The National Catholic Review
The Messiah, as Jesus’ own Jewish history shows, was anything but a person who should die in humiliation, powerless, defenseless and public criminal. Mark set himself the task, in composing his Gospel story, to flinch neither from the powerful demonstration of glorious attributes of a king Messiah nor from the extreme contradiction of these attributes which the crucifixion proclaims. For Mark, one must integrate both aspects of Jesus of Nazareth, if one claims to know the one into whom one has been baptized. But one what grounds is the Christian to see how crucifixion does not contradict regal glory and power? They seem to be two opposed states; what unites them so that what seems at first very wrinkled is finally smoothed out to make the full public life of Jesus very understandable? The unity of Jesus’ tumultuous life – glory and power, crucifixion and dishonor – is obedience. The entire life of Jesus is dictated by his passionate desire to do his Father’s will. He knows there are other pleasures in life, pleasures bestowed by God upon human beings, but his pleasure is doing what his Father asks. Thus, if he spends thirty years or so in obscurity in Nazareth, or a lengthy period of wonder-working and teaching, or a terrible number of hours of false condemnation, ridicule and most painful death - all these periods of Jesus’ life fit under the one rubric: obedience. If Mark’s community believes Jesus to be Messiah, it must be careful not to define him only as the one who will bring the Messianic kingdom and blessings. These things we long for, and he alone will fulfill our longings, but we cannot cull out of his meaning only that he is Messiah in the sense of a beneficent king. He is also an abused and murdered person. If anyone should have enjoyed blessings, it is Jesus who loved his Father in return. But he did not always enjoy blessings. Rather, Jesus re-defined Messiah by his wanting to do God’s will. Another way of saying this is that the core of Jesus was not simply the traditional power, wisdom and holiness expected of all Israel’s kings or anointed ones, but it was love of the Father so as to do his will. It is this loving, obedient Jesus Mark wants his audience to watch; they must be able to say about him what his total life says about him, and this is obedience. To know Jesus as obedient is not enough for Mark. The true disciple is one who imitates Jesus in this foundation of life. That there are variations about the types of disciple who follow Jesus is clear, but everyone who is baptized into him longs to imitate him, whatever the consequences, in his obedience. It is this sense of Messiah that Mark intends to develop as he first mentions Messiah, then carries through his teaching by means of story-telling. It falls to the reader to assimilate in mind and heart what Mark teaches about Jesus, obedient and loving Messiah. Power Jesus has, and wisdom as well, but he excels in obedience, which virtue re-defines and gives fullest meaning to the term ’Messiah’. John Kilgallen, S.J.

Comments

Anonymous | 9/5/2008 - 4:16pm
I like that paradox and contradiction can get our attention and can continue to open our hearts and minds again and again with no finality and with continuing promise. This morning in the 6th chapter of Mark, I came across Jesus' statement that 'their minds were closed.' I think obedience needs to include a fairly steady willingness to listen and to learn about what gives hope and life. Often wisdom comes from unexpected and surprising places. I have noticed in Mark that Jesus often goes off to a lonely place to pray. Prayer can lure us toward living. I believe thanking God can help us to see and hear what is before us. Recently I listened to a video of a Discalced Carmelite friar. He spoke about weakness and vulnerability. The friar was Alberto Luna, the retired archbishop of Cuenca, Ecuador. Monsignor Luna believes that our weakness and vulnerability can open up our hearts for an interior life of delicacy, tenderness, giving, loving. I also believe it can teaches us how to love. I also know that it can do the opposite. I am open to the idea of Jesus' power. I don't question its existence. I am still not sure how it helps. I have not always been able to see how Jesus' power work. I do need to add that at age 63 that many or perhaps all of my prayers have been answered. Prayer has taught me the answers to my prayer. The writer John Updike wrote something that is very meaningful to me. He wrote about how people have reacted to his writing. He tells us, "My own style seemed to me a groping and elemental attempt to approximate the complexity of envisioned phenomena and it surprised me to have it called luxuriant and self-indulgent; self-indulgent, surely, is exactly what it wasn't -- other-indulgent, rather." I am not particularly generous or indulgent but often I have a sense that I have been treated indulgently. For me this is the power Jesus brings into my life.