One of the greatest gifts a teacher can give a student is the gift of curiosity. I am sure we could not number the amazing discoveries and scientific breakthroughs that were achieved because of a basic sense of curiosity.
And curiosity is about asking questions that you do not know the answer to.
When you think about it, the early Christians must have had far more questions than answers when they thought about who this Jesus person really was; when they looked at what he did; when they thought about what he said.
One of the things that I am increasingly convinced of, although I might have thought differently years ago, is that we should not be any different from those early Christians in our day and age, some two thousand years after Jesus sojourn among us. When we read the Gospel stories we need to cultivate a healthy curiosity that leads us into new insights about Jesus.
In a sense, Mark takes his readers on the same journey that those first disciples of Jesus experienced. The disciples had many questions before they had answers. Mark does the same. He does not present readers with a Nicene Creed or a Westminster Confession and ask us to agree with the content. He stirs up our curiosity.
With evangelical fervour, Mark wants his readers – even us – to become fascinated with this Jesus of Nazareth. The questions that Mark will not let rest are:
“What is going on here?
“Who is this Jesus?
“From where does he get such power?”
The first disciples journeyed with a man called Jesus, listened to his teaching, wondered at his loving deeds, became acutely aware of something exceptional at work, and had to formulate their own faith in response. Mark wants us to take the same journey, and find the surprises that they had found.
Mark is saying “Find out for yourself!”
There are three little scenarios in the selection from Mark’s Gospel that we read today. In these and the few stories that precede these, Mark is trying to arouse our curiosity about this man Jesus.
Mark is a royal herald. He is the announcer of good news for the people. Yet he does not do this by presenting his readers with a doctrinal summary of the nature of Jesus.
Mark tells it in story and leaves us with the questions:
Who is this Jesus?
What do you make of him?
Does this person fit your normal categories?
How do you explain his charisma?
What is the source of his wide-ranging power?”
Those who first believed in Jesus did so because of what they heard with their own ears and saw with their own eyes. Their faith did not arrive neatly packaged in a creed, but possessed them bit by bit as they journeyed with him through stories like these. Maybe in our evangelism we should remember that.
Research on how people come to faith today shows that it is not primarily through up-front preachers. Instead, people most often come into faith through friendship with a person of faith who one way or another “witnesses” to their faith. By witnessing I don’t mean seizing every moment to put in a high-pressure religious word, but by living the faith and quietly and lovingly speaking about it at the appropriate moment. This is often much more about how to live than it is about what to believe.
Those who take the plunge and join this journey will find for themselves who this Jesus really is. His charisma will work in their lives. The ‘demons’ will be sent packing, the ‘fevers’ of secular life will lose their power, a new sense of purpose will drive them and a new compassion for humanity will grow. Then, later on the journey, our common creeds and doctrines may then become joyful affirmations; not as the cause of faith but as an expression of such faith.
The story of Jesus as told by Mark is both simple and profound. Likewise the story of Jesus as lived by us and told by us is should be simple yet profound. If we are faithful, and not embarrassed about its simplicity, but live it humbly and joyfully, then those around us are more likely to be brought to that profound wonder and light that follows the question: Who is this Jesus?
So never be embarrassed by the simplicity which lies at the core of our faith and never try to avoid the profound complexity of it by pretending that you have all the answers to every question. Be frank and be true, and then the evangelical questions will be raised by the way you simply and lovingly follow your Lord.