Fame, Celebrity and the Son of Man: Mark 1: 45b

As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to Him from everywhere. (Mk 1:45b)

‘Fame,’ someone once said, ‘is a powerful cultural magnet.’ (i)

The fame of Jesus at this point is because he has been healing people, lots of people, in Capernaum. Suddenly his name is out there. Everyone expects and wants these healings to continue. People are queuing up outside Peter’s door demanding more,  but in the preceding verses, Jesus has declared that His purpose, the very reason He has come, is not to to be a celebrity healer, but to preach the Kingdom of God.

There’s something extremely attractive about celebrity. Something which affects us all. Yet we know that celebrity isn’t always as much fun as it’s cracked up to be. Stereotyping is always unhelpful, and of course many celebrities lead happy and very fulfilling lives, but the lifestyle is not without pressure and can be tiresome and restricting at times. Just occasionally, we hear something of the overwhelming pressures which are borne by some contemporary celebrities. It can be difficult to know who your friends are. Difficult to know who to trust. Other people constantly drawn to you, wanting their moment with you, making demands. The reality is, that sometimes celebrity can be a very lonely place to be.

Personally, I think that this verse attracts less attention in the commentaries than it should, because it lifts the veil on an angle of the life of Christ in these early days of His ministry. Jesus is being hounded by people who want his attention. People are constantly looking for him. He is unable to move anywhere without people pursuing him and making demands of him. If he appears in the town he gets mobbed. If he wanders in the countryside he’s hunted down. His life is no longer his own. He is pursued and watched at every turn. Jesus is a celebrity.

If there had been pens, everyone would have wanted Jesus’ signature. If there had been cameras, there would have been paparazzi riding donkeys. There would have been endless demand for selfies. If there had been Facebook, everyone would have wanted to post pictures, tell stories and spread rumours about Him. For Jesus, there was no safe place to escape to. No gated communities or secure houses where he could take time out. No publicists or media teams to help Him to manage the message. No teams of security guards to keep people at bay.

Wherever he went, people felt a magnetic attraction to Jesus. We do well to notice the  pressures which celebrity put upon Jesus and those around Him. It gives context to those moments when the Disciples tried to protect him, from the leper, from little children. It gives context to those moments when Jesus took time out, withdrew from everyone and everything. It gives context to the times when Jesus needed to reconnect with God, and to refocus on His purpose. Moments when he needed to step back from the pressures of celebrity. We do well to notice that this is a verse which we can connect with. We understand the magnetism of fame, and so we can begin to think about the way people interacted with Jesus. There’s something very contemporary about this verse.

Celebrity is a powerful thing. It has huge impact on our culture today, and that helps us to identify with some of what is going on here. Fame is not always been a good or helpful thing. It needs to be managed. Without control, those who pursue and make demands, the whole publicity machine,  start to define the celebrity. Here is the Son of Man, being hounded by people wanting more healings. Here is the Son of Man, being chased by people demanding more of what they want. Here is the Son of Man, responding to and  managing his celebrity, and recovering control of His own identity. They demand dramatic healings, but His purpose is to preach.

This Scripture gives some really accessible context to the life of the Son of Man in these early days of His ministry. He is a man pursued. He is a man with a mission.

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