Ilike the way Mark’s gospel tells the story of the start of Jesus’ ministry. It reminds me a little of John Grisham’s style of writing — giving just enough story line to keep you engaged.
Mark opens quickly with a fast-paced prelude, leading with the prophetic forecast of John’s wild and wilderness-looking ministry, jumping instantly into the baptism of Jesus by John, followed by Jesus’ lone trek and confrontation with Satan himself in the desert.
Then, there is a Reader’s Digest of short, multiple ministry encounters in the astonishing and controversial demon-casting, body-healing and confrontational teachings of Jesus.
Jesus began to really draw a crowd. He was an intriguing and masterful storyteller. His healing power mesmerized his audiences. Mark reports that people were coming locally from Galilee and also from the southern area of Judea even as far as Jerusalem. Anyone who had a disease or a demonic spirit controlling them set out to find him.
So many were seeking him out that the crowd pressed tightly around him. Jesus began to use a boat to push out into the water a little so he could teach without being squashed by the crowd. When Jesus went home to eat, the crowd closed in on the home so that they could not even eat.
His family was so frightened by the popularity Jesus had created that they accused him of being out of his mind. Jealous religious rivals from out of town planted phony reports that Jesus was possessed by the devil.
Ministry got messy fast for Jesus. The crush of people became risky and dangerous; it had to have been difficult to maintain order.
Just imagine if a spiritual leader in our community began to visit our nursing homes and health care facilities, walk our streets and tell compelling stories of a new way to live; touch people with his hands or just speak a word that freed them from their wheelchairs; and gave them sound bodies and minds in place of disease, delusion, and disorientation — and it was all legitimate, no tricks — what would happen?
I think there would, in a short time, be traffic back-ups on our state highways and interstates; flights would be packed coming into Indianapolis; car and van rentals transporting paraplegics and terminally diseased people would be overwhelmed.
Ministry for Jesus was not a sanitized, sterile, orderly process. I think for Jesus’ disciples and the other people close to him, there was a consistent state of surprise that they lived in … but Jesus was never caught off guard.
Giving people hope can be messy. It usually is. Teaching God’s truth in a compelling way and helping emotionally, physically sick people is a messy and sometimes discouraging process. It is never done effectively from an “ivory tower.” And while we are to be like Jesus, we are not Jesus. If it was messy for the “Son of God,” which is how Mark introduces Jesus, ministering to people will be awkward, uncomfortable and misunderstood for us.
The people of ministry, whether they are “professional clergy” or volunteer disciples, are themselves “messy” people helping other “messy” people.
David Woods is part of the preaching staff at Park Chapel Christian Church. This weekly column is written by local clergy members.