Sermon Ideas For Mark 1:29-39 Part 4
Mark accentuates the messianic authority of Jesus throughout Mk 1:16-3:6. Whereas rabbis waited for disciples to join them, Jesus dared to bisect lives and call disciples (1:16-20). Mark demonstrates the authority of Jesus as Jesus heals (1:29-34), casts out demons (1:34,39), cleanses a leper (1:40-44), heals a paralytic in Capernaum (2:1-12), stretches the Pharisees' purity traditions by eating with tax collectors and sinners (2:15-17), and redefines fasting and Sabbath traditions (2:18-3:6). Mark notes that Jesus' fame spread (1:28), crowds came (1:32), and the disciples said, "everyone is searching for you" (1:37), thus creating tension between the public ministry of Jesus and his need for personal renewal which resulted in Jesus going out to a deserted place for prayer (1:35).
Since Wilhelm Wrede, many New Testament scholars have claimed there is a messianic secret in Mark. The theory of the messianic secret has two components. First, demons, lepers, and the sick knew who Jesus was and were aware of his authoritative powers (1:34,40), but Jesus commanded them not to disclose who he was, as indicated by Mk 1:43-44. Second, the disciples, those closest to Jesus, failed to understand who Jesus was, until Peter's confession at Caesarea Philippi (8:27-30). Despite the lingering influence of the messianic secret theory in New Testament theology, there is not a messianic secret for Mark's readers, especially in light of Mk 1:1-15! Mark begins the gospel announcing "the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (1:1). Mark cites Old Testament messianic anticipations by Malachi and Isaiah to further establish the identity of Jesus. John the Baptist's testimony and the descent of the Spirit on Jesus at baptism further accent his status which Jesus demonstrates with authority in 1:16-3:6. Thus, rather than focus on the academic debate of a messianic secret in Mark, preachers do better to follow Robert Gundry in stressing Jesus' magnetism, power, clairvoyance and insight as avenues of servanthood.1 As Robert Beck observes, "the messianic issue concerns the nature of power."2
Sometimes ministers either misuse or minimize their authority. Sonny, the gifted minister in Robert Duvall's movie The Apostle, misused his personal influence, magnetism and pastoral authority. On the other hand, Lord Acton's dictum "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely" over-sensitizes leaders to the proper use of authority and power. Power, authority and influence are not evil. They are neutral forces whose morality is determined by how they are employed. Jesse Jackson frequently defines power as "the ability to supply or deny a need." Society and congregations still grant ministers some authority and power by virtue of the pastoral office. For instance, a minister gets access to public officials easier than lay persons can because the minister occupies an office of influence and leads a group. When parishioners come for counsel, pastors are in an authoritative position of influence. The problem is not authority and influence but how ministers use authority and influence. Leaders who do not use their authority and influence to mobilize the forces of good against destructive evil are denying a purpose of leadership.
Eli Lilly, former President of Lilly Pharmaceutical Company, often used his power and influence for good. In 1957, Paul Moore baptized three black children at Christ Episcopal Church in Indianapolis. At a retreat called by the vestry, some vestry leaders protested the presence of blacks in the congregation. They complained that although their prior pastor preached about civil rights, he did not try to integrate the parish. Knowing that the Ku Klux Klan and the John Birch Society were strong in Indianapolis, Moore was worried. Racial tensions were high partly because of the incidents surrounding the integration of schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. Two days after the retreat, Mr. Lilly came to see Pastor Moore. Lilly stated, "Sorry to bother you but I want you to know that as long as I am senior warden there will never be a Little Rock on Monument Circle…I will back you all the way."3 Lilly's influence calmed an approaching storm and supported a courageous pastor.
Jesus was cognizant of his power and authority. Several times people asked Jesus, "by what authority are doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?" (Mk 11:28). He drew upon his authority as a charismatic leader to cleanse the Temple (Mk 11:15-17). Jesus recognized that some authority belonged to the state and some to God (Mk 12:12-16). Jesus knew that Pilate possessed power as governor when Pilate read the charges against him, released the prisoner Barabbas as was his prerogative, and ultimately handed Jesus "over to be crucified" (Mk 15:15). Jesus was not reluctant to employ his power and authority; however, in Mark the Messiah's power and authority exist for service (Mk 10:45). The novels of Morris West usually address a religious or moral theme and often it is the issue of power. In his autobiographical reflections West notes, "I hold firmly to the gospel message that authority is given for service."4
West and Mark concur!
John E. Stanley
Susie C. Stanley
1. Robert H. Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1993), p. 10.
2. Robert Beck, Nonviolent Story: Narrative Conflict Resolution in the Gospel of Mark (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996), p. 127
3. This anecdote appears in Paul Moore, Presences: A Bishop's Life in the City (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1997), pp. 141-152.
4. Morris West, A View from the Ridge. The Testimony of a Twentieth Century Christian (HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), p. 8.