Mark 1:29-39 (NRSV)
Healing & Preaching
29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
One of the most exciting and terrifying seasons in working with young people is walking alongside them as they began to deconstruct ideas and beliefs they had previously taken for granted. The deeper they go theologically, the more they reject the oversimplified formulas and ideas they grew up with. My journey of beginning to own my faith was the same way. The more I learned, the more questions I had, particularly when it came to being in church. Whether it was the sermon, the prayers. the kids talk or the songs, I always had at least one eye open as I critiqued, challenged and wondered about the things that I had previously embraced without interrogation or objection.
Reading this passage afresh reminded me of something that I used to believe. I’m not sure if I was ever actually taught it or if I learnt it via osmosis but I definitely remember singing it. The words come from Michael W. Smith’s, Above All, a song that I am sure I have sung hundreds of times. Music has a way of helping us learn and internalise that is beautiful when it’s right — and dangerous when it’s not. It goes like this:
Laid behind a stone
You lived to die
Rejected and alone
Like a rose
Trampled on the ground
You took the fall
And thought of me
Did you spot the problem? Did you spot more than one?!
At first glance, I take issue with the individualist sentimentality in the idea of Jesus thinking of me ‘above all’ … particularly if ‘all’ includes other people … but that isn’t what made me think of this song in light of Mark 1. It’s the four words in the third line.
You lived to die.
I don’t remember consciously learning this but I know that I unconsciously believed it. Somewhere along the way, I came to believe that death was the sole purpose of Jesus’ life. The different streams and traditions within Christianity always have a tendency to emphasise some parts of the message and, by extension, ignore others. In the stream that shaped me, I came to understand that the significant parts of the New Testament were the death and resurrection of Jesus and the way that Paul interpreted them. As a result, I knew little of Jesus’ life. Of his ethics and interactions. Of his Sermon on the Mount and his quiet words to his little band of followers. And yet, here in Mark 1, Jesus says,
‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’
In the NIV and many other translations, it’s ‘That is why I have come.’
His life and his words, his miracles and his encounters — they aren’t just a preamble to his death. They are, according to Jesus himself, what he came for. Growing up, I thought that everything before his arrest was just proof that he was the Son of God so that we would understand the significance of his death and resurrection. But now I realise they are so much more. His life, death and resurrection are part of a beautiful, singular flow of Heaven invading Earth.
As he heals, he demonstrates the coming of his Kingdom.
As he teaches, he invites people to understand what it means to be part of a Kingdom that will transform everything from our individual relationships to our geo-political realities.
As he lives with people, he immerses himself in the human experience — in our weaknesses, temptations, fragility and limitations.
At his death, it looks like his Kingdom has been destroyed.
At his resurrection, we realise that his Kingdom will have no end.
He did not live to die. He lived to show us how to live as people who are fully alive and fully human, made in the image of the One who lived, died and rose again.
Scott Evans is the Church of Ireland chaplain to University College Dublin, producer of The Graveyard Shift Podcast and co-founder of Paradoxology, a prayer space at Ireland’s Electric Picnic music festival. He grew up in Bangladesh and his life has been a series of crazy decisions, odd adventures and bad haircuts. He is also the author of 3 books, Closer Still, Beautiful Attitudes and Failing From The Front (& Other Lessons From The Lives of Losers.) He loves Vietnamese food, coffee, writing, Aston Villa and Jesus.