Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany | Mark 1:29-39
Hide and Seek
“You cannot step into the same stream twice.” —Heraclitus, c.535—c.475 BCE
A good number of people, with good reasons, turn away from anything that smacks of Christianity or religion. Sometimes I see and hear the expressions of Christianity around me, words of judgment, acts of exclusion, airs of superiority, and I wonder whether I want to be identified with the movement. Too often being a person of faith is equated with ignorance, lack of intelligence, lack of compassion.
My novel I,John is often characterized as Christian fiction, a label that I resist. To label any writing as Christian, or Jewish, or Buddhist, is to place walls around it, to relegate it to a ghetto. Either something is worth reading or it is not, regardless of the writer’s spiritual, geographical, political or biological place of origin. Being part of a faith movement should not sell books any more than being outside of that movement.
I wonder, though, whether the same thing holds true for the Gospel of Mark. A person within the faith community, however widely and loosely one might stretch the fence around Christianity, will read and understand the words of the Gospel differently than someone who does not embrace the possibility of God, let alone the possibility that Jesus was actually God incarnate.
There’s a concept.
God, walking around in the form of a human being: what an idea for a science fiction story, or an elaborate fantasy novel. One might imagine a plot line for a psychological thriller, keeping the reader guessing as to whether the main character is more than human or just deeply disturbed.
Mark writes of demons who know the true identity of the man Jesus. They begin to name him, calling him the Holy One, but in this Gospel story Jesus forbids them to tell what they know—his identity is a secret. Even beyond the idea of talking with demons, doesn’t the notion of silencing anyone who identifies the true nature of Jesus seem odd?
Mark adds another strange element to the secrecy motif. While one might presume that God would welcome those who come seeking God, Jesus gets up and slips away in the night, refusing to meet the people who have come looking for him.
“You will find Him if you seek him with all your heart and your soul.” That’s what is promised in Deuteronomy 4:29. “You will seek me and find me when you search with all your heart,” echoes Jeremiah 29:13. Yet Mark tells us that Jesus, God become human, leaves the people who are looking for him and goes off to other places, to seek out a different as yet unbelieving audience.
The ones who know him are forbidden to speak. The ones who seek him are left behind. It is not what we expect from the plot.
Those who do not believe they have encountered God might take some comfort from these things, if they have any interest in God finding them. Those who think they know something about God are bound to be a little discomfited.
Mark tells the story of a God who does not stand still, but who is continually moving, seeking, touching new people and new places. There is no room in Mark’s Gospel for a God imprisoned on a throne.
The disciples never seem to understand who this Jesus is, at least not in Mark’s telling of the story. Each time they look, they expect to see the same Jesus they think they know, but he is already moving, changing, waiting until those who seek him realize that he will always be found somewhere unexpected.
God is a river running through our lives. Though we stand perfectly still, what we touch around us is always new.