Pentecost 23B, 2003
A Liturgy is also available
TERROR BEYOND DESCRIPTION, MATCHED BY HOPE BEYOND DESCRIPTION
Today is the last week we will hear
a gospel story from the storyteller we call Mark.
Last, for three years, that is.
Next week is the end of this liturgical Year B.
Then after that we enter a new Church year
and a new season - Advent.
And the cycle begins all over again.
As I have reflected on this,
I have noticed within myself a degree of sadness.
Which surprised me.
Because I really am not prone to such feelings.
Not over a bunch of Bible stories, anyway!
But this year, coming to the end of Year B, Mark - it feels a bit different.
So I tried to explore some of my feelings.
To begin with, I think I need to say that for the past 15 years or so,
the stories told by Mark have probably been
my favourite gospel storytelling collection.
So I have enjoyed this year.
But I never cease to wonder why those who prepared the Lectionary
left out so many of Mark’s stories.
Good stories. Down-to-earth stories.
Stories which preserve the Jesus Movement’s memory of Jesus.
Second, I have not only enjoyed Mark’s stories but I respect them greatly.
Not just because they are some of the earliest in our gospel storytelling tradition.
But also because there is less ‘layering’ onto these stories.
That is, there seems to be more of an honest Jesus
than a church Christ in these stories.
And that has become an important difference for me.
I think it was the Jesus Seminar scholar Marcus Borg
who alerted me and several others
in our “Against the stream” theological discussion group,
to the important difference between
the pre-Easter Jesus and the post-Easter Christ.
That is, when we take the stories about the post-Easter Christ
as historical reporting about the pre-Easter Jesus, Borg pointed out:
Jesus becomes an unreal human being, and we lose track
of the utterly remarkable person he was.
Third, and this was another new experience...
I along with about 240 others, sat at the feet of John Shelby Spong
at St Paul’s Anglican Church a few weeks back,
and discovered the Jewish structure of Mark’s stories.
This was a liberating experience as we were
invited to view these stories through Jewish eyes.
Spong’s lecture was on Mark, as a Midrash storyteller,
telling the Jesus story based on the Hebrew scriptures
and organised around the liturgical year of the Jews
from Rosh Hashanah (New Year) to Passover.
Spong claimed it was inevitable that the first members of the Jesus Movement,
who were Jewish people, would:
organise their memory, and
shape their religious life
based on their Jewish religious heritage,
which was the only tradition they knew.
Now, I had never been told that, nor seen that, before.
So my curiosity as both a storyteller and a liturgist
was aroused and excited.
It stood in contrast to the suggestion by the Narrative theologian
Richard Jensen (no relation to Peter!) who had shaped my prior thinking.
He argues that Mark’s stories
are modelled on the parable of The Sower (Mark 4).
Remember that story...
some seeds fall on a hard pathway,
some seeds fall on rocky ground,
some seeds fall among thorns and are choked,
some seed fall on good soil.
Jensen says as we journey through Mark we hear this story
in the various and many other stories...
The rich young man.
The healing of a man with an unclean spirit.
The widow and the coins.
And many more.
People heard, but only some responded.
For some the words have fallen on a hard pathway,
on rocky ground,
All through Mark, according to Jensen, is this theological vision
of sown seed and productive and unproductive earth.
And finally, I have become more sensitive to the stories
about outsiders and outcasts in Mark...
And Jesus as an outsider.
I really warmed to what Robert Funk has said:
“Jesus apparently regarded himself as an outsider. He was in exile from his hometown, from his friends and neighbo(u)rs... he was a guest, a traveller, a stranger, an alien in most contexts... ” (Funk 2002:45-46).
Jesus appears to have ignored the social boundaries of his time.
He embraces the beggars, the poor, the hungry.
He becomes know as a friend of toll collectors and prostitutes.
All these fall outside the boundaries of his society
in the most radical manner.
Again Funk has been pivotal to my new awareness:
“The invisible domain of God is populated with the poor, the destitute, with women and unwanted children, with lepers and toll collectors, all considered under some circumstances to be the dregs of society. They are outsiders and outcasts... No wonder Jesus auditors were puzzled by his vision of... God’s domain - it contradicted their normal notion of who belonged and who did not, of who was in and who was out” (Funk 2002:55).
So I hope you might now understand a bit better
when I say I felt a bit disappointed that Mark’s year is coming to an end.
This year, Mark, has been very much a part of my personal journey.
So what are we to make of this final story.
Today’s story by the one we call Mark is a pretty scary story.
Historically it probably refers to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple
many years after the death of Jesus.
Theologically it probably warns of those
who offered the small Jesus Movement
false hopes through dubious signs and wonders.
Either way there would be real human memories:
the brutality of war,
the rape and pillaging,
the burning and torture,
the killing and mutilation.
The Jesus of Mark takes us into this world of terror and offers a vision of hope.
A defiant hope.
A hope centred on the vision of the domain of God.
Where inclusiveness is its rule.
And a passionate concern for others
fires imaginations and compassionate acts.
Terror beyond description is being matched by hope beyond description,
is the way William Loader describes it.
Perhaps this is all we can say about this story.
I trust it is enough.
If it is, then we too can also be blessed.
Funk, R. W. 2002. A credible Jesus. Fragments of a vision. CA: Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press.