Ash Wednesday

In her sermon on Sunday, the Rev. Margaret Guenther urged parishioners of St. Columba’s parish in D. C. to read the Gospel according to Mark as a Lenten observance. As I tend to weigh every enterprise by whether it will produce blog fodder, I thought: good idea. So, if you are game, join me for a 16-day read-along of my favorite Gospel.

One of the reasons I love Mark is that it is sudden, mysterious and doesn’t stop to explain itself. There is no effort to seduce, only to inform. “This is what happened!” it exclaims. “Make of it what you will.” For this reason, it feels like a more authentic eye witness account than do the other gospels. I am not saying it is more authentic. Nor am I saying that it is an eye witness account. But it feels that way because of its style.

Let’s look at Chapter One. In the space of two double-columned pages (complete with copious footnotes in my New Oxford Annotated Bible we meet John; he baptizes Jesus; the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness where he is tempted; he returns, declares the Kingdom has come near; recruits the first disciples; preaches with authority; is recognized by an unclean spirit; casts the spirit out; heals Peter’s mother-in-law; seeks solitude in which to pray; sets off on a preaching and healing tour of Galilee; heals a leper and becomes such a regional celebrity that he can’t even go into towns.

Things happen; they happen fast, and there isn’t much time to reflect on what is going on. But there is such narrative momentum, you don’t mind because it is such an exhilerating ride.

Two things strike me, and I am sure neither of these is original.

One: the demons know Jesus. They call him by name. What’s up with that? I can think of a few possible answers, most of them involving such extensive cosmological speculation that I instinctively distrust them. Is there some other world in which Jesus and the unclean spirits previously met? Is there some kind of dog-whistle type-communication going on all around us all the time that only those tuned into the divine-demonic frequency can pick up?

Two: Jesus insists on secrecy. He admonishes the people he heals and the spirits he casts out not to tell people about him. There seems to be a tension between proclaiming the Good News and giving evidence of the nature of the Kingdom and disclosing his true nature that I don’t quite grasp.

Please chime in.

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