In our celebrity obsessed culture, it seems odd to me to think of Jesus as being famous. Surely, he was well known and well respected, but famous? Famous seems somehow unflattering or lacking the dignity and respect that it seems Jesus would deserve. If Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are famous, then I’m not sure I want Jesus to be. Yet, this is how he is described very early in Mark’s Gospel narrative.
The Gospel lesson appointed for Epiphany 4B follows immediately on the heels of last Sunday’s lesson in which Jesus begins his ministry and calls his first disciples. This week’s story is about his first miracle in Mark. It is the Sabbath and Jesus and his presumably less than 12 disciples have made their way to the Synagogue in Capernaum. As Jesus is teaching, an evil spirit speaks up from within a man possessed, and Jesus immediately rebukes the spirit, returning the man to wholeness. It is the combination of his teaching with authority and his ability to rebuke the unclean spirit that leads Mark to tell us that Jesus’ fame began to spread.
Because of my discomfort with this word, I decided to look at it a little more closely. I found that here the NRSV follows both the King James Version and Young’s Literal Translation in choosing fame, while more modern translations, perhaps with my concerns in mind, translate it as news. The Greek word is akoe which is the noun form of hearing. Idiomatically, it connotes news or word about something. That is, after this miraculous event, people began to share what they had seen and heard. Word spread rapidly, and yes, some might even say that Jesus began to become famous.
It is interesting to think about how this happened in a word so flush with information. At any given moment, we have the opportunity to share within our sphere of influence news about all sorts of things. Our social media feeds are basically giant evangelism machines. We share reviews products, both good and bad. We share posts that betray our political leanings. We share stories of our kids and grand kids. Some might even share news of their favorite famous person. (How else would I know that Kim and Kanye’s second child is named Chicago?) We share all kinds of things, which leads me to wonder, how might we effectively share the Good News of Jesus Christ through social media? In the midst of all that is famous in our world today, what does the Gospel of Jesus have to offer?
This is not asking a question into a vacuum. For the last two years, I have had the pleasure of serving on the General Convention Task Force for Leveraging Social Media for Evangelism. In our meetings, these were the questions we pondered. In our work, we tried to offer practical theology and real-world advice on how to continue to facilitate the spread of fame of Christ. Our Report has been filed, and will be published soon. I’ll share it as soon as I see it, but in the meantime, will you join me in considering what it means that Jesus was famous and consider how we too might share his story?