The language used in today’s Gospel – Mark 1:12-15 – is particularly striking. Whereas Matthew and Luke say Jesus “was led by the Spirit” – see Matthew 4:1 and Luke 4:1 – Mark says Jesus was “driven by the Spirit”. The Greek verb used by both Matthew and Luke, is ago. This word implies a certain gentleness and expected cooperation. The Greek word used by Mark, on the other hand, is ekballein. The verb ballein means “throw”. The word ekballein thus implies a certain suddenness, even violence, and perhaps the expectation of resistance. Mark uses the same verb when he speaks of Jesus himself driving out the demons – see 1:34, 39; 3:15, 22, 23; 6:13; 7:26; 9:18, 28, 38. And when Jesus is about to raise the daughter of Jairus, he drives out the people who laugh at the expectation of a miracle – see 5:40. Similarly, “if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out” (9:47), and in the parable of the wicked husbandmen, “they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard” (12:8).
It seems unlikely that Mark would have used this language inadvertently. Let us therefore assume that Mark is trying to tell us something by the use of this hard language. It is not for me or anybody else to say “Why” Mark does this. Let Mark draw you into his description of an event that is actually beyond description. We must wait upon the text therefore. Ponder it. Sit with it. Chew it over. Let it gnaw at you. Read and re-read the phrases, listening with the ear of your heart. The point is not to find “the answer” – as if there was such. The point is to lay yourself open to an encounter with the Living God. The words of Mary at the Annunciation come to mind: “Let it be done unto me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Words and ideas come to me as I ponder Mark’s description: Urgency, emergency, don’t waste time, focus, let go of what does not matter, work, the power and work of the Holy Spirit, God is in charge, I am not in charge, God’s intent, surrender, joy, vitality, excitement, trust, hope, victory …. What words and phrases come to your mind?
We are in the presence of someone who has experienced an event that has turned his world on its head – he has been driven into the wilderness by the Spirit of God! By any measure – if it is true what we say about the Incarnation – it should also turn my world on its head.
Has the Christ Event been reduced to merely “doing the right thing”? Have we become so fascinated with the power of this world – and our competition for that power – that we have lost faith in the power of God? Do we believe in the need for grace and redemption? Is there no excitement, awe, wonder, freedom, vision, energy in our belief that the Holy Spirit has been let loose in the world?