Today’s Gospel is an interesting one. I always love the way Mark portrays the disciples and the various followers of Jesus (including the newly converted). It is a constant parade of cluelessness, no one ever really getting what Jesus is all about and the point of his life, death, and resurrection. The greatest example of this is the original conclusion to Mark’s Gospel in which we hear that, after discovering the tomb was empty that Easter morning, “Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8).
In our own time we like to imagine that after the Resurrection everybody understood what Jesus was all about and what the experience of God in Christ meant. But when we take a closer look, many didn’t get it, many didn’t listen, many didn’t do what Jesus told them to do.
In the passage we hear today from Mark, we see this dynamic at play with a leper who has been healed by Jesus. After Jesus heals him, we read:
The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.
Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once.
Then he said to him, “See that you tell no one anything,
but go, show yourself to the priest
and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed;
that will be proof for them.”
The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter.
He spread the report abroad
so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.
He remained outside in deserted places,
and people kept coming to him from everywhere.
Despite Jesus telling him to be quiet, the healed leper announces to everyone what happened. I love this translation: He “began to publicize the whole matter.” It’s as if he hired a public relations firm to send out press releases!
There are two ways to look at this event. The first, and perhaps most positive, is to believe that the healed man was so moved with joy and the spirit that he could not contain the good news of his experience to himself. The encounter with God in Christ Jesus experienced in his healing compelled him to proclaim who Jesus was and what had happened.
The second way of looking at this event is one that strikes me as more in line with all the followers of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. Namely, they never really pay attention to what Jesus is saying or doing exactly. In turn, they just do what they want.
When Jesus talks about going to Jerusalem and having to suffer, when he talks about the difficulties of doing the right thing, when he warns of the hardships that accompany true discipleship, the followers of Jesus simply dismiss what he says.
Two-thousand-years later we’ve gotten even better at doing what we want anyway and ignoring Jesus’s instruction to us. Do we boldly make our way toward the “Jerusalems” of our lives, those places where our faith will be most tested and our discipleship challenged? Do we forgive, love, and heal one another like Christ did without counting the cost? Do we love each other, not with the easy love of philia or eros, but with the costly love of agape about which Jesus consistently preaches?
Most of the time, when we’re honest, we are not doing the basic things of discipleship that Jesus calls us to do. Instead, like the leper, we do what we want anyway, comfortable calling ourselves Christians but uncomfortable with what that actually looks like. Let us open our eyes to this incongruity and work to do not just what we want but what Christ calls us to do and be.