Lectionary Year B
July 9, 2000
Mark 6:1-10

Step VI: Contemporary Address


"I know who you are. You are the Holy One of God .(Mk 1:24) "You are the Son of God." (Mk 3:11) "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?" (Mk 5:7)

As we move through the gospel of Mark this year in the lectionary, here we are beginning the sixth chapter and already these things have been said about this carpenter from Nazareth. Besides their utter clarity in identifying Jesus, does anyone recognize what these statements have in common? Yeah. They were all uttered by demons. Compare those three statements about who Jesus is with the following three questions that have already been voiced about Jesus' identity; "What is this? A new teaching and with authority?" (Mk 1:27) "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming. Who can forgive sins but God alone? (Mk 2:7) "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!" (Mk 4:41) No demons in this group of speakers. Just the people that Jesus came to reach. Just the religious experts who led the people of God. Just the disciples that traveled, ate, and slept with Jesus.

In my journalism class in high school, I remember hearing about the five items essential to the lead paragraph when reporting "hard news": Who, What, When, Where, How. Let the reader know right away the beat of the story, and flesh out the details from there, usually in descending order of importance or clarity. You notice there's a "W" that's not in here. Why? Don't analyze it, report it, we were taught. Forget about why. The only people allowed to write about that are the columnists who make the real money anyway. Maybe that's one of the reasons I've always been a newspaper junkie; there's a sense of order , artificial as it may be, in going through the paper and being presented with these neatly packaged facts which you can take or leave as you wish. If you only have five minutes you can scan it, read the head lines and a few lead paragraphs, and get the gist. If you have a Sunday afternoon and you can't seem to get off the couch, you can drown yourself in the details. And I find it interesting that the earliest questions posed about Jesus have that same Jack Webb quality: Just the facts, ma'am.

Review those last three questions; they start with what, why, who. For us to believe that we now know with certainty the Who, What, When, Where, and How of the life of Christ, his life on earth and his continuing life as our Risen Lord, would be to take Christianity out of the realm of faith and offer it up as hard news. We want information. God wants faith. Negotiations begin. "If you'll just assure me of a few things, Lord, I could... offer up some faith." "Only believe, my child, and I will offer you insight that surpasses facts." This in itself has fed my faith. Life isn't rolled up and rubber banded and separated into different sections for my convenience. Matter of fact, so far living life has proven the opposite of scanning the newspaper. Because we seem to begin with the "Why?" And then we find that it takes an entire lifetime to honestly write your life's lead paragraph. It's not available at the turn of a page, but only within the span of a life; and it's available in its entirety only at the end of that life. Standing in the awesome and terrifying presence of God. There I think we will be newly aware that our search for all the answers and certitude was not only supremely unimportant, next to our faith and God's insight, it was unthinkably arrogant.

Maybe not the first word but the first question many toddlers ask is the forbidden "why?"; not one of the Big Five. And certainly it's the question that is most open to interpretation. Standard equipment for parents has been the essential answer, "Because." It's useless to offer reasons and detailed answers to a child who could not fully understand them until they get the unique opportunity of being parents or teachers themselves. But as the child matures and is asked and expected to do and offer more with their own life, we recognize the unfairness and the putdown of simply saying "because I said so." And the majority of the wisest people I know are past fifty-five or sixty now, and they are the ones who are still working out the questions of Who, What, When, Where, and How when it comes to Jesus Christ.

"What will it take for humans to recognize, as the demons immediately do, that this is the Son of God? Since Jesus still goes unrecognized [in our world], we should ask the same question of our contemporaries [and of each other]." (David Garland, Mark, The NIV Application Commentary).

Moses had the same gut reaction to God's call to lead the people of Israel out of slavery. "Who am I to do such a thing?" God's answer: "I will be with you." What if they ask me 'What is his name?'... then what will I tell them?" And God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." Moses is already scrambling for facts the instant he is called by God. God sticks to what is essential to all the facts that Moses doesn't need to know. I AM WHO I AM...and I will be with you."

The demons that Jesus confronts don't ask "Who are you..." "...why are you saying these things?..." "...what right do you have to forgive sins?" They can only utter what is essential to their dilemma: "You are the son of God."

"I know who you are. You are the Holy One of God." The only question that concerns them comes out of their helplessness in the face of the living God. It is the essence of dread. "What do you want with us, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?" For the demons these are not confessions of faith, they are confessions of fact. Hard news. Always and forever. For us, in this confession is our hope. 'I AM...I will be with you." For the demons Jesus faces, in this confession from their own mouths is their doom. They know that for them I AM also means "I will cast you out. I won't abide your presence."

This theme will not go away throughout Mark's gospel: Those closest to Jesus don't have the advantage. His family thinks he's crazy. His religious leaders call him blasphemous. And now he comes home, where they know him in this little town...a small enough town where you'd recognize someone by their silhouette at sundown. But that didn't help. That hindered. He was the town carpenter turned tent show evangelist. This is the one who said "I am always among you." When is the last time you saw him? But I didn't recognize you, Lord. I didn't think you'd be doing manual labor ... or be out of work for three years. That was really you, dressed so shabbily? In prison? When you said, "And lo, I am with you always" in that perfect King James English, I held it close, but I forgot the connection with "When you do it to the least of these, you do it to me." I remembered your comfort even as I forgot my duty. I didn't recognize you because I thought I knew you.

Jesus and his townsfolk were literally dumbfounded by each other. They were flabbergasted by his pretentiousness and the nerve he had to return home as teacher and healer when his hands were still calloused from his work. They were offended. If he had been a scribe from a distant city instead of the carpenter who had made the plows and yokes for their animals, who had framed their windows and doors, maybe they would have been intrigued. (David Garland's comment that "the expert at a conference is usually the one who has come from farthest away.") Familiarity doesn't just breed contempt; it breeds distraction and assumption and ignorance.

As for Jesus, "he was amazed at their lack of faith." Dumbfounded. In Mark's gospel, after this incident, we don't find Jesus in the synagogues, but taking his message to those willing to listen, in much more public forums. I urge you this week to invoke the very words of the demons which Jesus cast out in place of questions and uncertainties that aren't essential to God's will for your life. In the context of hope instead of doom, they will lead us to true discipleship.

"I know who you are. You are the Holy One of God." "You are the Son of God." "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?" I doubt things have changed much in two thousand years. The ones who think or claim they know the most about Jesus Christ are the ones at a disadvantage. The ones who never turn their head when Jesus, who is always among us, walks by. If you carry nothing else away from worship this morning, carry God's promise, which is both hard news and great hope. "I AM. And I will always be with you." AMEN.

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