Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Best Supporting Actors: To Get the Big Picture, Focus on the Little Players

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Best Supporting Actors: To Get the Big Picture, Focus on the Little Players

Article excerpt

The devil is in the details. No doubt this is true. In the midst of an otherwise uplifting event, someone makes a snarky observation and soon the air is darkened by gossip, stories traded by tongues eager to say the worst, folks hoping to provide the most scathing suggestion and to win the prize for wicked wit. Meanwhile, the target of these tales is eviscerated, a reputation sunk in the mud of group vilification, a child of God burned in effigy. And the rest of us who listen to the verbal pillory? We, too, wear the smudge and smear of the hunt and the kill. A single phrase of innuendo makes us all the poorer for it.

If the devil lurks in details, grace is hidden there, too. You and I tend to find precisely what we're looking for. Troublemakers are attracted to mayhem. Seekers on a spiritual quest discover God. Partygoers will find the party. If we open our eyes to the possibility of grace, especially in unlikely places, its highlights will sparkle in the light, and we will perceive it.

The details of grace are what make Mark's gospel so rewarding to the careful reader. In Chapter 6 he gives us the age of a sick girl, the only person in the gospels so defined except for Jesus, and at the same age: 12. Suddenly the scene at her deathbed jumps into view. She is on the verge of being a woman, yet never to be more than a child tragically lost unless the teacher can do something. In the same careful precision we meet the man in Chapter 8 whose eyesight takes two passes to heal: the first time, people seem like trees walking. Mark alone tells us what a healing in progress feels like from the perspective of the blind.

We also meet a boy in Chapter 9 whose convulsions cause him to be thrown into fire and into water. In any other gospel treatment, this child might simply have been a boy with a demon, a broken person to be fixed. Mark makes him real for us, his suffering tangible, his father's grief, doubt, and hope a recognizably human jumble that ends in a heart-wringing appeal for genuine faith.

Mark's gospel has been described as hardly more than a passion narrative with a preface, but that preemptive appraisal erases the tiny, lovely details that are the stones other gospel writers often reject on the way to making their point. From every gospel writer's perspective, of course, Jesus is the protagonist, the focus of the piece. But the folks who emerge from the crowds to follow, entreat, denounce, or serve Jesus are also vital individuals with their own stories to tell. Like you and me. We, too, meet Jesus as a living Lord "on the way," and we would not meet him at all if Jesus did not first see us, value us, and surrender everything to restore us to wholeness. The people in these stories, you see, matter to Jesus.

Mark gets this. He preserves a sliver of each actor's humanity as he barrels on through the greatest story ever told in 16 chapters--easily the smallest of the four gospel accounts despite pausing for these miniature cameos. Mark tells his story economically by leaving out the layers of moral teaching the other evangelists promote over the actors themselves.

By the time we arrive in Mark's Jerusalem, we find no fewer than four discreet camps making preparations for the death of Jesus. Once again, it's in the details, both the sin and the grace. …

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