I have always liked the Gospel of Mark, actually in many ways preferring it over the other three Gospels of the New Testament. Mark is always quick to the point; not always providing additional details. He does not mince his words and even though it is clear to the reader that he is articulating his own theological point of view, he does not do so with the philosophical verbosity of John, the Jewish motifs of Matthew or the detailed descriptions of Luke. He is an in-your-face kind of guy and that is what I like most about him [he reminds me of Detective Joe Friday in the old television series Dragnet: “Give me the facts, ma’am, only the facts”].
Mark begins his gospel with the declaration that the Good News – the Gospel – is about Jesus. I do not think that Mark is suggesting that the Good News is the message about or concerning Jesus [though this is indeed quite wonderful in itself]; I think Mark is making a much more powerful assertion. Jesus Himself is the Good News. The Good News is about a person who inaugurates God’s Kingdom, not some theological storehouse of ideas or some new philosophical meandering, neither is it some set of prescriptions upon which we are to live our lives thereby bettering ourselves. The Gospel is Jesus and the Kingdom that He brings.
If the Gospel is Jesus, then my response to the Gospel is not intellectual as much as it is emotional because the Gospel is inherently relational: it is about Jesus and me, Jesus and us. Only once this primary dynamic has been established can we honestly begin the exquisite discipline of thinking through and unpacking this relationship in terms of what it might mean for me, us and the world generally.
All too often we begin with theologizing, never to arrive at the relationship, and the great tragedy in this is that in the end we much too easily content ourselves with mere ideas about Jesus rather than entering into the vibrancy of relationship with Him. This is quite understandable actually, for ideas about Jesus can keep Him at a safe distance from our hearts. Were He to engage our hearts, it is likely that our lives would be changed, and who in their right minds wants that to happen?
There are other ways we keep Jesus at a safe distance. Mark tells us that when Jesus taught “as one having authority” in the synagogue in Capernaum, a man who was demonized was delivered [not as in the arrival of a Fed Ex parcel, but as in cleansed of the unclean spirit that with whom he had formed an intimate attachment]. The crowd present at the time was astonished and Mark tells us that word was out about Jesus [MK 1.21-28]. Jesus leaves the synagogue and goes immediately to the home of Simon Peter where He heals Simon’s mother-in-law [Kingdom mercies extend to mothers-in-law as well!] and then Mark describes the crowd that gathers outside the house “that evening, at sundown” [MK 1.29-34]. Think about what is happening in this sequence of events: Jesus teaches in the synagogue, heals a demonized man, heals Simon’s mother-in-law, word is spreading – but no one dares show up at Simon’s door step until sundown, which in Jewish reckoning means it is no longer the Sabbath. And everyone knows that you must not do any work on the Sabbath, not even carrying your sick and suffering to the One who has demonstrated His authority and power to heal [actually, healing itself, being considered work, is not allowed either, but Jesus does not seem to care about this ordinance].
Folks in Capernaum [are any of us really any different?] seemed more obliged to honor their religious duties than they were concerning their coming to Jesus [for whatever purpose]. Religious tradition and law blocked them, and you can be certain, it can block us from any effective, life-changing, transformational encounter with the Living Lord who in Himself embodies the wholeness of the Gospel. Religious tradition and sentimentality can be powerful defenses against our coming to know Jesus up close and personal: they provide us with a very comfortable buffer allowing for little if any real relationship with the One whose coming, wholly motivated by love for us, sought only to return us to the heart of the Father from which in disobedience and rebellion we had fallen.
Religion is not what Christianity is about. Christianity is principally about a relationship with Jesus Who alone is the Good News to a world that has lost itself in itself but nevertheless seems always determined to go its own way as if by some predacious endeavor it might seize redemption. How lost we are without Jesus. How found we are in Him.