Reading Mark 1:40-45
In the torrential rain we had this week, I decided to try and take fluff for a quick walk at Rossall beach. At the sea defences, I came across a storm drain issuing out a huge amount of water into the sea. I bravely walked through the gap in the low wall, and went across the storm water with predictable results; wet feet being the outcome. Fluff however was not quite as stupid as his owner and simply refused to come across. We were at a stand-off. Until fluff went behind the low wall. Now, behind the wall seeing no evidence of the water raging the other side, simply decided to smugly bound over the wall, because as he couldn’t see the storm water, it didn’t exist. The look of surprise and shock on his face was so comic. It was completely unexpected, completed against what his little brain had told him would be the likely outcome. He scowled at me until we met another dog and the trauma of walking through an inch of water was forgotten.
In our gospel reading we have a rather familiar type of passage don’t we? A sick person, in this case a leper, approaches Jesus for healing and Jesus heals him. So far so normal. But here is the surprise the bit that we don’t expect. Because here Jesus tells the man plainly, don’t spread the news. It seems so counter to everything Jesus teaches. After all, aren’t we all meant to tell everyone about Jesus? This isn’t the only time Jesus is to say this. There are many different examples of Jesus telling His followers, telling His friends to not spread the good news at least not yet. We see this frequently in Marks gospel, Jesus telling people to keep secret who He really is. This has puzzled people for many years and is known by theology professors as the secretive motif. No one is really sure why this is, although there are plenty of theories. Some people suggest it’s because Jesus’ time ‘had not yet come’ to be fully declared messiah, until after His ressurection. For others it was a simple way to try and avoid becoming a celebrity too fast so Jesus could go out and share His message. For me though, and either of those theories may be correct, it speaks of the surprising nature of God.
In my journey with Jesus, one of the lessons I have had to learn again and again is that God is a God of surprise. Often, instead of seeking God’s will, or following what we discern, we assume we know what God wants us to do. As an example, I am always surprised how many times churches in entirely good faith want to do something new and never bother to pray intensely about what they feel God is calling them to do. It may be a good idea in our own minds, it may be a wonderful opportunity in our own eyes, but is it what God s asking us to do? Sharing the news about Jesus, the healed leper is sharing the good news, an inherently good thing right? Except he has ignored Jesus’ instruction and the consequence is that now Jesus is unable to walk around freely.
This is why it is so important to make sure as a church family and individually, whatever we do, we discern together what the will of God is beforehand. It’s the reason that I go on about bringing before God in prayer all we do at church. This is hard to remember especially for someone like me, who has a million ideas in a minute and is daft enough often to try them all at once. But we are invited to let God speak to us, to listen well, even if what we feel called to do seems counterintuitive.
The question then becomes of course, how do we know what it is that God wants? Well, all I can tell you is that it starts in prayer, every time. It starts in the hard work of getting on our knees, proverbially in some cases if our knees are dodgy, and asking the Lord for His help. We listen, we discern and we take our time. We seek wisdom from wise heads. We learn to put aside what we want or think we want. We try and set aside our pride and our agenda. For example, I have been wrestling with an opportunity a wonderful missional opportunity to take on a particular role with the local churches about which I am passionate and was offered before Christmas. For me, I really wanted to do it. Yet in prayer and talking to folk I trusted it was right. Eventually, only on Tuesday I spoke to Claire (who is wiser than me) and suggested a way I could kind of take on the thing. Claire simply said, as if speaking to a complete idiot, ‘well, you’re getting there that’s almost no, but repeat after me, no’. It wasn’t necessarily the answer I wanted to hear but it was the right answer. There have been other cases when I have said no to something only for the Lord to prompt me that actually that was the wrong choice. But we discern the will of God through prayer and wisdom of others we trust.
Its important to remember that God is sovereign and knows better than us and that even if his will seems confusing, we are to seek it on our knees. So allow God to surprise you with His knowledge, follow Gods surprising call on your life and time and just ask that dangerous question, that dangerous prayer with wisdom ‘Lord, what is it that you would have me do? ‘