June 24, 2018

Who is this Jesus

Passage: Mark 4:35- 41

We have the benefit of being able to see who Jesus is through the eyes of those who experienced his full life on earth and who bore witness to his message, his life, death and resurrection. But I want us today to look at what Mark tells us of what the disciples knew about Jesus at the time when he calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee. What exactly had been revealed to them at that point and how were they to make sense of Jesus in the light of their understanding of God from their history and practice.

Often I have noted that the people Jesus called as disciples were not among the elite or even the religious elite of the society. In fact Jesus first reaches out to people whose profession was most common in that area – fishermen. Why on earth would he choose to begin with them? I am sure that is a question that they asked themselves time and time again over the course of their journeys with Jesus. One reason I believe is that Jesus came with a message that needed to be heard by people who were in need of good news and who had no theological prejudices. In other words, Jesus would have been looking for people who were open to God in a way that others might not have been.

We really have no way of appreciating the charisma that no doubt surrounded Jesus that would cause people to simply give up their livelihood to follow Jesus. But something compelled them to follow.

The first place Jesus takes them is to Capernaum where he enters the synagogue on the Sabbath and begins to teach. So the first thing these disciples learn about Jesus is that he is a teacher. But he is a teacher unlike any other teachers they have experienced. Mark records that he taught as one having authority. To the people there, Jesus not only taught them but he sounded like he truly believed what he was teaching. Their experience of the teaching of the scribes sounds more akin to someone who teaches a course but doesn’t necessarily believe its content. Of course the scribes would always be cautious as interpreters of the faith but Jesus spoke with conviction. And when Jesus is challenged by a man with an unclean spirit that declares that Jesus is the Holy One of God, Jesus casts out the unclean spirit.

The people are left wondering about who this Jesus is. The unclean spirit declared him to be the holy one of God; he is teaching people about God in a new way and with authority; and even unclean spirits recognize him and obey.

Jesus then goes with the disciples to the home of Simon and Andrew where Simon’s mother-in-law is sick with a fever. Jesus takes her by the hand and lifts her up. Immediately she is well. So Jesus is a teacher with a new teaching from God; he is the holy one of God who is able to make unclean spirits obey him and he is a healer. But still the full extent of who this Jesus is remains hidden. Jesus then goes with the disciples on a tour of Galilee spreading the same message and healing many.

Upon his return to Capernaum, word about this Jesus has spread and so many people are coming that the friends of one man take extraordinary steps to get him to Jesus. They cut a hole in the roof of the house where Jesus is and lower him in. Then Jesus reveals something else about himself. He declares the sins of the paralytic man to be forgiven. Some of the scribes who were there must have had a look on their faces that showed their shock at Jesus’ bold words. Sensing what was on their minds, he asks them which is easier to say. Of course it is easy to say words so Jesus shows them the authority that he has from God by commanding the man to stand up, take his mat and walk. For the first time, the disciples and those who had gathered in that place learned that this Jesus was not only one who could teach with authority, heal the body and mind but also release the spirits of people by declaring the forgiveness of their sins.

Jesus has the opportunity to align himself with the religious leaders of the day and secure their ear and support for his ministry but he chooses to align himself with the outcasts of society, the people whom the religious leaders had dismissed because of their apparent unwillingness to follow the laws of God. It is interesting that Jesus does not see sin as disobedience and something requiring judgment or condemnation of the person but rather he sees sin as an illness, something that has afflicted the soul or the body of a person and that needs healing and restoration. This is not to say that repentance is not necessary but rather than seeing sin as perversion and evil, Jesus sees sin as an illness, a disease that has drawn life out of a person. He has come to bring healing to the body, mind and spirit and to impart to the people a teaching from God designed to aid them in that healing process. For the disciples and others, this approach of Jesus, the revelation he has brought from God is welcomed and refreshing.

And so we come to the event recorded in our Gospel lesson today. The disciples are taking Jesus across the lake as he has requested. While they are crossing, a storm comes up. Jesus seems unaffected by it and sleeps peacefully. The disciples are quite frantic and wake him up. What they expected him to do is not clear but they are not happy with the fact that they are in peril and he seems not to be concerned about their plight. With one word Jesus rebukes the wind and the sea and brings about calm. The calming of the wind and the sea brought comfort to the disciples who well knew the power of storms on the sea but it also brought them a challenge from Jesus. After all that they had experienced, how could they imagine that they were not safe in the company of Jesus. “Who then is this,” they query, “that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

The disciples will come to learn even more about who this Jesus is but the one thing they know for sure is that this is someone they need to follow and listen to and obey for he is a person who commands respect from the things they fear most – the wind, the sea, the evil that inhabits the souls and minds of people, the diseases that afflict their bodies. So far in the record of Mark, the disciples have heard Jesus called the holy one of God; they have heard him declare himself to be the Son of Man who has authority on earth to forgive sins; they have heard him preach with an authority like no other and his teaching is touching the hearts and lives of people in ways that the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees could not; his compassion for the lives of those shunned or ignored by society was welcomed and refreshing.

Whoever this Jesus truly was, he was for them a teacher with a message of hope; he was a healer of body, mind and spirit; he was one who spoke words of peace and comfort to all who were struggling to find wholeness in their lives and a sense of belonging. He was also one who had the authority to control even the primal elements of the world. He was unlike anyone they had ever encountered. That is part of the story for those disciples of who this Jesus is.

But in the end, it is not so much who this Jesus is to them as it is who this Jesus is to us. Is this Jesus for you a teacher with a message that has impressed itself on your mind and changed your life in positive ways? Is this Jesus for you a healer of your body that has brought you relief from pain and suffering? Is this Jesus for you the one who has released you from mental and spiritual pain and granted you the gift of forgiveness of your sins? Is this Jesus for you one whom you see as the Lord of heaven and earth? Is this Jesus for you a person with whom you share your hopes, your joys, your frustrations, your struggles – indeed, your whole life.

John declared that this Jesus is the word of God that was in the beginning and that it was through this word that the world came to be. John also declared that through our faith in this Jesus we come to be called the children of God and that it is through this Jesus that we find grace, forgiveness, peace and truth.

Who is this Jesus? He is someone not to be simply read about as we read about other historical figures. He is someone to be experienced as a living being capable of actively being engaged with us in our lives today.