I’m hardly ever surprised anymore.
It’s not that I’ve seen it all.
There’s a lot of “it” that I haven’t seen, that I’d rather not see.
But I have seen enough to not be much surprised by gullibility and compassionlessness and betrayal and failure and fear.
So when Mark tells us that people were amazed by the teaching of Jesus, I notice.
Because the people Jesus talked to were humans, too. They saw gullibility and compassionlessness and betrayal and failure and fear, too.
These people lived on the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee while Tiberius was the Roman emperor.
For generations, they had lived within a religious system that was susceptible to being exploited by people in power. Their country was occupied by a political system susceptible to being exploited by people in power.
And then Jesus.
Jesus started talking and teaching and preaching. He referred to the religious texts, what we know as the Old Testament, often. But he always did it as if the texts were true. As if they were helpful.
And when he spoke, he wasn’t constantly saying, “According to this scholar, it might mean this, but according to that scholar, it could mean that.” Instead, he spoke with confidence and competence.
He spoke with authority.
And the people were amazed. When Jesus began to preach, his message challenged the structures, and the people loved it. He was confident and they became confident.
But then people began to try to live it. And it became hard.
What we forget is that Jesus not only had confidence, he had competence. It’s in the story in Mark. As Jesus is teaching, there is a person who has an evil spirit, who is demon-possessed. The spirit speaks, with fear and recognition of the authority of Jesus.
Jesus responds to the spirit by telling it to leave the man, and leave him alone.
The spirit obeys.
And the people Mark describes are more amazed. A person who has confidence and competence, who is worth paying attention to.
And that’s the invitation for us. Are we willing to read the words of Jesus and respond to their authority? When he describes what it means to love and to repent, to serve at the expense of our comfort and to be courageous in the face of our fearfulness, are we willing to respond?
Here’s what it might look like, even today.
Jesus says to visit those who are sick. Jesus says to see them as if we are visiting him.
That will require us to release a little bit of our fear, a little bit of our grasping of the control that we never actually have. To sit quietly, openly, in the presence of one who is suffering and listen without presuming answers is hard.
But it is following Jesus.
And in those moments, we may be amazed by his authority over situations that are impossible.
We may not get the answer that we want.
But when we are open to what he offers, we may be amazed.