Jesus Is Authority and Mystery
By Beth Demme
Jesus is an interesting mix of authority and mystery.
In Mark 1:21-28, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath and people are “’astounded” at his authority. Jesus is there at the synagogue with a small group of disciples who also responded to his authority. Just a few verses earlier they were fishermen. Jesus approached them and said “follow me” and they did! They dropped everything to follow him. (Mark 1:16-20)
While Jesus (and the fishermen-disciples) are in the synagogue, an unclean spirit identifies Jesus as “the Holy One of God.” Jesus dispenses with the spirit, which only makes the people in the synagogue more “amazed.” They ask, “What is this? What’s going on here?” (Mark 1:27, NRSV & MSG) Mark says that from that point on “the news about Jesus spread throughout the entire region of Galilee.” (Mark 1:28, CEB)
Notice, the unclean spirit says who Jesus is, but Jesus doesn’t. He doesn’t offer any explanation of who he is or where his authority comes from.
I love this!
By not declaring his identity/divinity here, Jesus invites us to think about the big question – from where does his authority come?
The mystery is part of Jesus’ message, too.
Mystery is so important because it creates space for the mind to think in a new way. Mystery is an invitation to ponder, to tinker with an idea, to try to figure it out.
Pondering the unknown, and the un-know-able, can be powerful. When we open our mind to God, God pours in.
That day in the synagogue when the people said, “What is this? What’s going on here?”– I think Jesus had them right where he wanted them. Asking questions is a good place to start, but asking questions with an open mind is even better!
Opening our minds, and our hearts, to the unknowable mystery that is God, is the foundation of a true and deep relationship with the God who loves us.
Jesus spent his earthly ministry speaking truth and teaching, healing, and loving people in a way that created space for people to wonder – what is this? The people in the synagogue asked, “Is this a new teaching?” (Mark 1:27) In other words, is this something that will allow me to know God even though it’s not something I’ve seen before?
The people in the synagogue find Jesus compelling not only because of his authority but also because of the mystery – the unknown – of who he is. His “fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee,” in part, because people wanted to see if they could figure him out for themselves.
Jesus revealed the truth of his identity in his actions –teaching, healing, loving—not just his words. He didn’t stand in the center of town and declare, “I AM the I AM. Listen up!” In fact, on that Sabbath day in the synagogue, it was the unclean spirit who said who Jesus was. Jesus never had to say it; his actions were enough to draw people in to the mystery.
It leaves me wondering, how do my words and actions invite people to consider the mystery of who Christ is?
Like the unclean spirit, I can shout, “He’s the Holy One of God!” Or, like Christ, I can invite people into the mystery.
I think it’s better to be like Christ. (No surprise there, right?) In the world today, authority is suspect. Our Christian authority has been squandered. I think we’re unlikely to regain it and, actually, that may be for the best because we don’t seem to know how to handle it.
So, shouting in an authoritative voice, in person or on Facebook or at the family dinner table or wherever, isn’t likely to convince anyone they should be curious about God.
Instead, can I live in a way that invites people to consider the unknowable mystery that is God? Can I, in some way, create space for people to wonder about the possibilities for their life with God? To consider what is available to them beyond what seems to be dictated by rules, law, economics, geography, and politics?
That really is Christ-like.
What about you? Do you find the mystery of Jesus compelling? Has God been active in your life in a way that made you say, “what’s happening?”? Tell me about it in the comments, in an e-mail, or on Facebook.
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