This month’s posts are by Don Carlson, Assistant to the Bishop in the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Pentecost 6B – July 8, 2012
Ezekiel 2:1-5- Call of Ezekiel: Whether they hear or not, they shall know a prophet has been among them.
Psalm 123 – Our eyes look to you, O God, until you show us your mercy. (Ps. 123:3)
2 Corinthians 12:2-10- Paul’s out of body experience, and his thorn in the flesh. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
Mark 6:1-13 – A prophet is not without honor except in his own country. Jesus sends the twelve two-by-two.
“Ezekiel’s Vision” by Rubens
“They shall know that a prophet has been among them.”
I can remember hearing all about the “prophets” and “prophecy” when I was in confirmation. The prophets were the “see-ers” and the “fore-tellers” that fore-saw and foretold – prophesied about – the birth of Jesus. Maybe there was some mention about justice and kindness (although I can’t remember any), but their supposed raison d’être was to point to Jesus as Messiah. It was solely a liturgical “Advent understanding” of prophecy. All prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus’ birth.
Of course, that completely ripped the prophets out of their context, and inferred that they had little or no immediate message in and to the time in which they wrote. Or, if they had a message relevant to their time it wasn’t all that important any longer because their real message was about Jesus.
I’m not sure when someone (probably in seminary?) pointed out to me that prophets were not so much “foretellers” as they were “forth-tellers,” but I do know that from that point on the prophets came alive for me in a whole new way. Now, for us rostered types, all this may seem like a long way to go for a short drink of water – an exercise in stating the obvious. However, I suspect that many of our parishioners are in the “foretelling” rather than the “forth-telling” camp; a POV that is nurtured and fed by much of the evangelical movement. And I suspect that this is why many of our congregations have trouble with the church messing around in “social issues” – they fail to understand the true nature of the prophetic voice; or maybe the reality is that they do – all too well.
“Man of Sorrows” by Jankengt
Well, they weren’t stoned because they were telling cryptic messages about some far off future baby Jesus. They were stoned because the people “knew that there was a prophet among them” and they didn’t like what the prophet had to say – sometimes about profit.
I think that the NRSV’s rendering (it is not a translation) of “ben adam” as “O mortal” (“human being” in Daniel) rather than “son of man” is most unfortunate. Why? Because it’s the title that the Gospels writers often use when Jesus refers to himself; 13 instances in the Gospel of Mark alone. What might one infer from this? If this is the title Jesus preferred using of himself it would seem to me that he clearly saw himself in the tradition of the prophets. Let’s move to the gospel text.
“Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? Is not this the carpenter’s son?” That’s a passage that is familiar to us all. However, that’s Matthew’s version. And here’s Luke’s version: “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?'”
Here’s Mark’s version: “What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter…” Point? Both Matthew and Luke “soften” Mark’s Jesus a bit. We shouldn’t pass over Mark’s use of the word “carpenter” too quickly. Take a look at the beginning of a Q&A by John Dominic Crossan and Joerg Rieger.
“Amos” by Gustav Dore
There’s lots of roads one could drive down just based upon verse 3 alone; however, in my mind, it dovetails with what I have already said. If Jesus sees himself in the tradition of the prophets, “carpenter” – peasant, day laborer – puts the carpenter from Nazareth in the tradition of prophets such as Amos, the shepherd from Tekoa.
Jesus could do no “mighty works” at Nazareth. He was able to heal a few people and I’m sure those people didn’t care about Jesus’ humble status; however, evidently not everyone does know when a prophet has been among them. And, again, that’s how Jesus refers to himself in this story.
Jesus sent the disciples out two by two. “So they went out and preached that people should repent.” Repent? Of what? Personal sins? I can just imagine the roads some preachers will drive down at this point. Pick your favorite societal sin or cultural battle and wail away!
But, I think one should stay within Mark’s story. Jesus’ disciples are probably going with the same message Jesus came bringing. “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.'”
“Good news” or “gospel tidings” was not a unique term or phrase in Mark’s world. The “good news” was the public announcement of a military victory. The “good news” was the announcement of a new Caesar or the birth of an heir to the throne. One only need remember the inscription to Augustus at Priene:
“Since Providence, which has ordered all things and is deeply interested in our life, has set in most perfect order by giving us Augustus, whom she filled with virtue that he might benefit humankind, sending him as a savior [swthvr], both for us and for our descendants, that he might end war and arrange all things, and since he, Caesar, by his appearance [ejpifanei’n], surpassing all previous benefactors, and not even leaving to posterity any hope of surpassing what he has done, and since the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning of the good tidings for the world that came by reason of him…”
A complete article on the relationship between Mark’s Gospel and the inscription at Priene can be found here.
“Resurrection” by El Greco
And so, there is another “kingdom of God” at hand; which is not the kingdom of Caesar. (Caesar was a god; Caesar has a kingdom; ergo: the Roman Empire was the kingdom of god.) And there is other “good news” afoot (quite literally, afoot) quite unlike the “good news” of the empire. And, to go back to last week, there is a different kind of “godly power” at hand; a power that stops the flow of blood, rather than making blood flow; a power that raises people up, rather than crushing them with poverty and oppression. I would encourage you to listen (sorry, a static picture) to a presentation by John Dominic Crossan on Jesus and Caesar.
Crossan talks about a peace that comes, not through victory, but through justice. He also refers to a “collaborative and participatory eschaton.” Several weeks ago, when I was rummaging around the “mysterious seed parables of the kingdom” in Mark 4, I cited Luther’s explanation to the Second petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “The kingdom of God comes indeed without our prayer, of itself; but we pray in this petition that it may come unto us also.” How would one reconcile Luther’s explanation with Crossan’s “participatory eschaton?” Or, with “God’s work. Our Hands.” Can we hang onto that tension? (Talk amongst yourselves…)
What to preach? Well there’s all sorts of dangerous stuff here. I think I would spend some time talking about repentance; but I would talk about it in broader, corporate, existential terms. And I would talk about prophecy and prophets. Why do they make us so uneasy when they come with some version of “thus saith the Lord?”
Why? I think it’s because they, and Jesus, call our whole system – our whole road and route to peace – into question. We are much more enamored by the kingdom of Caesar than we are willing to admit. And we are much more comfortable with victory than we are with justice. As Walter Brueggemann suggested in the article “Counterscript” I referenced last week: “We are ambivalent about the kingdom of God.” At least,I am.
“Ministry is conducted in the awareness that most of us are deeply ambivalent about the alternative script. We do not want to choose decisively between the dominant script of therapeutic, technological, consumerist militarism and the counterscript of the elusive, irascible God. We are characteristically double-minded, standing between two scripts the way Elijah [a prophet] found Israel standing between Baal and Yahweh. And of course we know what happens in our double-mindedness; “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matt. 6:24).”
But as Brueggemann also stated, “Surely one of the crucial tasks of ministry is to name the deep ambiguity that besets us, and to create a venue for waiting for God’s newness among us. This work is not to put people in crisis. The work is to name the crisis that people are already in, the crisis that evokes resistance and hostility when it is brought to the surface and named.”
So I would probably rummage around in that a bit. Name that existential crisis in which we all dwell, and then tell of another king and kingdom – in which we can better “live, move, and have our being.”
Music? “We Are Called,” 720 ELW; “Let Streams of Living Justice,” 710 ELW (THAXTED; one of my favorite hymn tunes!). Get a good pianist and soloist and try “Turn Back, O Man” from Godspell. For a more traditional version, try the same words set to the Old 124th; this was hymn #348 in the SBH – red, not cranberry. (OK. So I’m old!”)
It has been enjoyable to write these musings during the past few weeks. It has also been good to get away from administration and paper shuffling and get back to writing – and doing theology. I hope these posts/podcasts have been helpful to you.
There are many things that pastors and other rostered leaders are called to be about and do. That having been said, I firmly believe that one of our chief responsibilities is to be “theologians in residence” in the communities we serve. Yes, I’m an INTJ on the Myers-Briggs, but I believe that all of us do our communities good service when we help our people, not only feel, but also think deeply about the faith; not only emote, but also ponder.
The peace of the Lord be with you always.