There is a well-known moment in the life of Francis of Assisi when the little saint, burning bright with the spirit, gives his fellow monks an admonition, “Go into the world and preach the message, using words if necessary.” Some believe it is an urban myth – and some believe that it is true based upon the kind of life that Francis lived. The truth that Francis shares with his brothers is that a picture of faith is often “worth a thousand words.”
Anyone traveling with Jesus through the first half of Mark’s Gospel would certainly have seen many such deeds and pictures.
In the first half of Mark’s Gospel it is clear that when Jesus is near, time and space seem to bend, miracles occur, and what might be thought of as “common sense” is put to flight.
Looking at a short list:
Fishermen become followers by the Sea of Galilee.
The “village of miracles,” Capernaum, where the sick are healed and demons put to flight.
Crowds and crowds of people follow Jesus as he offers new interpretations of old Laws.
As the Gospel of Mark builds chapter by chapter, Jesus performs miracles, shares parables and teachings, and the people flow to him in droves that must have been something of a phenomenon in the ancient world.
By Chapter 7, we find that the Pharisees are taking notes, fact checking Jesus, and there is the whiff of conspiracy and retribution in the air. By Chapter 8 the forces “agin’ Him” are forming, we hear of this mysterious “Cross” that must be carried; losing a life in this world is actually gaining a life with God.
I believe that Mark’s Gospel moves in the direction of a kind of crescendo, building to Chapter 9, the Mount of Transfiguration, the divine imprimatur of Moses and Elijah, and the descent which begins the journey to Jerusalem.
Following the Transfiguration, Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem, where He knows that he must face the doubters and detractors, and where the Cross will become something more than an idea. Thus, Jesus is no longer protecting his friends and followers from the truth of what may lay ahead, the political and religious machinery of Jerusalem.
At this mid-point of Mark’s Gospel, we are with Jesus and the disciples in something life the in-between time. Leaving the crescendo and turning hearts and minds toward what lay ahead.
Perhaps that is why the disciples are concerned with who will eventually take the lead, who will be the have the “command.” Who is the greatest? Who is in charge?
I wonder what Jesus might be thinking about his followers. I believe that Jesus simply forgives them; they simply “don’t know what they don’t know.” So there is no hammer, there is no lecture, no shame, as Jesus teaches the disciples a lesson about greatness in his Kingdom; there is a gentle redirection.
Jesus sits down with a child in his lap.
The child in his lap is the picture of what it means to accept God, and become a servant in his kind of Kingdom, is the picture is worth a thousand words.
Here is another picture.
In 1967, Doug Nichols was serving as a missionary in India. While he was just starting to study the language he contracted tuberculosis and was eventually sent to a sanatorium to recuperate. He did not yet speak the language, but was carrying a load of Christian literature with him, mostly from the Gospels. He tried giving some out in the first few days, but was politely refused. He says, “I sensed many weren’t happy about a rich American (to them all Americans are rich) being in a free, government-run sanitarium.”
At night he would lay awake listening to the coughing of the patients. One morning he woke to see an old man trying to get out of bed. Trying and trying, again and again, but finally laying down in weakness. He could see the old man crying.
The next day the ward smelled like a sewer, and Nichols realized that sick and tired old man was trying to get to the bathroom. Other patients were yelling at the man, and one of the nurses was so angry that she slapped him. The man lay in his bed curled in a ball and wept.
The next night I again woke up coughing. I noticed the man across the aisle sit up and again try to stand. Like the night before, he fell back whimpering.
I don’t like bad smells, and I didn’t want to become involved, but I got out of bed and went over to him. When I touched his shoulder, his eyes opened wide with fear. I smiled, put my arms under him, and picked him up. He was very light due to old age and advanced TB. I carried him to the washroom, which was just a filthy, small room with a hole in the floor. I stood behind him with my arms under his armpits as he took care of himself. After he finished, I picked him up, and carried him back to his bed. As I laid him down, he kissed me on the cheek, smiled, and said something I couldn’t understand.
The next morning there was a fresh cup of tea besides Nichols bed. Patients came by and took copies of the Gospel from Nichols. Later in the day nurses, and doctors came by and asked for personal visits and literature.
Weeks later an evangelist who spoke the language visited Nichols, and as he talked to others he discovered that several had put their trust in the Gospel as a result of reading the literature. And they were reading the literature because a person got up from bed and took another person to the bathroom.
Nichols says, “What did it take to reach these people with the gospel? It wasn’t health, the ability to speak their language, or a persuasive talk. I did not preach a sermon or teach a lesson. I did not have wonderful things to offer them. I simply took an old man to the bathroom . . . and anyone can do that.”
The world doesn’t care how much you have or what you know; they want to know how much you care. The world seeking God wants to know how much we love.
“Preach the Gospel at all times . . . When necessary, use words.”
May we become the picture that is worth a thousand words; actually worth thousands upon thousands of words.