Sticky Memory

“Get out of here, girl! Close the door!” My face flushed and I quickly shut the door.

I have a sticky memory of this incident. I was eleven and on a mission trip in Brazil with my parents and a group of college students. My dad taught at a Christian college in Atlanta, and he was leading a short missions trip for his students. One of the couples was newly married, and they were using the trip as a makeshift honeymoon. They had precious little privacy the whole trip, so when the opportunity arose to let them have a secluded room, they had priority.

On the morning I heard those words yelled at me, my dad, who liked to joke around, had put me up to embarrassing the newlyweds. He suggested that I should burst into their room and yell “Good morning!” He thought that it would be hysterical to have them scrambling at the intrusion. Not knowing any better, I boisterously invaded their room.

It did not work out as planned. The husband chewed me out for acting childish. I was scolded loudly, only to be saved by my father’s apologies and confession of responsibility. I was horribly embarrassed.

The incident taught me that my dad could be insensitive, and his jokes weren’t always a good idea. This memory is sticky because it was the first time that I realized that what my dad wanted was not necessarily what was right for me. Since then, I learned to follow his joke ideas with caution.

What makes one memory stand out over the other? Why did Mark include Peter’s memory of Jesus’ secluded prayer found in Mark 1:35-38?

Perhaps the memory of it is sticky for Peter because it was the first time that Jesus course corrected away from fame, popularity, and influence back to the path God had prepared. Mark included this incident because it loomed largely in Peter’s mind for similar reasons my memory has stayed with me. It was emotionally embarrassing, and it taught an insightful lesson. While my memory taught me that I needed to think through my actions for myself, Peter’s memory was the first of many that taught him that Jesus prioritized his message over his miracles.

Mark 1:35-38

And having risen so early it was still night, Jesus went out and departed into a deserted place and there he began to pray. And Simon and those with him hunted for Jesus, and they found him, and they say to him, “Everybody seeks you!”

But Jesus said to them, “Let us go elsewhere into the neighboring towns so that I might preach there also, for I came to do this.”

Jesus reflects in prayer.

After a long day teaching in the Capernaum synagogue, visiting with Peter’s family and friends, and healing late into the night, Jesus goes out of Peter’s house before the sun rises to talk with God. In the midst of the joy of healing and freeing people controlled by evil spirits, Jesus needed solitude to work through what had just happened. He needed to talk with God about the way forward.

Mark recalls us back to the temptation in Mark 1:13 by mentioning solitude, or deserted places, in contrast to the crowds at Peter’s door. He is hinting at his favorite theme of dissonance. Jesus, although the Son of God, is a man with a choice in how he walks the path God prepared for him.

In thinking through my own experiences of deciding what path to take in life, I can imagine Jesus wrestled with the lure of pleasing people. Maybe like me, he wondered, what sells? Should I give what I know people want now with the hope of having them listen to my true message later?  It is tempting to compromise personal integrity in the face of having a popular product. Jesus knew the power within him was only bound by his unswerving devotion to God’s path. Left unchecked, that power could transform Jesus into someone entirely different from who he was. Should he compromise the message to gain a broader audience? The last time Jesus was alone in a deserted place facing a choice (1:13), he emerged proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom. Again, after prayerful solitude, Jesus confirms his choice to prioritize the message about God over the easy path to power through miraculous signs. He will not be diverted from the priority of the message.

The memory revealed Peter’s personal motives.

Peter was distracted, though. When he realized that Jesus had gone, Peter and the others begin to hunt for him. Mark uses this word “hunt” to imply a negative connotation, like stalking. Here, Peter and the others are not just looking to see where Jesus went, they have ulterior motives that are revealed with the words, “Everybody seeks you!” Mark uses this word “seek” to describe pursuit in a negative way throughout his book. It implies that the person looking for Jesus seeks to manipulate or control him. For example, the Jewish leaders sought Jesus for a way to have him arrested, convicted, and killed.  Mary and Jesus’ siblings sought Jesus, but not to follow him. They wanted to manage him, get him under control. Many were only seeking him for a sign, for personal benefit. This story is the first time Mark lets us see that not all who seek Jesus are his true followers. Many people follow Jesus for what they can get from him: a show, a miracle, a meal or access to power. We feel this tension even within his closest friends.

Peter intrudes upon Jesus’ solitude and insists that Jesus go back to healing. Peter is imposing his own ideas and trying to control God’s work. In attempting to manage Jesus, he is acting on behalf of the enemy. This won’t be the last time Peter tries to impose his wishes on Jesus. Later, in chapter 8, Peter insists that Jesus stop talking about his impending arrest and death. There, Jesus uses sharp language to call attention to Peter’s satanic allegiance when he tried to manipulate Jesus away from what he came to do. Perhaps, in the following years of musing over his time with Jesus, Peter recognized this as his first attempt to sway Jesus away from God’s plan. Peter realized his own motives for following Jesus were jaded. He wanted the power that comes through popularity.  

Jesus does not rebuke him here. He simply states that they should move on because his mission was to spread the message. If announcing and explaining God’s kingdom is Jesus’ priority, then those who followed him for something other than that message only cause distraction. The “seeking” crowds only thwart his goal. In this short memory, Peter recognizes the first time he got distracted by his own ideas of what following Jesus meant. He mistook popularity as an indicator of success. Jesus had a different metric.

When I intruded on the newlywed couple thirty years ago, I thought it would be a welcome surprise, but I had misunderstood the situation. My dad should have known better, but he too, was focused on his own motives instead of following the priorities of the newlyweds – mainly privacy. As Peter retells his memories of following Jesus, this memory sticks in his mind because he realized that he was following the Christ for the wrong reasons.

Mark challenges his readers with the same lesson. Jesus’ message is not as popular as his power. Are we willing to follow him even when he refuses to use his power how we think he should? Do we follow the Christ for his miracles or his message?  

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