I have a friend who, when he tells the story of how he came to faith, speaks of reading the Gospel of Mark for the first time and being “absolutely captivated by the person of Jesus.” He was a freshman in college and taking a Bible as Literature course. He had come from a family where faith was not a part of the mix and this was his first exposure to the Bible. The assignment was to read the Gospel of Mark in one sitting and as he read he became more and more fascinated by the character of Jesus. The one about whom this story was written became someone he wanted to know more about. More specifically, as he read Mark’s Gospel, Jesus became someone my friend wanted to know.
As someone who grew up hearing the stories about Jesus in Sunday School, my experience of the Bible was very different from my friend’s. By the time I was a freshman in college I had pretty much come to the place of disregarding the Bible. Jesus wasn’t fascinating to me, he didn’t captivate me. Sure, I knew the stories about him. But they had long since ceased to have any power in my life. I held those stories in an archive of my imagination that I felt no need to access. Like old yearbooks or trophies stored in a box in the attic, the Bible was a part of my history I could not bring myself to throw away, but it was also something I had no need to display on the shelves of my present life.
As I compare the very different stories of these two college freshman there is an element that unites them. Quite simply, if we are going to have an adult faith, we are going to have to engage Jesus as an adult. And when we do this, when we sit down and actually read the entirety of Mark’s Gospel in one sitting, when we see how remarkable and strange, how compassionate and driven, how mysterious and present, how loving and brutally honest the Jesus of the Gospels is, we can’t simply relegate him to some distant corner of the attic of our memory and imagination. We either need to deal with him or reject him.
“Deal with me.” I think it is another way of rendering the more familiar invitation that Jesus issues when he says, “Follow me.” “Come and see what I am up to. Come and be a part of what I am doing. Take the risk of looking at the world through a different set of lenses and experience the joy that comes with accepting this challenge. You were meant for something so much more than what you have come to be. So come away from what is less than the best and follow me. Walk with me and walk toward life.”
This summer in my sermons I want to take some time to explore Mark’s Gospel. It’s hard to read Mark’s rendering of Jesus’ story and think about Jesus as someone who could fit in our hearts. It is more of a tale of one who invites us into his heart. It is not a story about finding a safe place as much as it is about stumbling along behind and working to keep up with one who is leading us on an adventure. So I’d like to challenge you take on the same assignment made by my friend’s Bible Lit. teacher. Set aside a few hours and read the book of Mark in one sitting. Let’s read Mark and accept the challenge of dealing with Jesus.
Dave Rohrer, 6/1/2016