So we’ve completed our three evenings looking at Mark’s Big Story. Our focus last night was on ‘creating a new community,’ the values and practices of the new kingdom movement ushered in by Jesus. What’s interesting about Mark is the way in which his Gospel contains no major teaching section, like Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. Instead, when it comes to lifestyle, we’re left to look at the actions of Jesus and his disciples.
Closer inspection leads us to a couple of interesting discoveries. Firstly, the task of Jesus and his disciples is constantly one of exorcism in Mark, with numerous examples of Jesus coming face to face with the strong man who is holding people captive. When Jesus calls and commissions his disciples in chapters 3, 6, and 16, the job of casting out demons is central to the kingdom mandate.
Secondly, there’s the method. The Jesus movement are vulnerable (they depend on the hospitality of others and they don’t take lots of equipment or resources with them on the journey). Jesus also models a response of compassion, and the kingdom values are such that the important people are those who would not be considered significant by others – slaves, servants, children.
And the ultimate example of the method is found in Jesus himself, whose victory is not brought about through a show of strength, but in the moment of surrender on the cross.
And that conversation led to one of the big questions of the evening. Was Jesus submissive? Is that the best word to use to describe the man who openly challenged the practices of the Pharisees and turned over tables in the Temple courts?
Reflecting on this question this morning has brought me back to Hebrews 5:7: ‘In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.’
I wonder if these words offer a clue to the underlying, guiding principle of Jesus’ ministry... that the decisions which led to every miracle, every parable, every gesture were all, ultimately, underpinned by a desire to submit to his heavenly Father. Jesus did not understand himself to be making up his own plan, but fulfilling the mission of God.
So what implications does this have for us, for the confrontations and challenges we find ourselves making in the name of Jesus? When we examine the protests we take part in, or our political affiliations, can we honestly say we understand everything we’ve done to be a part of a life fully submitted to God?
As Martin Luther famously put it, when preaching on discipleship: ‘Not the work which you choose, not the suffering you devise, but the road which is contrary to all that you choose or contrive or desire - that is the road you must take.’