Mark the Introvert - or - Actions Speak Louder than Words

Inspired by Mark 1:21-45

I was so jealous of Katie Smith last week because she got to preach on the Gospel of Mark first! We’ve been waiting to get to our Gospel for the year since September! Not only that but Mark is my favorite Gospel! Oh well. This being Year 2 of the Narrative Lectionary, we will be reading through Mark’s Gospel between now and Easter. Two Sundays ago our Gospel reading was from Luke and that was just because Mark’s Gospel is so short, almost half the length of the other Gospels. One of the things I like so much about this Gospel is that it’s short and sweet. Mark wastes no time getting to the point and moving on. I like to think that Mark was a fellow introvert. He doesn’t give much time to small talk like Matthew and Luke, and don’t get me started on John, who just talks and talks and talks for chapters on end!

One of the other reasons we had to start in Luke is because Mark doesn’t even include any stories of Jesus’ birth. For Mark, all that stuff is just fluff! Angels, shepherds, stars, magi from the east, all fluff for Mark. He just wasn’t interested in where Jesus came from, or how he got here! All that was on Mark’s mind was that Jesus was here, and in typical introvert fashion, he wastes no time getting to the meat and potatoes of this story. My apologies to any vegetarians in the house. A frequent compliment I get on my sermons is how concise they are, and it’s more than just being thankful for short sermons. They seem to appreciate my efficient use of words, as someone once put it, and I think that has to do with my introversion, to be honest.

Whereas an extrovert will tell you something four different ways so that they’re sure you understand, introverts will tell you once, in the most thought out and precise manner they can, and if you don’t get it, well, that’s on you, because we’ve already moved on. Granted, it’s not a trait that’s gonna win us any popularity contests to be sure, but what are ya gonna do? Likewise, it is rare to find someone who’s favorite Gospel is Mark’s. Which Gospel do we read every Christmas? Luke’s! Which Gospel have we traditionally read during Lent? John’s! Which Gospel do we think of first at Easter? Mathew’s! Mark just gets thrown in every once and while so he doesn’t get his feeling hurt! Poor Mark, the church has just never really known what to do with him.

Another hallmark of introverts—my gosh, how much is pastor gonna talk about introverts today? Hey, you know me, I’m going somewhere with this, just stay with me. Another hallmark of many introverts is this similar belief that actions speak louder than words. For instance, a common area of friction during the early years of our marriage was her complaining that I didn’t say I love you enough, while I would complain that she wasn’t cuddly enough. A classic disagreement between an extrovert and an introvert! I would rather show and be shown love, whereas she needed to say and hear it. In the proceeding years, of course, I have realized the error of my ways, and hence, we’re celebrating 25 years of marriage in May this year!

Which brings me to our reading from Mark’s Gospel, no, not our anniversary, but actions speaking louder than words. We’re only 21 verses into this book, still in chapter one, and all that’s happened so far is Jesus getting himself baptized, John gets himself arrested, one sentence is given to Jesus’ temptation in the desert, and Jesus calls his first followers, the ones who will begin to form his inner circle. That’s it. Jesus hasn’t done anything substantial yet. Now, if you can, try to step outside of everything you know about the Jesus story. If you had never heard the story before, what would be the first thing you’d expect to read next? God’s chosen one has come down from heaven, in the form of a human being, the messiah, the anointed one, God incarnate, the ruler of the cosmos, here on Earth, what would you expect next?

Let me put it another way, if you met Jesus today, in the flesh, not just in the bread and wine as we will in a few moments, but the person, Jesus himself, what would you do or say? I’m betting, that after you’re done hugging him, the first thing you’d do or say is, ask him some questions. Right? I mean, here is the almighty standing before you, this is your chance to ask your questions, to be taught by the master himself, to learn from his wisdom! I’m betting that’s what most of us would do. I’m betting, you wouldn’t ask him to do something, you’d ask him to say something. In other words, I’d be surprised if any of us would go grab a glass of water and then go to Jesus and be like, hey, do that thing, you know, the thing you do.

No, we would expect words, we would expect to be taught, to be guided, to be given the wisdom of the ages. If we were writing this book, I think most of us would start there—but that’s not where Mark goes. Mark dives right into the action. As soon as Jesus calls his first followers, Simon, Andrew, James, and John, he hasn’t even called all twelve yet, and then boom, he’s exorcising a demon out of someone! Oh, Mark mentions that some teaching occurred, but he doesn’t even bother to share what was taught! Those words are just not important to Mark right now. Think about it, Mark could have written anything he wanted, he could have started this story wherever he wanted to, he sat there with his blank scroll and his number two pencil and asked himself, how should I present the Son of God to the world?

And Mark chose not to share Jesus’ words first, but his actions. This is how Mark decides to present Jesus to the world, by focusing on his actions, not his words. In fact, he doubles down on this because it isn’t until the fourth chapter, almost a quarter of the way into his book, that he finally shares some traditional, sit down I’m gonna teach you something, kind of teaching moments from Jesus.

In this passage alone is an exorcism, the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law, then a plethora of other healings and exorcisms, too many for Mark to even mention, then the healing of a man with a skin disease. It’s not Jesus’ teachings, it’s not Jesus’ wise sayings, it’s not even some practical advice from Jesus that Mark shares. No, Mark chooses to present Jesus to the world as a powerfully compassionate being, who seems to have a soft spot for those the world has given the cold shoulder to.

Pope Francis recently said something that really piqued my interest. While he was taking a break from slapping that hands of his weird followers—have you seen that yet? Look it up online if you want a good laugh, but not right now! Anyway, he was recently speaking at a high school and afterward he allowed for questions. Two students asked him about how to share their faith and about how to convert people to the Christian faith. His answer was quite astonishing. He told them to lead by example, rather than pushing faith on others. I think Mark would have liked that answer. I do too. As a writer, I love words, I adore words, so much so that putting them together to form sentences is both an art and a science for me. So I don’t take this lightly.

"Jesus Heals a Child" by Daniel Bonnell
Yes, words are important, and powerful, but if people can’t tell we are followers of a powerfully compassionate inclusive God by our actions, by how we live our lives, then what is any of this really for? And I don’t mean things like whether or not we drink alcohol or smoke or use colorful language. I mean by how we treat other people. If how we treat other people, does not point people to our God, then we’ve really missed the point here, haven’t we.

I really don’t think it’s a coincidence that Mark begins by sharing how Jesus lived his life, and not with what he said. And for that, I am so very thankful. And no, not just because I’m an introvert, but because there are so many people who have been hurt by Christians who value doctrines more than the world around them. And so, if we allow ourselves to be guided by Mark, and follow Jesus’ lead in making our actions speak louder than words, we can put an end to the senseless pain that the church has inflicted on others, and begin to heal others, the same way Jesus began his ministry. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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