Maybe it is the celebrity obsessed culture in which we live, but as I read the lessons for Epiphany 4B this morning, one word jumped out at me like never before: fame. “At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.” I began to wonder what that word meant in first century Palestine. There was not paparazzi, as far as I can tell. Cameras weren’t invented until 1816.
Like any normal person would, I went digging into the text. Most of the English translations I looked at, from Young’s Literal to the English Standard Version uses the word “fame.” Even ol’ King James uses the word. I wonder what fame meant in 1611? Anyway, I was not satisfied, so I went into the Greek and found the word translated as fame to be akoe. In the Greek alphabet is looks more like akon, which sent me down a short Gwen Stefani rabbit hole. See, Gwen did a song called “Sweet Escape” featuring an R&B artist named Akon. I had hoped that Akon took this stage name because he was a fan of Mark’s Greek New Testament, but alas, his full name, given by his West African parents is Aliaune Damala Bouga Time Bongo Puru Nacka Lu Lu Lu Badara Akon Thiam.
Where was I? Right, fame, akoe. The funny thing about this word is that the definitions for it never mention the word “fame.” The BibleWorks Greek translation is report, news, or preaching. The Vulgate, interestingly enough, translates it as rumor. So where’d we get this word fame?
What exactly does it mean that Jesus got famous after this event so early on in Mark’s Gospel? Let’s look back at the story. Jesus is baptized by John, driven out into the wilderness by the Spirit where he fasted for forty days, and he returns to town preaching the good news of God, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe the good news!” As he walked and talked, he met four men on the shores of the Sea of Galilee: Simon (Peter), Andrew, James, and John; and invited them to follow him, which they did. Our story picks up here, as the five of them make their way to Capernaum, the hometown of Simon and Andrew, where on the Sabbath, Jesus, as a visiting Rabbi, was invited to give a word. The people were amazed by what they heard, he taught with authority that they had never before seen. Not everyone could handle his teaching however, and a man, possessed by a demon confronted him. With that same authority, Jesus sent the demon packing, and the crowd is again amazed. Note what Mark has the crowd saying, “What is this? A new teaching – with authority! He command even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”
Jesus gets famous because his words match his actions. He speaks of repentance and good news: release for the captive, sight for the blind, care for poor; and he lives it by setting free this man who was bound by an unclean spirit just as each of us is bound by sin. Jesus walked the walk and talked the talk, and he did so with a new authority, one that only comes from an intimate relationship with the Father. That’s what made him famous or made the news spread about him or had people preaching about him. Whatever word you choose to describe it, Jesus had the attention of the people because of the authority given to him by his Father in heaven, and his fame spread throughout the surrounding region.