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Vanishing Jesus and the Mystical Coming of Christ: A Lectionary Reflection on Mark 1:29-39

When people most seek him, Jesus runs away.

When people finally get an inkling, a glimpse of who he is, Jesus disappears.

When people at last realize that there is something different about this teacher and healer, Jesus vanishes, eager almost in his need to be absent and alone.

Unwilling to be found, to be known, to be contained or owned.

This, of course, isn’t the same Jesus we learn of in Sunday School, the Jesus who says that all who seek him will find him. Rather, his actions in the gospel of Mark seem to say that the more we seek him the more quickly we will lose him.

In the gospel of Mark, Jesus is always silencing those that would name him as the son of God, always escaping the crowds who seek his voice, his good news, his healing presence.

In this week’s text, after performing some powerful miracles in the community, the townspeople begin to seek him.

So what does he do? Stay and develop more disciples? Build a new synagogue? Develop communities of hope and justice?

No, in the early morning hours while it is still dark, while everyone is sleeping, dreaming perhaps of seeking and finding this great, mysterious, miraculous teacher who holds hope and power in the palms of his hands, Jesus disappears into the ether.

When his disciples at last hunt him down, they breathlessly call him back to the town and away from his lonely place of prayer.

“Everyone is searching for you,” they say. “Everyone!”

Perhaps the disciples finally see the promise of their initial calling come to fruition. They see their fishing nets full of people. They glimpse the possibilities of the Reign of God.

“Come! Everyone is looking for you.”

But instead of going back to heal the hurting, increase his following, teach the masses eager for his messages, he skips town.

“Come let us go on to the neighboring towns to proclaim the message there,” Jesus says.

Most of my life, it is this Jesus in Mark’s gospel that I have encountered, rather than the Jesus of our traditions that tell us he can be found if only we seek him. The Jesus I have experienced is the one that disappears just as I begin to glimpse him. The more I seek this Jesus the more elusive — frustrating, maddening, wild, homeless — he becomes.

And the farther down the Way I follow, the more the figure of Jesus seems to dissipate, a clear vision of who he is blurring, dogma dissolving into the experience, the figure of Jesus merging with the whole world.

Perhaps that is the point. Once Jesus has come, Jesus is always coming. Yet, at the same time, Jesus can come only by leaving us. In the disappearance, Jesus can no longer be found in an individual person. Rather we — and he, really — become liberated so that Jesus may be found everywhere and in everything.

In everything but himself.

Jesus becomes absent so that we can experience the present. Jesus vanishes so we can resist the temptation to idolize him. Jesus disappears so that we can find him, so that we can find ourselves, but most of all so that we can find each other through him.

At the break of day, when those that seek him find him missing, the longing, the ache of absence, the burning the lingers in their hearts will bind them together as he never could by being fully present, by being the central focus.

The community Jesus creates then is one founded on his absence, his once-and-future presence, his maddening vanishing act.

Seek, Jesus says, and you will find. Only what we find is a deep, loving and generative absence.

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