In the Gospel of Mark Jesus appears to be an alien and dangerous figure, prone to frighten even his closest associates. Their fear of the prospects of death by drowning is fading but, they now sit terror-stricken in the boat with the Storm-stiller, whispering to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41). Mark makes it clear that they were more afraid of Jesus than the storm. Several other times Mark mentions the fear that Jesus’ disciples experienced in his presence-when Jesus walked on the water, intending to pass by them, they saw him as a ghost (6:48-51); when Jesus was transfigured on a mountain in the presence of his terrified companions (9:6); and when Jesus was walking alone ahead of his frightened followers on his way to Jerusalem (10:32).
Who then is this man striding over the landscape in the book of Mark? A parade of half-truth answers are provided by those watching him. A blasphemer who claimed to forgive sins (2:7); an associate of the irreligious (2:16); a Sabbath-breaker who must be eliminated (2:23-3:7); a demon-possessed man doing the work of Satan (3:22); a carpenter, the son of Mary (6:3); John the Baptist returning from the grave now expanding his power through 12 men casting out demons in his name (6:14); Elijah or some other prophet (14:15), the King of the Jews (15:26). Only the demons and one of Jesus’ Roman executioners seem to get it right (1:1; 5:7; 15:39)!!
The Gospels appear to be directed to Christians who needed encouragement in the practice of their faith, rather than to introduce Jesus to prospective members. The letters of Paul are also directed to groups of Christians in need of encouragement. Yet there is a difference. In his letters Paul says very little about the life of Jesus, except for his death, resurrection and exaltation. Instead Paul spoke of his own encounter with the risen Jesus and pointed to hundreds of others who had seen him after his resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).
- Kurt Vonnegut, a contemporary American novelist declared in a public interview, “If Christ had not delivered the Sermon on the Mount with its message of mercy and pity, I would not want to be a human. I’d rather be rattlesnake”. What effect has Jesus had on the world? On the recognition of universal human rights? On the treatment of enemies?
- Let’s reverse the question-what if Jesus had never come? How would our world be different? Our own prospects? Would other moral lights make up the difference?
- Jesus, a Stranger who struck terror in the hearts of his friends-is there room in our modern picture of a loving and accepting Jesus for this baffling Alien of Scripture?
- What is the best way to introduce others to Jesus? Have them read the Gospels?