Deuteronomy 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28
Imagine, in you will, a Supreme Court of the World comprised of the chief justices from nine of the world’s greatest countries. Imagine, too, that this court has been assembled to adjudicate the question: Who Is Jesus Christ? All of the world’s citizens, sitting in front of television sets, are the jury. Witnesses are called and are allowed to present documents, historical records, and accounts dealing with the life, times, teachings, and actions of Jesus Christ. One of these accounts is that of St. Mark’s from whose Gospel today’s reading is taken.
St. Mark accompanied both St. Peter and St. Paul on some of their missionary endeavors. St. Peter employed him as a sort of executive assistant and recorder. Much of what we read in St. Mark’s Gospel comes from St. Peter’s teachings and presentations about Christ.We should note how St. Matthew, St. Luke, and St. John present their Gospel accounts.
St. Matthew begins his Gospel account speaking about Mary, the mother of Jesus, the Magi, the massacre of the innocent babies in the region surrounding Bethlehem, the flight into Egypt and the preaching of John the Baptist.
St. Luke begins in much the same way, adding some details not found in Matthew’s Gospel. It is in St. Luke’s Gospel that we learn a lot about Mary’s role in the history of our salvation.
St. John begins with his theological prologue “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God Himself made human flesh.” St. John skips over all of the infancy narratives and goes directly to the preaching of John the Baptist and his baptism of Jesus Christ in the River Jordan.St. Mark, after a few introductory words, goes right to the beginning of Christ’s public ministry in Galilee. The account you just now heard from St. Mark’s Gospel is taken from its opening words. In it St. Mark is making the point, and forcefully so, that Jesus Christ is God the Son speaking to us on his own authority, quoting no one else, not even saying “Thus says the Lord,” as all other prophets and teachers said in the past. Jesus, St. Mark points out, speaks directly from His own authority. He teaches as no one else ever taught or ever will again. Why? Because He is the Son of God, a fact that even the devils themselves acknowledge. For further proof, St. Mark takes us straightaway into the miraculous healings Christ performed.
I want to point out that St. Mark ends his Gospel account in much the same way as he began it – abruptly. St. Mark devotes some brief sentences to the empty tomb and Christ’s appearances to His disciples after He rose from the dead. The last two sentences in St. Mark’s account are: “And so the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven; there at the right hand of God he took his place, while they, going out, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by signs that accompanied it.” Christ Jesus, Mark asserts, is God the Son who comes to us from the Father and returns to the Father.
St. Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of the four Gospels and it focused entirely on the question “Who Is Jesus Christ.” He is God the Son Mark tells us. All of Christ’s miracles, teachings, and actions point to that one central fact. Everything St. Mark writes addresses that one central question. Who is Jesus Christ? He is God the Son who has come among us.
I point all of this out to you today because the culture that surrounds us presents us with all sorts of answers to that question, answers that miss the point. Weird claims are made. Bizarre conspiracy theories abound. Take The Da Vinci Code for one example. It was written as a book of fiction and I realize that fiction has its own rules. One of them is that you shouldn’t take fiction too seriously. What I dislike is the frivolous way The Da Vinci Code plays with the life of Jesus Christ. Furthermore the book demonizes a particular religious group. It presents the Catholic Church, its popes, and cardinals as a band of conspiratorial criminals who for 2,000 years have tried to hide a huge lie.
But The Da Vinci Code serves a useful purpose. It highlights much of the demeaning treatment of Christ, the Church, and even religious belief in general that we find in books, movies and on television these days.
Do we need any more ridiculing of religion, or of religious people? Do we need to spread around hateful things about them? Is that was Jesus Christ was all about? Was He the source and cause of a band of bigots who assembled a Church that has come down to us throughout 2,000 years of human history, a history by the way that clearly shows we have not followed Christ’s teachings?
Who do you say Jesus Christ is? An interesting historical figure? One of many admirable figures who have begun various religious movements? The question is important. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record the incident when Jesus put that question to His followers. It’s a question Jesus wants you and me to personally answer.
Lent is a few weeks away from us now. Let me suggest that you spend time during this forthcoming Lent answering that question. Take out your bibles and read St. Mark’s Gospel straight through. It’s the shortest of the four Gospels. Read it straight through and then take out a pad of paper and read St. Mark’s Gospel once again, only this time slowly. Every time you come up with an answer that identifies who Jesus is and what He was about, write down you answers on that pad of paper. When you are finished you might want to spend some times reflecting on your answers.
If you’re really ambitious, do the same for St. Matthew, St. Luke and St. John. Your vision of Jesus Christ will be remarkably improved. So will your spiritual life and your prayer life. And your faith life will be enormously strengthened.
Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, is only two and a half weeks away from now. What better way of observing Lent than to glean a deeper personal answer to the question: Who Is Jesus Christ?