One of the ‘thematic goals’ I’ve set for myself this year is to talk about the Incarnation of Jesus more than I talk about being incarnational (in imitation of him, etc).
Helpfully, this is what the New Testament seems to do — especially in the Gospels.
Take Mark’s account of the commencement of Jesus’ public ministry in Chapter 1.14-45, for example. There, we see that because everyone wants a piece of Jesus he must strive to maintain the following priorities arising from his sense of prophetic vocation:
- Focusing on people as he looks not simply to gather a crowd but to make disciples (verses 16-20)
- Carving out time to get away by himself to pray (verse 35)
- Taking steps to ensure that he isn’t so swamped by people’s felt needs that he can no longer fulfil his raison d’etre — namely, proclaiming the kingdom (verse 38)
It would be all too easy to pick up these priorities and say, “This is what we should be doing too”. (I heard two different sermons along these just this week — on the same day!) And, no doubt, prioritising people, prayer, and proclamation would be a good thing.
But there are a few irksome little details in the text that I feel should make us pause before going here. Details that suggest Jesus is on about something much bigger than simply modeling kingdom priorities.
For one thing, Jesus seems to want to maintain these priorities because he sees himself as something of a prophet. A herald. Announcing the kingdom and its ‘at hand’-ness.
But circumstances conspire to demand more of him. This happens in verses 40-45, for instance, where Jesus displays the power of the kingdom by healing a leper and ends up swapping places with him in the process — as he’s forced out into more remote places.
And for another thing, Jesus keeps telling people (and unclean spirits) not to talk about him, advertising who he is and what he’s doing.
My hunch is that this is bound up with the fact that Jesus’ contemporaries were bound to misunderstand it if he went around announcing that he was he Messiah. He needed to keep his Messianic identity secret so he could carry out his mission as the Suffering Servant.
But as far as I can tell this Messianic secrecy is unique to that moment of salvation history, not something we’re called to copy. Rather, we’re to take the news to the ends of the earth.
So maybe we’re not meant to adopt Jesus’ priorities…