When it was known that Jesus was in the vicinity, people came. They came to hear him teach because he taught with authority, he taught in ways that were practical as well as demanding, he confirmed the foundational principles of Judaism, while at the same time, Jesus called out abuses in leadership. Jesus came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. That meant that he did not water down the message of God, but raised the standards even higher than they had been before under the leadership and legacy of Moses. Unlike some of the Pharisees though, Jesus did not just add heavy burdens to leave the people to carry on their own, Jesus accompanied those he challenged, he carried the weight of their sin, all the way to Calvary. Jesus also healed and cast out demons.
If Jesus had a business card to hand out as people gathered around him, written on it would probably be his first words recorded by Mark in his Gospel: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15). The time of fulfillment is indeed at hand in the presence of the Son of God made flesh. The entrance to that kingdom is measured by a willingness to turn away from self and turn back to God. Those who are open to the love of God, willing to be shaped and transformed by his love, who are in touch with their hunger and yearning to be one with the Father, recognizing that there is more to life than what they experience in the here and now are drawn to Jesus. This is why his house in Capernaum was full to overflowing.
When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it became known that he was at home. Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even around the door, and he preached the word to them (Mk 2:1-2).
It is clear that there is a movement afoot in just these first two chapters of Mark. Another key verse from Mark is the very first line of his Gospel: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ [the Son of God]” (Mk 1:1). This is an amazing line, unless we read the words only and miss its proper contextual background. Those reading or hearing these words in the first and early second century would have grasped Mark’s intent immediately. There are two words in that verse that would have leaped off the pages or the lips of the reader; gospel and Christ.
The geopolitical powerhouse lording over Israel at the time of the life of Jesus was Rome. The house of Caesar was its head. Augustus Caesar was emperor at the time of the birth of Jesus. Tiberius Caesar reigned during most of the adolescence and adult life of Jesus. The term gospel, euangelion in Greek, meant good news. This gospel was spread throughout the Roman empire by messengers especially on two occasions, at the behest of the emperor; on his birthday and after great military victories. Christ, or Christos in Greek, meant the anointed one. The only ones who were anointed were emperors, kings, and priests.
Mark was making a very clear point with this opening verse, the proclamation of the good news: Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one, not Caesar. It is not Kaiser Kyrios, Casaer is Lord, but Iēsous Kyrios, Jesus is Lord! This verse is treasonous in the face of Caesar and a subversive rallying cry for the followers of Jesus then and today. Yet Mark was not calling for a military coup, or a power play.
Jesus the Christ is our Lord. He is the one to whom we bow when we hear his name, not an emperor, president, prime minister, or political party. We are not called to take up arms but to repent, to turn back to God, to resist the path of self-centeredness, and instead, we are called to love – to will the good of others. We are to surrender our ego to the Son of God, so as to be transformed from the darkness of revenge, hatred, pride, and division, and instead be conformed to the Body of Jesus, with the purpose of upholding the dignity of our brothers and sisters through our acts of understanding, mercy, love, caring, and unity.
Iēsous Kyrios! This is good news!
Photo: a 6th-century icon of Jesus