Power.Pent5B.2012

Pentecost 5B, 2012
Mark 6:1-13

A Liturgy is also available

POWER ENABLING RATHER THAN POWER OVER

Today we continue to be shaped by the stories from the storyteller we call Mark.
The storyteller which most scholars now claim
was the earliest of all the Canon gospel storytellers.

And what an interesting storyteller this ‘Mark’ is!
Indeed, one who has spent a lifetime of academic study on Mark, says:
“When we enter the story world of the Gospel of Mark, we enter a world full of conflict and suspense, a world of surprising reversals and strange ironies, a world of riddles and hidden meanings... [where] Jesus is the dominant character” (Rhoads 1982:1, 101).

Having now heard three or four of Mark’s stories over the past few weeks
perhaps you have begun to sense some of that ‘conflict’
and ‘surprising reversals’ and ‘hidden meanings’ too.

But having said that, let me have another look
at the stories which we have heard over the past two weeks:
the stilling of the storm,
the healing of the woman with the haemorrhage.

As well as today’s stories:
a visit to the hometown, and the sending out of the disciples.

Many sub themes are interwoven into all these stories.
In all my comments these past couple of weeks
I have only touched on one or two of those themes.
There are several others.

Today’s story highlights one such sub theme - ‘power’.
And of course this theme is also in the other stories as well.
Power over nature.
Power over illness.

But interestingly enough in today’s stories, ‘power’ is experienced in deep contrast.
For Jesus, it was a limiting of power.
For the disciples, it was God’s ‘healing power’ in others lives.

So let me stay with this ‘power’ sub theme for a bit
as I play back and forth between all these stories.

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• In the story of the stilling of the storm...

Mark and other storytellers of the day
saw the ability to control the sea and subdue storms
as characteristic of having ‘divine power’ (Nineham 1963:146).

So when the storm hit the boat threatening to sink it,
the disciples don’t just reproached Jesus for his seeming indifference.
They attack him personally.
“They project on(to) him concern for their well-being and survival, and are thus emptied of the inner resources to deal with the storm themselves” (Wink/LookSmart web site 2006).

Once awake, so the story goes, Jesus
“performed the characteristically divine act... and the disciples were... filled with a different kind of fear... realizing they were in the presence of one who disposed of power nothing less than divine” (Nineham 1963:147).

• In the story of the woman with the haemorrhage...

For 12 years, so the storyteller says, a woman suffered from
a continuing loss of blood that clearly
debilitated body, resources, and morale.

In almost a last lunge for life, she thrusts her feeble fingers
toward the hem of Jesus’ garment.
Then a ‘power drain’.

She felt drained by the sheer energy of her action and confession.
He felt drained by the force of her need.

• In the story of the hometown visit...

As a result of the scepticism of his hometown family and neighbours,
our storyteller says Jesus’ power to heal others was ‘limited’.

What exactly is the tension between Jesus and his family, especially his brothers?
After all, writes new testament scholar Dom Crossan,
“[a]ny Mediterranean peasant would expect an expanding ripple of patronage-clientage to go out from Jesus, through his family and his village, to the outside world...” (Crossan 1991:347).

Well, these stories are certainly living out that earlier comment:
“...a world of surprising reversals and strange ironies, a world of riddles and hidden meanings” (Rhoads 1982:1).

But one other story remains.
• The story of the sending out of the disciples...

And here I want to offer the comments of Process theologian, Bruce Epperly.
Mark the storyteller says Jesus sent his disciples out two by two.

“Unlike the rulers of the earth”, suggests Epperly, “they travel simply and affirm their need of others in order to live their vocation.  Jesus’ disciples are challenged to see their healing vocation as relational” (Epperly, P&F web site 2006).

And then this:
“In the healing adventure, giving and receiving are interdependent.  The generosity of others enables us to fulfill our vocations.  The disciples accept hospitality, but also do not blame or punish those who turn their backs on them.  They let go of failure, knowing that success is not entirely in their own hands.  They can’t control the belief or unbelief of others.  Freed of the need to succeed, they simply go on to the next healing adventure.  Great things happen!” (Epperly, P&F web site 2006).

And finally:
“As God’s partners in healing the world, we need to cultivate healthy models of relational power...” (Epperly, P&F web site 2006)

Mmm.  I reckon it is in living out of a ‘relational power’ perspective
that we are helped to unlock the  surprising reversals
and strange ironies
and the hidden meanings in Mark’s stories.

So what is this ‘relational power’ process theologians talk about?
Relational power seems to be about having the ability
to both absorb and exert an influence.

To influence others and to be influenced by others.
And where relationships play a constructive role
in the creation of individuals and groups
and in their subsequent freedom to be themselves.

Such power stands in sharp contrast to its opposite: ‘unilateral power’.
And in this game, both (i) national governments and (ii) the institutional church are no exception.

(i) In 2006 the Australian Tax Office, one of the 'money' arms of government, announced
it would start reviewing the entitlement for concessions,
including deductible gift recipient status, of 200 non-profit entities.

And guess who was targeted?  Those ‘non-profit’ groups
who also engage in advocacy and public policy debates, such as:
Greenpeace
Oxfam
The World Wildlife Fund
Wilderness Society
World Vision
PLAN
Nature Conservation Society NSW
AidWatch Victoria

The case was taken to the High Court in 2010 and the charities won.

Commenting on the court’s decision, World Vision chief executive Revd Tim Costello said:
"The High Court has recognised that, in a robust democracy, charities contribute to civil society in many ways, including by engaging in public policy debates and advocacy.  Limiting charities to their narrow, 17th century incarnation of direct service delivery would erode their contributions to society."

The decision also opens up the possibility of some organisations engaged in advocacy becoming newly eligible for charitable status.
"It may mean those who campaign for a reduction of poverty, or for refugee rights, gaining such status because they pursue public benefits through their advocacy", Giri Sivaraman, a senior associate at law practice Maurice Blackburn, said (The Australian, 12/2010).

The High Court is saying that public debate is itself a benefit.
And that governments do not have unilateral power.

(ii) In her book With or without God, Gretta Vosper (Vosper 2008) makes a repeated point:
the history of the church is about power.

That is, some people believing they had the power to control
what other people could think, or believe, or do,
were and are determined to call others ‘into line’.

And they have been doing so for more than 1600 years!

Now it is clear our storyteller Mark reckoned Jesus used ‘power’.
Sometimes that ‘power’ was a power over... 
Over demons, as shaped and understood by a pre-scientific cosmology.

But most times, and especially with people, that ‘power’ was power enabling...
Enabling others to accomplish their hopes.
Enabling others to widen their understanding.
Enabling others to break through restrictive habits of thinking and seeing
“(and) in expanding the freedom of the hearer, and in persuasion with respect to how that freedom might be used” (Cobb 1997:103).

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For every reason under the sun we can’t go back into the story world of Mark.
But by continuing to experience our own 21st century story world,
and seeing and hearing and struggling with that world, in all its political reality,
perhaps in our choices and in our behaviour, we can now
be better prepared to live more courageous and humane lives.

Of course there is the use of ‘power’ in our lives, especially if society
is to function at all, but we need to be also aware
“that power is an invariably corrupting experience for humans” (Holloway 2008: 137).

So once again I am reminded of the wisdom of one who has,
over the years, helped in shaping my theological thinking:
“The earth belongs, or ought to belong, to those who make the largest claims on life.  The largest claims are not made nor are they makeable in the form of unilateral power.  They are made by those who attempt to embody most fully the life of relational power, for they are claims made not only for themselves but on behalf of all peoples” (Loomer 1976).

And, I would add, because of our daily choices,
become ‘good news’ to both themselves and to others.

Notes:
Cobb Jr, J. B. 1997.  Reclaiming the church. Where the mainline church went wrong and what to do about it. KN: Louisville. John Knox Press.
Crossan, J. D. 1991.  The historical Jesus. The life of a mediterranean jewish peasant. VIC: North Blackburn. CollinsDove.
Holloway, R. 2008.  Between the monster and the saint. Reflections on the human condition. VIC: Melbourne. Text Publishing.
Loomer, B. E. 1976.  “Two conceptions of power” in Process Studies 6, 1, 5-32.
Nineham, D. E. 1963.  Saint Mark. Pelican New Testament Commentaries. GtB: Middlesex. Penguin.
Rhoads, D.; D. Michie. 1982.  Mark as story. An introduction to the narrative of the gospel. MN: Minneapolis. Augsburg Press.
Vosper, G. 2008.  With or without God. Why the way we live is more important that what we believe. Canada: Toronto. HarperCollins.

rexae@optusnet.com.au