Read an Excerpt
Through Mark's Eyes
A Portrait of Jesus Based on the Gospel of Mark
By Puck Purnell
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2006 Erl G. (Puck) Purnell
All rights reserved.
"The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."
The loud voice echoed. Words vibrated, bouncing off red-brown rocks. Birds jumped into the air and the long river valley woke up. The man took ten steps and cupped huge hands to his hairy mouth. "Are you ready? Prepare. Prepare the Lord's way. Make the path to God straight." He walked another ten big steps and shouted again. "Are you ready? Prepare. Prepare the Lord's way. Make the path to God straight."
A young village girl scampered to her mother and threw her face against the woman's leg, drowning in her loose goat wool robe. The mother stood still in her doorway, arm pressing her daughter close to her. She watched. She listened. The man kept coming, ten long paces at a time. And then, "Are you ready? Prepare. Prepare the Lord's way. Make the path to God straight." The girl squeezed closer into the goat wool. She whimpered even though she had seen the man before, almost every day. Her mother's eyes followed the shouting man. The man walked, stopped, cupped his hands, and called out again.
This man was tall. His chin was far above the woman's covered head. He was big around his chest. Thick, hairy arms stuck out from shoulders draped in a mangy camel pelt with a hole rough cut for the neck and head. A wide leather strap tied at the front hung nearly to the ground and swung when the man walked. A graveyard of bug carcasses stuck to his bushy beard, and live bugs feasted on honey-matted hairs. The man was not concerned about the bugs. "Are you ready? Prepare. Prepare the Lord's way. Make the path to God straight."
Iron voice booming, the man's dusty steps passed the clinging girl and the unafraid woman. Black eyes in sun-dried sockets lit his way. His ten-step cadence and repeated calls echoed. "Are you ready? Prepare. Prepare the Lord's way. Make the path to God straight."
Straight. The desert man walked straight, straight to the Jordan River. His sandaled feet crossed muddy bank stones. He marched right into the water until wet belt ends floated at his waist.
Who knew where they came from! Maybe from as far away as Jericho, Bethphage, Bethany, even Jerusalem. They came and came and came. Children splashed and the stones they threw splooshed. People waited to get a turn. Some only watched.
All day long this John from the desert reached out and wrapped giant hands around the next one. His light-filled black eyes dove into each face, and he demanded, "Do you repent? Do you? Speak your sins. Now, turn, turn around to the one God who is here for anybody who wants new life."
One after another were held in his grip and penetrating gaze. There were women with babies and girls and old men and boys and young men holding shepherd's crooks. They would tell John that they were not pure, that it was so hard and expensive to keep
the Law and they couldn't do it but that they wanted God's love. After he heard this, John pushed each person under the stirred-up Jordan water. He held both hands on their shoulders as they wiggled and thrashed, flailing helplessly until nearly drowned. A quick, rough yank suddenly lifted each back into the air where the breath of life, God's breath, filled lungs again and life lighted anew as the water dripped out of their ears and down their faces. Baptize—to overwhelm with water as a sign and seal of repentance and new life—is what John did in the Jordan River.
People thought John was a holy man. Maybe a prophet. Perhaps the Messiah. Or, crazy. Once he told them, "There is another, another man who is even mightier, much more powerful than I. I wouldn't even unlace his sandals. This one is truly a Spirit-filled person. He will bring the fire of Spirit where I only wash you in Jordan River water." John paused. He looked into anxious eyes. Then John said, "He IS coming. Get ready."
On a Thursday, in the late afternoon, John looked up to seize one more who had come for baptism. His dark eyes were caught by the equally dark eyes of a man so much like all the others. Olive-brown complexion. Shiny black hair. Wearing a long, dirty, brown wool robe. John's knees weakened. His stomach fluttered, his lungs collapsed, and his suddenly weak arms fell to his sides. A sure knowing shot like a hot arrow through the back of his skull. An arm's length apart, the two men froze in the Jordan River under a blazing sun. The air stood still. No water splashed. Sound vanished.
Flash-like, John's arms wrapped around Jesus from Nazareth.hest to chest, their two hearts pounded into each other. Then, quicker than Jesus could snatch a breath, John lifted him off his feet and submerged him. The Baptizer held Jesus like he held everybody—longer than long enough—until Jesus thrashed and flailed too. When John yanked Jesus into life again, when water spilled off his wet head and air rushed into his empty lungs, straight out of the blazing yellow sun, a white dove swooped over them. Jesus and John ducked. Jesus' eyes followed the bird back into the fireball sun.
Later, alone in the desert and among the wild animals, Jesus remembered a voice, too, had come with that dove. It was the joy filled voice of the One who had birthed him in the Jordan's womb water. That voice was so excited, so pleased with Jesus, "Yes! Yes, you are my Son, my child. You are beautiful, and I am so pleased. I love you! I love you! I love you!" And it was this divine, loving God whom Jesus thought about during forty days of questing when the evil one tempted him and angels cared for him.
John the Baptizer pushed too hard. He was a dangerous Jew. Radical. King Herod snared him, arrested him, and sent him to prison. After that, Jesus went up to Galilee in the north country. He traveled from place to place. Jesus talked about good news, the good news that God was right here, right now. He told those who would listen, "Repent and believe in the good news."
Good news was radical too. Many people thought Jesus was like the popular John, calling people to repent. Soon crowds were following Jesus.
One midsummer day, Jesus was alone on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. He had friends there. Jesus spied two of them waist deep casting nets in the sea. They were brothers. The short one was Simon and the other Andrew. Jesus picked up a flat stone and waded into the warm water. Hands on his hips, he watched these two pull in their nets. Empty. He skipped the stone.
"Hey," Jesus shouted. "No luck today?"
The young men turned and saw Jesus waving his arms in the air. Andrew put one hand to the side of his mouth and called back, "No fish. No fish today."
Jesus looked to the morning sky. Not a cloud. Gulls squawked as they glided overhead. He scratched the back of his neck and scrunched his shoulders. He splashed his face and wiped the water out of his eyes. He pushed long wet fingers through his oily hair. Then, he called back, "Come here." He waved to them. "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." And with that Jesus turned, stepped through the gentle surf, and ambled up the rocky beach, robe dripping and feet slipping in slick sandals.
Andrew and Simon, fed up anyway, dragged their nets across the rough beach and heaped them in a pile with the rest of their gear. Jesus watched from ten paces away. "Let's go," he said, and he turned again and started to walk down the beach. Andrew looked at Simon. Simon shrugged and smiled. Andrew smiled too and threw an arm over his brother's shoulder. They walked quickly, laughing, following Jesus.
By the time the barefoot brothers had caught up with Jesus, he had come upon Zebedee's boys, James and John. There they were, just offshore in their father's old black boat. A couple of hired hands were also helping Zebedee and mending nets. They had just returned from a night of fishing.
"James. John," Jesus called. "Come here." He waved his arm two or three times beckoning them. John looked at James. James turned and stared at Jesus. Both men were tired. Time to go in anyway. Without a word, even to their father, they dropped their work and hopped overboard just like that. The two slogged through the water and up the beach to where Simon, Jesus, and Andrew stood grinning. So then there were five. They walked north toward Capernaum on the shore road. Zebedee, still sitting in his boat, didn't say a thing.
The next night, on Friday, the five went to synagogue. Jesus stood to speak. He talked about the presence of God, that the kingdom of God was near, very near. Jesus was confident. He was clear. His words snapped people awake. His teaching was different from those who usually spoke on Shabbat. Jesus said new things. He made sense in a new way. But his message wasn't what the scribes and rabbis taught. This Jesus reinterpreted the Law. He spoke with a new authority.
Then, suddenly, a wild-faced man leaped up. His hands flew into the air. "Arrrgh. You. Jesus." The man was shouting. "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God."
Jesus stood still. He watched the crazed man. He waited. When the screaming stopped, Jesus turned; in three steps he came to the man whose glazed eyes stared right through him. He clasped the man's arms just above the elbows and squeezed. The synagogue was dead quiet except for the man's raspy breathing. Nothing happened for a long time, maybe two minutes. Finally Jesus spoke. His voice was firm and matter-of-fact: "Be silent, and come out of him!" The man's whole body shook. Jesus held him firmly and was shaking with the quaking man. Without warning a loud scream exploded from the man: "Arrrgh! Arrrgh! ARRRGH!" He went limp. Jesus held him even as the man's weight pulled them both to the floor. Simon and John rushed over. Jesus loosed his grip and drew the man's sweating head onto his chest. Gently, tenderly, Jesus said, "You're all right. You're all right now."
Whispers whipped around the synagogue walls. "What is this?" "Did you see?" "He teaches with authority and now he's released a demon from this man. How can this be?" "Spirits obey this Jesus? This is incredible." And within one hour whispers turned to talk, to commentary, and to opinion. Jesus' teaching and this exorcism in the synagogue spread around Capernaum and soon throughout Galilee.
Simon spoke first. It was to Jesus. "Let's go. We can go to my house. My wife will make supper." James and John, Andrew and Simon, and the now-becoming-famous Jesus of Nazareth returned to Simon's simple adobe house. There, they found Simon's mother-in-law hot with fever. Simon's wife was terrified. She told how the fever had come quickly and now wouldn't break. She worried because her aunt had died from just such a fever only two years before.
Jesus crossed the front room and went through the open door to the back of the house. An oil lamp flickered. The sickly woman lay on a low, narrow bed. Jesus sat on the wooden edge. The long fingers of his left hand slipped around her limp hand. He touched her face with the back of his hand. He wiped the sweat from her brow.
Simon's mother-in-law awoke. Jesus' eyes smiled into her glassy eyes. "There. There," he said. "You're OK. Come now." And he stood up next to the bed. Without letting go of her hand, Jesus helped the woman sit up. She swung her feet over the side of the bed. Together, they waited. Simon's mother-in-law caught her breath. She steadied herself. "I'm better. I think I'm better," she murmured. "You're OK," Jesus affirmed. "Yes. Yes," she replied. "I'm fine now. Thank you." Just like that she had been healed. Jesu's simply said, "You're welcome. You're quite welcome." Later, Simon's mother-in-law served the lentil soup her daughter had prepared for supper.
That evening, twenty or thirty people arrived at Simon's house. Soon, more people came until you might have thought the whole town was there. People milled about kicking up dust, pushing to get closer to the door, asking where Jesus was. Anybody who was sick or mentally retarded or handicapped or depressed was brought to Simon's door that night.
Jesus listened to each person or to the worried and excited relatives of the ailing one. He said little himself, only occasionally whispering a comforting word. For hours Jesus touched all who came, and they were healed of whatever ailed them. "Thank you, Jesus. Thank you," the last one said before she turned to go home. A cock crowed.
Jesus slept only a few hours. He woke and quietly left the house. He wanted to be alone. He needed time, time to pray and reflect on what was happening and on what to do next. Jesus followed the town road west and then took the narrow path up a hill into an olive g rove. He sat against a knurled tree and twirled a stick between his fingers. Crows cawed. The morning's moist breath kissed his face.
All too soon, along came Simon, James, John, and Andrew. "Where have you been?" they wondered aloud. "Everyone's trying to find you." Jesus replied, "Right here where you found me. Never mind." He stood up. He looked into the eyes of his four friends. "Come on. Let's go. We have places to visit. I want to tell anybody who will listen what I understand about our God. God really is with us, even we who are not rich or powerful. I've come to proclaim this good news, and I need you to be with me."
That day Jesus' wandering mission began. He taught about God's unconditional love, cured many people of diseases, and cast demons out of some truly mad people. People far and wide came to think of Jesus as an extraordinary healer.
With each shuffling step, dust puffed around and across a leper's sandals and lower legs. Rain might have made small water balls in the dust—that is, if it had rained. But no clouds had been seen in months. It was the summer season of sun and heat and dust.
Dust puffed up from the feet of others in the crowd too. That dust rose higher though—above the knee and hip, even shoulder high—because those people did not shuffle slowly. They walked quickly. Seamless, dust-colored wool tunics, each woven top to bottom as a single piece with a neck hole cut in the middle, dropped from every shoulder. A rough, braided cord cincture was tied around some waists. Heads hovered just above the dust plateau, all looking and moving in the same direction toward the well, where a pile of people had already gathered around Jesus.
The leper fell behind the crowd's dust cloud, shuffling, shuffling, shuffling. He gripped his stick. Dust mixed with pus and blood-covered arm sores, neck sores, face sores, and places where there were no sores.
Some people wondered, "Who was Jesus?" The leper knew the answer. That's why he tightly clutched his stick and hobbled along the bottom of the rocky embankment and through the rabble encircling Jesus. His "leper license" in oozy blotches repulsed each person he encountered. He stopped in front of Jesus.
The eyes of the one peered into the other's soul. They stood. A dog barked. Then every muscle in the leper relaxed. The stick fell. The leper fell. Nobody moved. Nobody said anything. Nobody would touch him, although everybody wanted him to get out of there. The leper reached through the dust cloud of his collapse
and wrapped his sore, infested fingers around Jesus' bare ankles. He held his ankles tightly as he had held the stick, and nobody, not even Jesus, did anything.
After a time, the leper rolled onto his left elbow without letting go of Jesus' ankles. His head lifted slowly from the dust. His red, tear-filled eyes met Jesus' downward gaze. His mouth opened and then closed—his words stuck in dust. He blinked and swallowed and pushed what little spittle he could find across his throat .Finally he croaked, "If you choose, you can make me clean."
The first tear hit the leper on the cheekbone below his right eye. The second missed him and landed in the dust, making a small ball of saltwater mud. Jesus blinked back more tears. He stretched his right hand down and touched the leper's head. He put his fingers in the leper's grimy hair and held it tight in his fist as he looked at him. Three flies landed on the man's ear.
"I do choose," Jesus said. "Be made clean!"
Jesus did not let go of the man's hair but held it tightly in his fist. The leper let go of Jesus' ankles, and Jesus kneeled down. He touched the man's face with his left hand, moved his fingers over the sores, and then reached around his neck, gently passing his hand beneath the tunic neck hole and across the bare, infected, scab-covered skin of the leper's back.
Cheek to cheek, Jesus spoke into the leper's ear, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." He kissed him. The leper moved his head back just a little to look into Jesus' eyes again. He said something quietly to Jesus. Jesus slid his fingers out of the leper's hair and put both his arms around the man. Jesus repeated not to tell anyone. The dog barked again. The people gasped.
Later, when Jesus had gone, when the crowd had gone, when the sun had nearly gone, the leper-man sat alone, his bony back against the well. He was exhausted. He was hungry and thirsty. He was far from home. The man pulled himself up. He lowered the bucket into the well and drew it out. With the setting sun on his face, he glanced at his reflection in the water bucket. Dust, red eyes, and oily hair. Tear tracks across smooth, unblemished cheeks. The man didn't know whether to wash first or drink first.
Excerpted from Through Mark's Eyes by Puck Purnell. Copyright © 2006 Erl G. (Puck) Purnell. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.