Pentecost 18B, 2012
A Liturgy is also available
INSIDERS WHO BECOME OUTSIDERS, AND VICE VERSA
Mark’s borrowed story set down in the Lectionary for today
has the potential to raise many issues
and touch painful experiences.
Because it has the potential to press many of our social conscience,
and maybe even personal, ‘buttons’, such as:
Coupled with these, Mark has Jesus speaking in some fairly
desperate and exaggerated terms
in order to underscore his vision of reality.
So let me offer a brief comment or two on the hard experiences
- exclusion and child abuse - rather than on all the hyperbole...
of hand-lopping and eye-plucking!
Someone outside the circle of Jesus and his close associates
is seen to be ‘trading’ without the proper credentials.
The disciples, but probably more correctly, Mark’s struggling congregation,
see this person and others, as outsiders.
And they want to be sure that outsiders remain outsiders.
They check him out.
Listen to what is being said.
Watch what is done.
Take notes for further reference.
The disciples are diligent. They present their case to Jesus.
Outsiders should remain outsiders.
But Mark says Jesus doesn’t agree.
As our often quoted William Loader suggests:
“Jesus is not an egotist obsessed with protecting his reputation, but someone who cares about people. It does not matter if the love comes from his hand or the hand of another, as long as it comes” (WLoader/Web site 2003).
When so-called ‘insiders’ start deciding who the so-called ‘outsiders’ are,
they walk with real danger.
This is expressed well in Richard Jensen’s comment on this story:
"Whenever you want to draw lines in order to mark who is outside the kingdom and who is inside, always remember: Jesus is on the other side of the line! Jesus is always with the outsiders!" (Jensen 1996:149).
So this story starts out about insiders wanting to keep outsiders out.
But it includes a cautionary note that suggests insiders,
‘though they don’t often realise it,
can very easily become ‘outsiders’ themselves by their actions.
Mention child abuse and immediately many of us
will recall the stories of sexual abuse experienced by children
at the hands of some clergy and religious in the church.
Because of the media coverage given to these cases
I expect many, if not all of us,
have formed some strong opinions on this subject.
While not wanting to downplay the seriousness of child sexual abuse
in any way, let us remember there are other,
more subtle forms of abuse as well.
Joel Marcus is professor of New Testament and Christian origins at Boston University School of Theology.
Those of us who have travelled in ‘third-world’ countries will,
I feel sure, resonate with his touching, if not challenging, story:
“Once, on a bus tour of Egypt, we were led into a ‘school’. It turned out to be a carpet factory where children sat hour after hour before huge looms, weaving lovely rugs to grace the living rooms of Western tourists like ourselves. They were beautiful children who flashed us shy smiles, and their hands flew so rapidly over the looms that we could scarcely see them.
“I remember a young woman from the tour, a college student, hugging one of the little girls and weeping - weeping that this child should have to forfeit her childhood, and her hope for the education that might lift her out of poverty, for the sake of the few dollars she was earning for her family by making rugs for tourists.
“Somehow, just by visiting, we all felt complicit in the exploitation and destruction of spirit that was going on in that so-called school” (Marcus/Religion-on-line web site).
These stories, both biblical and otherwise, certainly seem hard stories
for any who wishes to make distinctions
between outsiders and insiders.
Mark seems to be saying to his congregation, here is a choice:
restriction and constraint, or
preservation and setting free.
To choose the first is to fall into the disciples trap of exclusiveness.
To choose the latter is to rise to the Jesus challenge of inclusiveness.
An inclusiveness which, as I have suggested on previous occasions,
enlarged God to include humankind
and enlarged the self to include the neighbour.
According to Mark, Jesus talked a lot about what he called
the kingdom or realm or domain or empire of God.
But this domain... this re-imagined vision of reality
wasn't some ‘pie-in-the-sky’ thing to wait for.
It was present but invisible,
becoming a part of their lives right then.
And it gave a preference to the underside of their social world.
The poor and landless.
The toll collector.
The slave child.
All those who had been marginalised, treated as ‘outsiders’,
became privileged in God’s domain.
Mark’s listeners were not prepared for the irony of that.
It contradicted their normal notion
of who belonged and who did not,
of who was in and who was out
of who should hold leadership in the church and who should not.
And in all the talk going on in the Uniting Church at the moment
- indeed during this very weekend in Sydney (at the Synod) -
and also in the Catholic and Anglican churches around the world,
there are still those in the church who are not prepared for this irony.
That God is the God of politics and the marketplace,
the poor and the working and the retired,
the tillers of the land, the student, and the people of justice,
as well as clergy of all gender.
Right now there seems to be groups of noisy people
running around in anguish, shouting:
But as Mark reminds us: in Jesus’ vision, God breaks out of our rules
for proper credentials,
for power and authority.
Whenever we want to draw lines in order to define
who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’, Mark says remember...
Jesus is always with the outsider!
And that, I reckon, is the real message of hope for us in these stories!
Jensen, R. A. 1996. Preaching Mark’s gospel. OH: Lima. CSS Publishing.