Voice. Authority. Choice.

Voice. Authority. Choice. All of these are accepted general themes of this passage from Mark. We could choose any one of these and have plenty to unpack and talk about with one another. Of course, I have my own opinions about which is the dominant theme, but then again, that opinion has changed over time and with reading it many times over. As I read through it again today, I can’t help but conclude that it’s all of them. That’s the thing about Mark; his writing is as complicated as the effect that Jesus’ coming had on the world, as it was understood in his time.

Jesus was born in a time filled with more voices than ever before. Even Jesus’ community of Jews has the burden of trying to listen to many voices and navigate the subtleties of living as a people faithful to their religious leaders, while staying on the right side of Caesar’s laws. This must have been frustrating and scary, especially when those voices conflict. We could think of it a bit like youth sports, and get a pretty fair, if less potentially lethal, idea of how they felt. At almost any kids’ game, there is at least one parent who is yelling instructions to their daughter or son, while simultaneously, the poor kid’s coach is trying to coach them. When the two commands are conflicting, the kid is likely to stop and look terribly confused. Which voice is the right one to listen to? Although they may be too young to realize it, they are wrestling with the very notion of authority. Which is the voice of authority?

And so it is for us. If Mark’s message is to recognize Jesus’ voice, then the next logical interpretation is that he is also encouraging us to recognize that Jesus speaks with the voice of authority. Once we have heard Jesus above the crowd, we must listen, even when that voice is in conflict with others. Every day we are surrounded by voices, many of them offering us instruction or guidance. While it’s true that many of them offer us bad advice, they are not the ones that create difficulty for us in this context. If, in our sports game story, Jesus is the coach, then many of the other voices in our lives are our parents. They’re well-meaning, maybe they even are right to some extent, but they don’t have the whole picture in the way that God does. They don’t speak with the authority that Jesus does. And, therefore, no matter how difficult or counter-intuitive it feels, they must give way to the authority of Jesus. In other words, when mom or dad says, “shoot,” but Jesus says, “pass,” the only right choice is to pass.

One of the lasting questions for humankind is “why is there choice?” If refraining from eating the fruit in Eden would have made such an eternal difference, why didn’t God just refrain from making the tree? Why give the serpent the opportunity to urge Eve to eat the fruit in the first place? Similarly, why, in this passage and others early on in Mark’s Gospel, doesn’t Jesus just come out and announce who he is and lay claim to his authority more directly? The answer is that God wants us to come to Him, not as slaves or subjects, but as His children. In fact, He wants that so badly, that His Son came to us to teach us how to accomplish that. As C.S. Lewis put it in The Screwtape Letters, God wants His servants to willingly and joyfully become His children, to form their wills to His own, not by decree but by formation in sincere love. This answer is frustrating even for the faithful, because it would certainly be easier to be formed, rather than go through the difficult process of formation on our own. That, however, is the blessing of being made in God’s image. We have free will, and that means we can choose whether to follow God or the impulse toward sin. Our choice becomes beyond value.

Life in Christ, lived in our earthly life like Mark, is both simple and complicated. We can’t do it alone. We must allow ourselves to be dependent upon Jesus to aid us. We must go to Him, as the man possessed of an unclean spirit did. When the voices become too loud or distracting, when authority is hard to recognize in the midst of contention, when the choices seem too many and varied, we must seek Him out and lower ourselves before Him. There’s a saying I often repeat to myself when things get to be difficult and I feel myself forgetting to lean on the Lord: “When life gets too hard to stand, get on your knees.” We can seek Him. We can find Him in the moments of peace that we create when we can hear Him. We can choose to acknowledge His authority and follow His coaching. May we always find ways to do so.

Lisa Amos
Pastoral Associate

 

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