Hide-and-Seek is the best game ever as a kid. Hiding is especially fun if you’re small. You can fit into small closet spaces and cupboards and places that no one else can fit or even think to look in. A reverse version of the game is ‘backwards hide and seek’, where one person hides. Everyone tries to find that person and then hides with him or her until everyone had discovered where the hider is.
At the beginning of Mark’s gospel, Jesus is on the lookout for disciples. So far we’ve only been introduced to Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John. Jesus found them and called them to follow, and they left everything to do so. But it’s OK, because their first day in Capernaum is a smash hit. They’ve watched people getting excited about Jesus’ authority as he has just taught in their synagogue with authority and cast out a demon. Peter’s mother-in-law is healed, and sundown brings many suffering people who come looking for Jesus.
Can you imagine what the disciples must have been thinking? ‘Jesus is turning out to be amazing!’ ‘Hey, we could use Peter’s mother-in-law’s house in Capernaum as home base for this new venture.’ ‘It won’t take long until everyone hears about this. People will be flocking to come and see Jesus in action. We could charge admission!’ However, things won’t work out that way.
In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a desolate place, and was praying there. Simon and his companions searched for him…Mark 1:35-36
‘Um, John, have you seen Jesus?’
‘No, man. I was just helping this guy over here find a place to lay down.’
‘James, have you seen him?’
‘Mom, any sign of Jesus?’ ‘No, dear.’
‘Andrew, did Jesus say where he was going?’
‘He’s gone? No, he didn’t say anything to me!’
‘Jesus just asked us to follow him, we’ve had an incredible day, and now he disappears?’
‘Maybe he went to the bathroom.’
‘Why would he take off like that?’
‘Where would he go?’
‘Should we be cool and wait a bit?’
‘Yeah, we could, but the line is backed up all the way to the lake, and people are still coming.’
‘Guys, we have to find him!’
There may be a sense of panic, anger and frustration as these young men come to the realization that someone is going to have to hunt Jesus down.
Mark notes that he was in a desolate place, or in the Greek, ‘a wilderness place’. The wilderness has a load of theological significance as a place of chaos, or a reminder of where God led his people after coming out of Egypt and towards the Promised Land. The wilderness was a place to meet God. Mark has already informed us that Jesus went to the wilderness and was tested by the devil before his ministry began.
I wonder how long it took these new disciples to find Jesus, as they go through the familiar village of Capernaum, on to the next village, and keep looking until they finally come to the wilderness—probably the last location they were expecting. Jesus seems to have initiated a game of backwards hide and seek.
…they found him, and said to him, “everyone is looking for you.” Mark 1:37
Have you ever been frustrated with Jesus? Maybe you’ve prayed and you don’t see an immediate answer. You look for something, and don’t seem to find it. You want solutions to your problems, answers to your questions, and happy endings to your situation. It may seem that Jesus is hiding, and that he’s doing it intentionally. It can be frustrating to search for Jesus…and especially if you have an agenda.
As the gospel of Mark progresses, almost everyone who seeks Jesus is doing so with either misguided or malicious intent. ‘Hey Jesus, your mother and brothers are looking for you. They think you’re crazy.’ (Mark 3:32). ‘Here come the Pharisees, and they’re looking to have an argument with you.’ (Mark 8:11-12) Later, the chief priests and scribes seek him in order to destroy him, (Mark 11:18) and then seek him in order to arrest him (Mark 12:12)
I’ll admit that I don’t always truly have the best intentions when seeking Jesus. Do you? The disciples have their own agenda. They see people coming to be healed and want to get the show on the road! But Jesus has an agenda, too—a kingdom agenda. He wants to develop disciples who are willing to follow him. So, when the disciples find him:
He said to them, “let us go somewhere else (really? Somewhere else?) to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” And he went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons. And a leper came to Jesus, beseeching him and falling on his knees before him, and saying, “if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Mark 1:37-40
While they are on the road again, they encounter a leper. A leper is someone who may have had variety of skin problems and was required to keep his distance from other people because anyone or anything he touched would be considered unclean. He wants Jesus to make him clean so that he can come back and participate in community life.
Indignant, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him…Mark 1:41
Wait, what? The Greek word could be rendered ‘moved with compassion’ or ‘indignant’. Scholars disagree. But why would Jesus be indignant, anyway? Is it because the man asks “if you are willing?” Is it because Jesus sees the man who is ostracized from his community and is angry at it? Or, is it because once touching the man, Jesus will be considered unclean and will be unable to enter the towns in which he intended to preach? Hmm…
Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him…Mark 1:41
It’s like a scene in slow motion. Everyone is watching as Jesus stretches out his hand…mouths are opening in shock and horror… But wait! Remember the other wilderness reference? Stretching out the hand is Mark’s way to reference God’s saving power through the hand of Moses as he strikes Egypt with the plagues (Exodus 3:20), and stretched his hand over the sea to part the way for the people to cross on dry land (Exodus 14:21). Now, Jesus is stretching out his hand towards this leper in the wilderness. He has been cast out from his community, unable to sit at table with family and friends, living alone…and NO ONE touches him. No hugs, no pats on the back, no comfort, no support. Can you imagine? Jesus’ touch may be the first he has had in a long time. Picture the disciples holding their breath…’what is going to happen?’ Surprise! Jesus doesn’t get infected—his touch brings healing.
Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. And he sternly warned him and immediately sent him away, and he said to him, “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.” But he went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the news around, to such an extent that Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but stayed out in unpopulated areas; and they were coming to him from everywhere. Mark 1:41-45
This man’s healing is the first step in the process to being let back in the community. Would you keep quiet about something like that? Ironically, the leper and Jesus now trade places. Jesus has touched the man, which technically makes him unclean. But that makes Jesus in demand more than ever. The leper leaves the wilderness to go back to his community, and because of his testimony, Jesus can’t go to the city without people mobbing him. So he stays in the unpopulated areas, which is just another translation of the word for—(you guessed it)—wilderness. Jesus is in a constant state of hide-and-seek. When the spotlight hones in on him in Capernaum, he moves to the wilderness. The disciples finally find him, and following the testimony of the leper, the people leave their cities to find him in the wilderness, too.
I’ve found that being a disciple of Jesus is a constant adjustment to my own agenda. Jesus is person of private prayer, even when people seem to need him the most. He moves around and doesn’t let his disciples settle. He seeks those on the margins of society and brings healing, even when it means facing his own marginalization. Following Jesus can bring interruptions, uncertainties and interactions with people that are unsettling. It’s not a path I would choose on my own, especially when it comes to hanging out in the wilderness. I’d prefer staying where it’s comfortable and familiar; not where it’s difficult and could be discouraging. And every time I think I have Jesus nailed down, he says, ‘come on, there’s work do to over here—over there—over there. Inevitably, following Jesus also leads to a cross, where it’s not just uncomfortable, it’s downright terrifying! Here’s the trajectory:
And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? Mark 8:34-36
Jesus isn’t disguising the end view, and he’s also not playing games. It’s not that he’s actually hiding from us, yet he’s not staying where we’re comfortable, either. He’s always on the move and wants us to seek and to find him, just as he is surely seeking and finding us. He is delightfully inviting people to join him on an adventure—where the wilderness will turn into a paradise, where brokenness leads to healing, and where even death leads to life. So how about it? Is anyone up for some hide-and-seek?
You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13) For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost. (Luke 19:10)
 C. Clifton Black, Mark, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2011, 79.
 George B. Telford, Jr., “Expository Articles: Mark 1:40-45”, Interpretation, January 1, 1982, 54-58, 56.