I think about Jesus a lot. Every day, in fact. Honestly, I figure I think about Jesus pretty much every hour of every day.
This doesn’t make me right, smart, or special …or particularly noteworthy. There are greater minds who think more deeply about Jesus than I do. But I have little opportunity to talk about my thoughts with them. So, most of my thoughts are just mine and not shared. And my thoughts run the gamut, I think. Wild thoughts, mundane, and everything in between. I try a lot of different thoughts on for size just to see what fits and what doesn’t.
Since turning my ministry to the streets many years ago, I tend to think a lot about the poor vis-à-vis Jesus. When I was in school, I became particularly enthralled with Mark’s Gospel, and so I tend to think a lot about Mark vis-à-vis Jesus. This means I tend to think a lot about Mark vis-à-vis the poor too, by the way (and that is a little strange since Luke’s writings emphasize the poor vis-à-vis Jesus far more blatantly). So, I am always aware that this area of my thoughts potentially contorts Mark’s writings in possibly unfair ways – asking questions Mark has little or no interest in answering, and then squeezing my own imagination out of them while crediting that to Mark. (That is called eisegesis, and it’s a risk Bible thinkers run and must take care to avoid.)
Well, without bogging down further in disclaimers, let me come clean and say that I think there is wiggle room in the realm of observations and theories for Mark to join the discussion(s). I am maximizing on that; I am sure. Also, the other two synoptic gospels particularly, and John in some instances as well, frequently cover the same elements of Jesus’s story as Mark, even if they make some significant changes. They probably got at least some of their information from Mark to begin with!
Certainly “the needy” are featured in Mark, even if more often than not they go unspecified as particularly poor. I don’t expect that Jairus is a poor person, at least not a destitute beggar, but I figure the woman who interrupts his need with her issue of blood likely is. In fact, I expect that if there is ANY cause for Jairus to face his contempt for her as he feels the clock ticking on his daughter’s life, Mark wants us to imagine it – and poverty her fits that picture quite nicely.
Therefore, I will refer to the mobs crowding Jesus as “needy” and just let the scent of poverty stick to that description in general. The needy mobs in Mark break with conventional living at nearly every turn to get access to Jesus. In chapter 2, the mobs all show up at (presumably) Peter’s fishing hut (What does that smell like?) to hear Jesus speak, and the four friends of the lame man tear a hole in the roof to get to him! This is not the first time the needy crowds mob Peter’s house looking for Jesus either. After worship a few days before, “the whole city gathered at the door” (1:33) looking for his healing touch.
But one of the passages that really stands out to me, one that just echoes through so many of the thoughts I have about Jesus every day, is found in Mark 3:7-12. It is said, there, that “Jesus withdrew…” yet a “great multitude followed.” Then Mark lists off all the towns they come pouring in from. This too echoes that first scene at Peter’s (“Simon” if you are being picky about it) house in chapter 1. For there it is said that early in the morning, before daylight, Jesus left there to pray and the disciples frantically go looking for him.
Thus, we have something of a pattern starting to form. Mobs of needy people pursue Jesus; he heals and casts out demons; he withdraws (to pray in some instances), and the crowds go searching.
Mobs of people hunting Jesus – and for what?
Well, back to our passage in 3:7-12, they “heard of all he was doing… for he had healed many, with the result that those who had afflictions pressed in around him in order to touch him….”
They are needy! They press in on him from all sides. He gets a boat to teach from to create a little space. He needs to withdraw to pray. They will rip open the roof of the house where he is staying just to get in for some healing touch! (How would you feel as the homeowner of that place?)
We already mentioned Jairus and the bleeding woman, but they are worth mentioning again since their story fits this pattern too.
I maintain that this pattern helps explain the troubling ending of Mark’s Gospel at 16:8 because once we appreciate this backdrop to everything else, that story in chapter 1 where Jesus gets up early before dawn and disappears, supplies the reader of this troubled ending with a momentum, with a pattern, with a template to guide his next steps. You, like the disciples in chapter 1 who finally find him can (after going to Galilee and fleeing the temple’s destruction in Jerusalem?) likewise find him, and his message to you will be the same as it was to them – “Let us go out and proclaim this gospel, for THAT I WHAT I CAME TO DO!”
Perhaps that is just a free-be… and aside… a little extra to think about.
But it in no way distracts my point here. The mobs are crowding Jesus everywhere he goes. They are needy and pressing in on all sides and coming from everywhere all the time. In fact, as we find in Mark 6:32-33, he is withdrawing across the sea with his disciples, yet the mobs see where he is heading and race the long way around to arrive there ahead of him! That is quite remarkable, I think!
I have made the point many times on this blog (the two or three regular readers here can attest, I think) that if this is Jesus’s relationship with the needy, why is it not the relationship of today’s church with the poor?
My God! I am looking into Mark for this, and Luke is the go-to guy for talking about the poor! Yet even in Mark, this is coloring EVERYTHING!!!
Just imagine with me a moment that the church where I meet each week for worship (the group of Christians I assemble among) actually is the Body of Christ of which he is the head. If the needy of Galilee does all this pressing in on him everywhere he goes, why are the needy not pressing in on us? If the needy of Capernaum are ripping the roof off the house to get their lame friend in to Jesus, why are the needy of Lubbock not ripping the roof off our church house to get in? (And don’t say because of the place is empty! If Jesus was in there, REALLY in there, I think word would spread and the needy would come pouring in from EVERYWHERE!)
But we have withdrawn to pray. And the needy are mobbing the 501c3 organization we set up for them across town! Just go over and look for yourself. They are mobbing the place day and night, and the executive minister we pay to handle all of the needy multitudes while we are withdrawn over on this side of town has to deploy security cameras, law enforcement, and all manner of locks on the doors to keep the needy out (at least during off hours).
So, there. Just like Jesus!
But I am suddenly thinking about Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46-52. This man is a blind beggar sitting on the side of the road when Jesus comes passing by on his way to Jerusalem for one last fateful visit. Jesus knows full well what awaits him there and has been predicting it both in covert parables and plain speech, though his own disciples haven’t discerned it yet. But he knows. And still, he stops the procession for this blind man who just won’t shut up despite the insistent urging of his companions on the side of the road.
And when the procession is stopped, and when the beggar is brought forth, what does Jesus say?
He says, “What do you want?” or “What can I do for you?”
That’s almost like writing a blank check! and giving it to a needy beggar!!!
What does this beggar want?
I can’t help but think how Jesus touched a leper (1:41), a sure way of contracting the leprosy himself! Here, all these chapters and verses later, he is asking another needy person what they want!
AS IF THAT IS RELEVANT somehow!
No. Seriously. The church I belong to, the one that so carefully withdraws to the other side of town to have a million dollar sanctuary… a-hem… I mean to pray… and employs the 501c3 to keep the mobs of needy people away while we do our important praying, also knows better than to ask a beggar what they want. I know this because they offered me a class (for a $25 fee) teaching me about all the evils and damage done by giving a beggar what he asks for!
This beggar apparently has heard the reputation of Jesus. I am betting that someone like Jesus gets a reputation with the needy real fast! This beggar isn’t asking for a few dollars. In fact, he was doing that from everyone else before Jesus came along. But when he heard it was Jesus, he couldn’t shut up. He exclaimed, in praise to God, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
That’s what a beggar says when he hears about Jesus walking by. He begs mercy. And when Jesus (not my church) responds to him, he asks, “What do you want?”
The beggar has a wise request. He wants to see. And Jesus grants his request.
I know this is another “aside” here, but I can’t help thinking of Jairus again… tapping his toe waiting for Jesus to wrap up this bleeding-woman business and the crowds pressing in on him and all that, and meanwhile worrying urgently about his daughter who is at the cusp of death. It’s almost like calling an ambulance, but the EMT’s stop to heal a broken fingernail of a bum on the side of the road before they get to your house! If Jesus doesn’t hurry, there will be a death in the family. My thought is that Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem where he is about to die, has a minute to stop and linger and have this conversation with Bartimaeus. Just an “aside,” again, but one worth pondering, I think.
There are needy people in Lubbock. Desperately needy. Many who literally lay their heads down at night on sidewalks, under bridges, behind liquor stores. I can’t help but think that IF JESUS were really walking through Lubbock today, word would spread among the needy, and they would mob him, and he would ask them what they want!
Does Jesus live in your church? REALLY???
The sanctuary where you do your assembling with his “Body”… is there a lock on that door? Is there a hole in the roof? What if some needy people showed up? What would they find? Would a deacon ask what they want? Would they even mob your church? If they did, and there was no room for anyone else to get inside, would they rip a hole in the roof? Would your church touch their need?
The church I assemble with doesn’t, wouldn’t, and won’t.
We are withdrawn. We don’t ask needy people what they want, we teach rich people who are largely already withdrawn not to give what they ask for, but to think for them and give them what we think they need instead. And there are no mobs, at the center of which to find Jesus. There is no risk or humility in any of this.
Have you ever gone down to the church building before sun up and looked for Jesus there?
Sometime try it. Look at the place through the eyes of a bum walking by looking for a place to sleep.
Drive down after dark, before sun up, and get out of the car. Walk around the place. Check the doors to see if they are locked. Is the place all nice and secure? No needy mobs here? No mobs running here ahead of Jesus and getting here while taking the long way round before he shows up?
I have a question for you: What do you want???
(I don’t think it’s either sight or Jesus, but maybe you will convince me otherwise.)