Most of us can't conceive of Jesus making significant choices during His earthly ministry. We have no problem with His picking one entree over another, or choosing between thong and buckle sandals, but we presume life-and-death matters were predetermined long before Jesus stepped into His human body.

In John's Gospel, such as assumption might be valid, but it's untenable in Mark. Mark presumes the historical Jesus is personally responsible for the choices which eventually lead to His death and resurrection. That's why Sunday's Gospel (Mk 1: 29-39) is so important.

Looking at this passage in its original context, Mark's Jesus has just finished the first day of His Capernaum ministry. He exorcised a demon and eased Simon's wife's mother's fever. That night, He "cured many who were sick with various diseases, and drove out many demons." Quite a day!


In less than 24 hours, Jesus has carved out a unique place in Capernaum history and lore. The reader's attention is now focused on the next day. What will He do for an encore?

Early the next morning, "Simon and those who were with him" finally track down Jesus at a "deserted place," not teaching crowds, exorcising demons or curing the sick, but praying. Scholars remind us that Mark only has Jesus pray when He's under "messianic stress:" when He's trying to figure out what He, as Messiah, should do next.

His choices here are clear: Go back into Capernaum and become the local, accepted hero, or go to other places where He won't be so accepted, places where people might kill Him because of His message. Though "everyone is looking for Him," He surprises His followers by announcing, "Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come." He freely chooses to go beyond people's expectations.

Mark's readers know that eventually Jesus will go on to one "village" too many. Once he enters Jerusalem, He'll live just five days.

No doubt, on Good Friday night, Simon and his companions will ask repeatedly, "Why did He leave Capernaum that morning?" They know He'd still be alive if He'd played it safe and went back into town.

Mark seems to narrate this event because he wants his readers to reflect on their own daily faith choices. He's convinced that God's disciples are frequently tempted to use only part of their gifts, to reach a point in which they're accepted in their communities, regarded as assets, not liabilities, then stay put. Deciding to go one step further would create problems, making them unacceptable and insecure. Mark believes "other Christs" must daily overcome the temptation to go back into Capernaum.

Choosing freely

As Jesus' disciple, Paul is also convinced he must continually go further than expected or acceptable (I Cor 9: 16-19, 22-23). Knowing he's called to do more than just preach the Gospel, he resolves to preach it free of charge, refusing to carry out Jesus' well-known directive that the evangelized care for the evangelizer.

Yet, by stepping out of the acceptable, Paul experiences a freedom which permits him to be "a slave to all." His freedom to serve is rooted in the free choices he makes as a preacher of the Gospel.

Only by freely choosing to die in this and similar ways can one overcome the meaningless experience confronting Job (Job 7: 1-4, 6-7). What joy comes from being just "a slave who longs for the shade, a hireling who waits for his wages?" Those who read on in this book discover that Job eventually realizes that those who choose to give themselves over to God and God's plan find life. Those who just endure life experience days that "come to an end without hope."

It might seem terrific to go through life without having to make choices. Yet it's impossible to imitate Jesus correctly without choosing to step into insecurity at times.