Friday, March 25, 2005

Whence come our 'leaders'? Part II


With Mark’s story, we find a more nuanced text than that found in the other Synoptic Gospels [1]. His keen use of language, syntax, and literary techniques, far advanced in his day, yields a more subtle narrative requiring great attention on the part of the reader if Mark’s message is to be grasped.

Oddly, Mark has no infancy narrative, beginning instead with John’s appearance in the wilderness. The omission is not accidental, nor does it represent ignorance of the tradition. Instead, the narrative’s emphasis on the sudden appearance of John, followed by the anointing of Jesus in the Jordan, is meant to convey the in-breaking nature of the Gospel message; a message borne by a Spirit-man more possessed than possessor (Mk. 1:12), whose mission will end with the spreading abroad of the same experience to others. [2]

For narrative reasons, we will begin with Mk. 2:22, which proves particularly germane to our thesis:

“No one places new wine into old wineskins;
since the wine shall burst the skins.”

While this verse appears in all three Synoptic accounts, I’ve chosen to deal with it here because Mark’s retention of this saying in - what appears to be – an early position of significance (Mt. 9:17; Lk. 5:37), has the effect of preparing the reader for a radical new vision of God’s people. [3] Our context begins with John’s disciples and the Pharisees asking Jesus about the apparent failure of His disciples to fast. These aforementioned groups are clearly frustrated by this seemingly untraditional and cavalier form of religious committement. While Jesus’ answer is intended to befuddle His interlocutors, the sympathetic reader is prodded to see the possibility of a truth that lies beyond mere religious practice. The use of the broad-brushed metaphors of wine and wineskin to capture the essence of both systems of faith, results in a stunning commentary on the soon-to-be passé Jewish religious system, at the same time providing a subtle hint at the new one that is to come. The old simply has no ability to contain this “wine” and so finds no other use than to be discarded. What kind of ‘system’ this “new wine” purports to be in not mentioned here, but the reader is now prepared for the total redefinition that is to come.

This ‘redefinition’ begins in earnest in chapter nine, with the debate over who will be greatest in the Kingdom of God. But having touched upon this idea already with Matthew’s Gospel, we will focus instead on a parable located in the discussion, which although referenced in all three Synoptics, is contained in Mark with an additional piercing commentary on secular leaders, as we shall see.

“You know that those who assume to rule the nations
lord it over them,
and their renowned men sit in authority over them.
But it shall not be so among you,
for whoever wishes to become renowned among you
shall be your servant,
and whoever wishes to be number one among you,
shall be a slave to all.
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served
but to serve and give His life a ransom
in exchange for the multitude”
Mk. 10:42-45

Arguably there is no more categorical statement coming from Jesus that is so intended to define what His Church is to be. By comparing it directly with the institutions among the nations, and not just their attitudes, He prevents all those who would try to say, “Jesus is not forbidding our present institutions, which are modeled on the world’s systems, but is merely saying that those who function within them will be humble.” This approach reveals a bad and disingenuous exegesis. Jesus is not speaking of mere humility, but a humility that excludes those who would presume to lead based on their superior qualifications, of whatever source they may be. The Church is to be something the world has never seen nor can explain. To be sure, He is not saying that it will live without leadership, just not like anything that resides within the visible world. Just as the Centurion recognized Jesus as one under authority, even though that ‘authority’ was not readily known, so also the Church’s conduct will reflect a submission to this same other-worldly source. As a cause is known by its effect, so our obedience apart from worldly leaders will convict of a greater authority. But it requires no less than an entire revolution in religious existence. Jesus’ form of humility is wholistic, it changes the person’s heart as well as their world.

Reinforcing our thesis, Mark alone subtly hints at the illusion of human authority by denoting the rulers as “those who assume to rule.” The reader is to understand that, while people think they are in charge, the real truth is that God’s sovereign authority is the power behind the throne, so to speak. Thus, when the Christian functions under authority in a Church without rulers, he/she is testifying to this certain yet hidden truth.

This concludes our discussion on Mark. As with Matthew, we will list critical points requiring our attention:
1) No human system can contain the Church.
2) The apparently ‘leaderless’ Church acts as a functional witness of God’s true authority over the world.
3) It is not just a question of humility, but of a radical new perception, and its resultant organism.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.


[1] Syn = with, optic = eye, thus ‘with the eye’. The meaning here is that a definite relationship between these three texts can be readily seen.
[2] This ‘possession’ becomes definitive for Jesus’ re-definition of the organizational nature of the Church. How? By making it irrelevant in the light of the direct application of the divine mind to the Saints via the Spirit.. This theme admits of great importance for the nature of the Church, but cannot be dealt with until we can take up the idea in a later article hopefully to be entitled “The Subversive Nature of the Spirit.”
[3] This “appearance” depends largely upon the illusion of suddenness created by the omission of the Infancy narrative. All three Gospels give this saying a position of prominence by its early placement in their respective texts, but Mark’s omission of the Infancy Narrative works to give the parable much more prominence and thus power.


Blogger John Schroeder said...

Great Series. I've linked to it here

6:13 AM  
Blogger Terry said...

Come to think of it, some of my thoughts on government are really related to some of the things we have been discussing.

10:49 PM  

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