting lost in the shuffle.  Just go to the priests and do what you should to give thanks for your cleansing.  I tell you what.  You can tell the priests all about it, but otherwise keep it mum for the time being,  Okay?

            So the man no doubt said, yes, yes.  But he did the opposite.  He told everyone.  Some people just can’t hear plain speak.  It got so bad, Jesus could not even go into the towns anymore without being mobbed.  Do you think he got indignant again?  I suspect so.  He had to stay out in the countryside, outside of town, and still people came to him – all the sick and demon possessed looking for that miracle.  So, who was left to listen to the message?  The disciples were about the only ones, and sometimes he even had to force them to listen.

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