Epiphany 4B, 2012
Mark 1: 21-28
A Liturgy is also available
AUTHORITY AND THE ‘MESSIAH’ COMPLEX!
If we believe much of what we hear from the 'shock-jocks' on talk-back radio,
(such as Jones, Hadley and Smith, in Sydney)
read in James Dobson’s books (yuk!), the Left Behind fantasies,
or heed what is being said by fundamentalist Christian lobby groups,
there is both an 'authority' and 'leadership' crisis.
And much of this crisis, it is argued, is centred around
the schools, including schools of theology,
the courts - especially judges and magistrates -
Labor politics and multiculturalism.
Because we live in a pluralistic society with a multiplicity of life styles,
some people, perhaps many people,
are feeling very insecure with life.
Many are looking for a set of instant, ‘quick fix’ answers.
Or some authoritative figure to tell them what to do.
In times of rapid social change people look for a ‘messiah’!
According to this morning’s gospel anecdote, created by
the storyteller Mark to express his notion of the mission of Jesus,
when Jesus spoke people found something powerful happening to their psyches.
‘And the teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, Jesus taught them with authority...
The people were so astonished that they started asking each other what it all meant. Here is a teaching that is new'.
The people are astonished not that Jesus taught,
but at the authority by which he taught.
But what did they mean?
Did he rant and rave or shout?
Was he persuasive in argument or an adept storyteller?
We can only speculate.
Because we only have fragments of a vision.
One such speculative re-imagining is offered by John Dominic Crossan:
'He was an illiterate peasant, but with an oral brilliance that few of those trained in literate and scribal disciplines can ever attain.'
At best, we can guess a credible Jesus taught about
the kingdom or realm or domain of God, which
was everywhere present but not demonstrable.
He focused on some central themes like
As well as illustrating the realm and activity of God
"by focusing his hearers' attention on the observable behavior of phenomena in the physical world around them rather than by reporting his own personal mystical visions..." (Smith 2008:79).
And he drew on common life experiences, trading in the trivial,
the ordinary, rather than interpreting scripture.
Indeed, a secular sage!
This personal style had the effect of shifting the power base of knowledge
from the experts (in scripture, scribes) to the common people.
It was a very different way of doing theology.
It was fresh and news indeed!
Classical theology and traditional authority do not allow this kind of a position.
They both want a return to the ‘good old days’...
capital and corporeal punishment,
christian instruction in schools,
fixed laws on moral conduct,
longer gaol sentences, and
direct lines of external authority: parent, teacher, boss, bishop, pope, prime minister.
‘And the teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, Jesus taught them with authority....
In the stories told about him and the words attributed to him
Jesus presents God’s domain as a new or alternate possible reality,
to the world in which many found themselves trapped in.
We heard some of this last week in Ched Myers comments on the phrase ‘fishers of men’.
Let me very briefly recap for a moment.
Scholar Ched Myers suggested that a phrase like ‘fishers of men’
was a (Hebrew prophets) euphemism for judgement upon the rich.
He said this:
“Taking this mandate for his own, Jesus is inviting common folk to join him in his struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege”... (And) the first step in dismantling the dominant social order is to overturn the ‘world’ of the disciple...” (Myers 2008: 132-133).
The first step: dismantling the dominant ‘world’ of the disciple!
Yet the old reality is tenacious.
It has a powerful grip on people, because in times of
change, anxiety, or terrorism - perceived or actual,
it is supported by many in our own and other communities.
Its influence of ‘pull’ is exceptionally strong.
But Jesus, it seems, opened up the world anew and invited folk
to modify the way they saw reality.
It was indeed, new authority.
Even though in the main it may not have been new teaching.
I reckon, we - you and me - living in the early part of the 21st century,
have a chance as never before, to facilitate a new ‘religious’ authority.
And for me the pulse of that new authority
comes from the disciplined studies within the Westar Institute
and its various Seminars.
For 2000 years, Jesus of Nazareth has been represented to the world
“in terms of later inferences drawn from his sayings and deeds, rather than in terms of what he himself did and said” (Hedrick 2004: 98).
But now with the new ‘uncovering’ work being done by scholars
on both the extra canonical material (The gospels of Thomas, Mary and others),
as well as that on the early Christianities,
we have an opportunity to draw our own inferences about Jesus
from a host of newer or different sources.
And that is truly incredible!
“The only other time in history that this was possible was in the first century” (Hedrick 2004: 99).
Let me stay with this for a moment longer.
Throughout the last 500 year or so history of the church,
people have wrestled with the clash between the Bible and modern science.
And many have coped by a ‘suspension of disbelief’
for an hour or two each week.
But what happens when those same people decide
they can no longer live with the inconsistencies
of tired metaphors and a belief known “to be patently false”? (Hedrick 2004)
They leave. Welcome the ‘church alumni’ association!
And the centres for progressive religion and/or christianity.
And other safe places which openly push theological boundaries.
The urgent question for the church right now, in the 21st century is:
How long can it - you and me - count on suspended disbelief
to shore up its outworn myths? (Hedrick 2004)
That is the kind of argument I reckon Jesus had with the authorities of his day.
That is why imagining another possible way of being in the world,
was, and can be, fresh news.
And if we can take this to heart, and see it as the good news that it is,
we will appreciate why those in the audience that day were so astonished.
‘And the teaching made a deep impression on them...’
So the next time you read in the Church Notices that a study opportunity is planned,
put you hand up to be part of that experience.
It is not your ready-made answers that will count.
It is your openness to new possibilities that will be life-changing.
Hedrick, C. W. “The ‘good news’ about the historical Jesus” in A. Dewey. (ed) The Historical Jesus Goes To Church. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2004.
Myers, C. Binding the Strong Man. A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus. Special edition. Maryknoll. Orbis Books, 2008.
Smith, M. H. "Ears to Hear. Learning to Listen to Jesus" in C. W. Hedrick. When Faith Meets Reason. Religion Scholars Reflect on their Spiritual Journey. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2008.