Saturday, 6 June 2015

Mark: Good News Afresh

The trouble with words is that their meaning can be abused and hijacked. Too often 'good news', as presented by the religious, is anything but. Mark, in his Gospel, is careful to put things Jesus says in clusters with things he does, illustrating their meaning, and people's reactions, highlighting their significance.

The Mark's Gospel sermon series throughout the CTM Parish, here in Caversham, gets underway tomorrow. To anyone from a 'free' church a sermon series from a book of Scripture is doubtless unremarkable; in the C of E, which usually uses readings from a lectionary which is only interested in themes rather than books, it is unusual. So I hope it goes well, lest it just become a one-off - interesting but unfruitful.

I've already written a lot about the beginning of Mark in this blog: Gospel Beginning, Two Baptisms, Son of God, Through the Wilderness, and Mark After Trinity. That's probably overkill for one chapter of one Bible book in one blog in less than seven months, but here's one more. At least following along with the sermon series will push me out into the rest of Mark's Gospel over the next six weeks. ;-)

Evangelion can be translated as 'gospel' or 'good news' or 'important news' or 'a message of significance' or even 'hear ye, hear ye' - listen up. The introductory title line of Mark's book calls it "The beginning of the good news of Jesus the messiah, son of God," thereby introducing a pile of different themes and questions, many of which we'll come back to during the series. A key starting point is what did Jesus say about good news:
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
"The time has come" -  the waiting is over. Mark's is an impatient Gospel, things happen quickly. It is full of 'immediately' and of Jesus moving on, provoking responses, challenging assumptions. The disciples are always one step behind, puzzled, confused, indignant, and even afraid.

But that is jumping ahead. First Jesus calls his first disciples. No messing: "Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men," an ambiguous reference of both hope and judgement to the words of the prophet Jeremiah. At once, Mark says, they leave their nets and follow him; without delay Jesus then calls two more fishermen, who also immediately follow.

Come the Sabbath, Jesus is in the synagogue at Capernaum, teaching the people and casting out a demon. People respond with wonder, and word of Jesus spreads. Straight away Jesus is healing: first Simon/Peter's mother-in-law, then a multitude.

Early in the morning Jesus finds a solitary place to pray then, when the disciples come to him, he is moving on. Not staying around to heal more people, but moving on to tell others, in other places, his message.

He heals a leper, moved with either pity or indignation at an implication that he might not want to, but tells him to get the healing checked and confirmed in the proper way, and to say nothing about what Jesus had done. The ex-leper told everyone anyway, and Jesus soon finds himself surrounded by crowds.

So far, so positive. What does this tell us about Jesus' 'good news'? That it is urgent, that it demands a response, that it brings healing to those in need, even to those excluded by society, and that it was to be spread far and wide, not just confined to one place.

What sort of response did Jesus' good news demand? Jesus calls on us to turn and follow him, to let go of all the stuff which holds us back, to turn to God through Jesus and to act. Not next week, or even tomorrow, but immediately.

And to trust in God and in him (in the New Testament the words translated 'believe' or 'faith' have a primary meaning of 'active trust' - a bit like the difference in English between believing something and believing in someone).

Try to imagine yourself hearing this story afresh, without the baggage of two thousand years. Let Jesus surprise you and amaze you. Respond to him openly and freely, and see what he is calling you to do today.

Not everyone responded positively to Jesus, though, as the story moves rapidly on. But that is a topic for next week.

Edit: The above is based around chapter 1 of Mark, which you can read on the Bible Gateway here.

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