William Shakespeare called it “the bubble reputation”: what others think of us … what others say about us … how often others speak of us … how popular we might be.

There have always been people who courted fame; even before newspapers, television, and the internet. However, it is probably safe to say that our era has raised ‘popularity’ to a whole new level. People these days are in love with fame, obsessed with celebrity, and hungry for prominence.

Paris Hilton is the first person most of us might recognize as being famous … well … for being famous. She has no discernable talent or ability. Some say she is physically attractive—if so, that is a gift of genetics rather than a personal accomplishment. She has a rich family, but it is a fortune she did not earn. There is no good reason for her celebrity status apart from the fact that she is a celebrity!

This phenomenon (I understand) was originally called the “Zsa Zsa Factor”—after Zsa Zsa Gabor who managed to parlay a strategic marriage and a lamentable acting career into a certain, brief fame. She was talked about. Her pictures were in all the magazines. She was known, like Paris, for being known.

Today, of course, it is the Kardashian family who epitomizes the insatiable craving for celebrity. They have hitched their wagon to the awful (hopefully short-lived) offense of reality TV. Love them or hate them, the Kardashians don’t really care … as long as you’re talking about them!

Funny how our secular, irreligious, profane culture still feels the need to worship at the altar of celebrity. We spend billions every year for a glimpse of candid photographs and the “intimate” details of the lives of movie stars, models, musicians, and (ughhh!) “personalities.” People Magazine sells almost four million copies in the US every week. Entertainment Weekly sells almost two million copies. The National Enquirer (of “inquiring minds want to know” fame) sells over a million copies a week—though only 125 people actually admit to reading it!

We are endlessly fascinated by the trivia of trivial lives.

Jesus the Celebrity

Would it, then, offend you if I suggested there was a time when Jesus of Nazareth was considered a celebrity? He was wildly popular. Everyone wanted to take a peek at him, touch him, brag that they’d met him. Had there been a National Enquirer in Judea during the 1st century, Jesus
Jesus was a figure of considerable fascination, controversy, popularity, and public acclaim at a certain stage of his ministry. He could (literally!) do miracles. He had a charismatic personality. People were drawn to him. When he walked into a room, heads turned. When he opened his mouth, people strained to listen. When he traveled about, crowds followed his every move.would have appeared on the cover, with a blazing headline like: “The Man behind the Miracles!”

It is this “Popular Christ,” the man everyone loved to love, that Mark introduces to us in the very first chapter of his Gospel.

Living two thousand years after the birth of Jesus, it is hard for us to grasp what kind of man he truly was, how he affected his contemporaries. We tend to focus on what he said, where he went, whom he met. We collect facts about Jesus: carpenter, mother was Mary, born in Bethlehem, died on a cross. But Mark wants to impress us with the presence of Jesus. This was a man who moved people viscerally. He made an indelible impression. Sitting in a crowd listening to him talk could be a life-changing event. Having him touch you could actually save your life. Mark begins his Gospel (1:14-45) by focusing on the aura that surrounded Jesus, the charisma he exuded, the awe he inspired in those who spent time with him.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting that (like a pre-reality-TV Kardashian) Jesus was famous merely for being famous. There were good reasons for his fame and popularity.

But there was a time when Jesus was famous and fashionable and feted. And Mark starts his story of Jesus wanting us to know that about that Jesus.

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