I am revisiting the Gospel of Mark. It used to be my least favourite Gospel, short and hurried as it is, without a lot of explanation; but ever since digging into it in Life Group over the course nine months this past year, it has stuck with me.
If you read the first few sections of Mark in the good ol’ NIV, you will run across John the Baptist preaching his message of repentance and the coming of the Messiah (1:4) and Jesus at the beginning of his ministry proclaiming the Good News about the arrival of the Kingdom of G0d (1:14) and later preaching and casting out demons (1:39). That is not surprising. But what caught my attention was the story of Jesus healing a leper in Mark 1:40-45. Compelled by compassion to act, Jesus reaches out to touch the leper, and heals him. In a move that I always think strange, Jesus sternly warns the man not to say anything to anyone (such is the forcefulness of the original Greek phrase), but the cleansed leper disregards this and goes about speaking freely about what Jesus had done for him (1:45).
In English this may not be noteworthy, but the Greek made me stop and think, because the same word is used in all these instances: for the preaching of John the Baptist, for the proclaiming and preaching of Jesus, and for the loose lips of the man whom Jesus healed. Now, it is not much of a stretch to see how “preach” and “proclaim” could both be acceptable translations of the same word– they are nearly synonyms in my mind — but “speak freely” would lead the English reader to believe that an entirely different style of communication is in view concerning the former leper. It is not the translation that I disagree with, but rather the unclarity that these different translations foster.
In my mind, the words “preach” and “proclaim” have a very religious or professional air to them (while “speak freely” has a very enthusiastic and non-religious tone to it). That is to say, preaching is reserved for Sunday mornings and clergy people. And while I don’t think these events were restricted to Sunday morning, John was a prophet and Jesus a rabbi, so they certainly qualify as religious professionals. My feelings about “preach” are through no fault of its own, but rather centuries of perpetuating the distinction between the rightful duties and responsibilities of clergy and lay people, a myth that the NIV here seems to perpetuate by observing this distinction in vocabulary, though I don’t know why.
The Greek word in question is κηρύσω (kay-roo-so). It definition is: “to proclaim after the manner of a herald, always with the suggestion of formality, gravity and an authority which must be listened to and obeyed; or, to publish or proclaim openly something which has been done.” John the Baptist proclaims with authority the coming of Jesus, Jesus proclaims with authority the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven, and the healed leper proclaims with authority (because it happened to him) the reality of his healing.
This makes the leper just as much of a preacher as John the Baptist or Jesus. And we too, if we have tasted the goodness of God and seen his hand and Spirit active in our lives and the world, are just as much called to be preachers. Our authority comes from what we have seen and witnessed (see 1 John 1:1-3), and all we need do is tell people what we saw and know to be true. It isn’t complicated or only for the religious professionals, but for all who have been touched by Father, Spirit, and Son. Besides which, what we think of as preaching (Sunday morning instructions from the Word) is most often actually teaching. In Mark 1:21, when Jesus is speaking in the synagogue on the Sabbath, Mark says he taught (1:21). Now, you could argue that teaching might be for those who have invested time and perhaps money in reading, thinking, and being instructed themselves, in order to keep a church’s belief system pure. But preaching knows no requirement other than to be a witness and to be changed by what you have seen and experienced.