Six Week Free Study of Philemon

Friends, don’t forget that you can participate in the online Zoom study of Paul’s letter to Philemon that I will offer beginning January 17, from seven to eight p.m. Central Standard Time. If you’d like to participate, message me and I’ll send you an invitation with the link. I’m recording the sessions and can share them with you if the time doesn’t work.

Text Study for John 2:1-11 (Part One)

Friends, I will be launching online Zoom bible for six weeks on Paul’s Letter to Philemon, beginning on Monday, January 17, from 7 to 8 p.m. CST. If you’d like a Zoom invitation, please let me know and I’ll be sure you get one. Thanks!

2 Epiphany C, January 16, 2022

This Sunday we have a brief foray into the Johannine account before we get serious about reading the Lukan gospel. Once again, I wish we simply had a “Year D” in the Revised Common Lectionary rather than these hit-and-run encounters with the Gospel of John.

I have no interest in a lectionary which ends up serving as a sort of “Diatessaron by default,” an effort to create an impression of harmony among the gospel accounts. That harmony doesn’t exist. It is not necessary. Nor is it desirable. The Church needs the diversity of gospel voices without imposing an assimilation toward one of the accounts as the controlling narrative to which the other accounts are compared. Historically, for the Lutheran tradition, that controlling narrative was the Johannine account, but that emphasis has faded in the past few generations.

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I appreciate David Ewart’s “Holy Textures” blog and would recommend it for weekly reading (see David Ewart, www.holytextures.com). Ewart notes that this is the Johannine account. We don’t get miracles. We get “signs.” He notes that signs, in the Johannine account, don’t point to what was done or how something was done. Instead, the signs point to who did it. And the who is always Jesus. The signs in the Johannine account reveal things about Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. And they reveal things about the character of God, the one whom the Son makes known (see John 1:18).

Karoline Lewis notes, in the current “Sermon Brainwave” podcast, that this sign includes lots of details to remind us that the Word becomes flesh ( https://www.workingpreacher.org/podcasts/824-second-sunday-after-epiphany-jan-16-2022). Jesus has a mother, although in the Johannine account, Jesus’ mother is never named. Jesus’ mother shows up here at the wedding and again at the foot of the cross. Perhaps that means something.

Jesus and his associates are invited to the same local wedding celebration as Jesus’ mother. I appreciate David Ewart’s attention to detail here. He notes that the responsibility for having enough wine at the party was not on the host or the bridegroom. It was the responsibility of the community. The lack of wine “indicates that the host either has a shameful lack of friends who were socially obliged to bring sufficient wine as gifts…Or the host’s friends have shamed themselves – and the host – by failing to provide sufficient wine.”

I wonder if Jesus’ mother comes to Jesus about this problem (at least in terms of the narrative) because he hadn’t brought any wine in the first place. Jesus has a mother who experiences family shame, in that case, because her family is directly responsible. And she experiences community shame because the whole community has now failed the happy couple (and left themselves high and dry). Jesus may think that he has more important things to do, but his very human obligations don’t disappear as a result.

The Word becomes flesh and dwells among us.

“Since the wine was lacking, the mother of Jesus says to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus says to her, ‘What’s that to me and to you, woman? My hour hasn’t yet arrived’.” (John 2:3-4, my translation). I think many of us readers have been trained to hear the Johannine account as the most “spiritual” and elevated of the gospel reports. But the Gospel of John is filled with these moments of interpersonal tension and confrontation – moments that are intensely human.

If and when you read this text aloud in worship or study, how will you “play” it? What emotional tone, if any, will you apply to this bit of dialogue in the account? Does Jesus’ mother come with impatience, in a fit of pique, or filled with anxiety on behalf of “the women in the kitchen”? If Jesus has forgotten his contribution, is she scolding him for a failure in adulting? I don’t know for sure, but it matters in the reading and interpretation of the text.

Does Jesus reply with disdain or even disrespect? The “woman” part of the text certainly gives it that flavor. Or does he sigh with some resignation, knowing that no one – including his mother – “gets him” yet? Is he dismissive, derisive, or a bit dejected? Those are quite different readings and interpretations of what’s happening here.

I wonder if we miss some of the comedy of the text by holding Jesus up too high in a story that securely roots him in the small details of village life. His mother rightly calls him out for being a bit irresponsible and leaving the happy couple in the lurch. He’s irritated, not only for being caught out but more so for being called out – by a woman in a public setting. So, by golly, he’ll show her who’s bringing the wine. You want some wine? How about one hundred eighty gallons of the best stuff ever!

I can’t help but think about any number of mother/son exchanges in the sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond. Playing the dialogue in the voices of Ray Romano and Doris Roberts might put the text in a whole different light.

Or does he respond playfully, as Jesus often does in the Johannine account? Yup, you got me, Momma. I know you left sticky notes on my door to remind me, but I really was a little busy and forgot. So, how about I make it up to everyone. Here’s enough wine, not just for an average party, but for the best…party…ever! You might think twice the next time you tell me we’re a bit short on supplies!

Perhaps there is an exuberance here beyond all expectation. You know, I don’t really do “exuberance,” so I’m speaking as an outside observer. But the amount of wine reported here is not merely in “abundance.” That would be a good contrast to the participle at the beginning of verse three, which speaks about scarcity or lack. Instead of offering mere abundance, Jesus provides far more than the party could every use. And it’s the kind of wine that a savvy host would use to impress the guests before their palates and their brains are dulled into a drunken stupor.

If this is a direction you might take in your preaching, then it could make sense to use the appointed psalm liturgically. These verses of Psalm 36 would make a fine call to worship, a good communal response to a confession and absolution, or a congregation affirmation of the eucharistic prayer. “Abundance” is a word used in the translation of the text. But the physical images are monumental in scale and exuberant in scope.

Even as I think about this theme, I pause and worry a bit as a preacher. It’s all well and good for someone like me – privileged, powerful, positioned, and propertied – to talk about the abundant provision of the Lord. I’m not as likely to celebrate that, perhaps, when I have very little exuberance or abundance to celebrate. Or is my prosperity messing up my gratitude?

At those moments when I have had the least, I have found myself most impressed by and grateful for the Lord’s provision. I have no time for the false promises of the Prosperity Gospel. Yet, in moments of greatest need – physical, emotional, spiritual – I have gotten what I needed and much more. In some such moments, I have gotten so much more that I can only shake my head in wonder. I find myself looking toward God and thinking, “Now you’re just showing off.”

Perhaps one of the epiphanies in this Epiphany is the reminder that God’s fundamental character is that of “Giver.” This is one of Luther’s insights to which I return over and over. Our God gives. Our God gives – not barely enough but far too much. Our God gives with exuberance, with delight, and with laughter.

The intensely human Word become flesh reflects the glory of God into a world enveloped in darkness. When we welcome that Word into ourselves, then we become mirrors of the mirror. That’s what it means to follow Jesus as disciples. That’s what it means to put our trust in him. If the fundamental character of God is to be The Giver, and if Jesus is the Revelation of that character, then we are most like Jesus when we too are Givers.

It’ not that exuberant generosity is the coin of the realm that pays an admission fee. Rather, it is exuberant generosity that forms us and shapes us into the image of God revealed in Jesus Christ. One of the insights of the Gospel is a simple one. Do you want to be happy? Then be grateful. Do you want to be grateful? Then be generous. Do you want to be generous? Then give yourself and your stuff freely to enhance the lives of others.

Lord, make me an exuberant disciple…or a least a happier one. Amen.

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Free Bible Study on Paul’s Letter to Philemon upcoming!

Friends, I am offering a free six-session study of Paul’s Letter to Philemon on Mondays, January 17, 24, and 31, and February 7, 15, and 22, 2022, from 7 to 8 p.m. on Zoom. During the study we will visit topics including how to read and understand Paul’s letters as oral/aural scripts, the nature of human enslavement as an institution in Greco-Roman culture and its impact on Christians, the ways that Paul sought to guide individuals and congregations in following Jesus, and ways in which this letter has relevance and power for our lives of discipleship today. I’ll present on a topic for twenty to thirty minutes and then we’ll spend the rest of the time in discussion. The sessions will be recorded for those who might miss a time or two. There’s no homework other than reading the text and no books to buy. If you want to participate, email me at lowellhennigs@gmail.com or message me on a social media platform, and I’ll send you a Zoom invitation.

Text Study for Mark 15:1-39 (Pt. 2); November 21, 2021

War of the Worlds

I can no longer read or hear the Markan account of Jesus’ crucifixion and slide easily over the details of public humiliation, systematic mocking, physical torture, state-sponsored terrorism, and orchestrated cruelty. In fact, to quote the title of both an article and a book by Adam Serwer, “the cruelty is the point.”

I don’t mean to suggest that we should gaze at the institutional violence in a pornographic sense. I leave that to Mel Gibson, for example, who indulged his torture fetish in the film, The Passion of the Christ. He employed the same longing, languorous gaze on the torture scenes in that film that he employed and encouraged in Braveheart and the Lethal Weapon series. The pornographic view of violence does not critique that violence but rather revels in it.

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That is not what I mean. It is, however, often the gaze employed by those who would see the suffering of Jesus as one of the “points” of the crucifixion. By this I don’t mean attention to the fact of Jesus’ suffering but rather attention to the “amount” of that suffering. I find that this voyeuristic gaze is employed as part of sermons rooted in the Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) theory.

In this theoretical perspective, the amount of suffering is proportional to the depth of sin remedied. The greater the “debt of honor” to God, the more the Beloved Son must suffer to “pay off” that debt. I find that equation to be morally abhorrent, personally disgusting, and theologically deficient. I have discussed PSA elsewhere, but I think it is important to remind ourselves that this is not the theoretical framework of the Markan composer.

The cruelty is the “point” for those (primarily the Romans) who carry out Jesus’ show trial, mockery, torture, and execution. Roman citizens convicted of capital crimes were typically beheaded. This execution usually did not include the other elements of the process in Mark 15 unless the defendant was accused of some offense against the state.

Crucifixion was reserved for recalcitrant slaves, treasonous subjects, and those whom the Empire regarded as terrorists and brigands. The two “bandits” (Mark 15:27, NRSV) crucified at Jesus’ right and left hands were not likely to have been petty thieves. Instead, they were far more likely to be Zealots who attacked the Roman occupation forces to persuade them to leave Judea. Barabbas was another of these insurrectionists – who certainly would have seen themselves as “freedom fighters” in the mold of the Maccabees from two centuries earlier.

Therefore, crucifixion was more than an inefficient method for disposing of troublemakers. It was political theater performed on the bodies of the victims. This theater was intended to convince the rest of the populace that (in the words of a villainous science fiction enemy) “resistance is futile.” Cruelty was more the process than the point, in fact. The “point” was that complying and collaborating were far more comfortable that resisting and rebelling.

In his recent article, Luis Menéndez-Antuña reflects on the “intertextual” realities of Jesus’ crucifixion and contemporary testimonies by torture victims, specifically in Latin American contexts. “Although no one would question that the historical reality of crucifixion is a case of torture,” Menéndez-Antuña writes, “there has been little sustained attention to crucifixion as torture. This is particularly true in the Gospel of Mark,” he continues,” where, as my argument shows, the literary rendering of the victim’s pain reflects what we know about torture from the experiences of those who have survived it” (page 2).

Menéndez-Antuña notes that the Markan composition “represents torture in one of its purest forms. Capture and interrogation, physical abuse, humiliation, and deliberately inflicting pain in intensifying ways are constitutive elements of torture” (page 4). If we compare his list to the events in Mark 15, we can see that he is correct. More than that, we can see that torture is a much larger process than the physical suffering inflicted at the time of execution.

The first question Menéndez-Antuña addresses is why we, as interpreters, should bother with this analysis of Mark 15 as an account of torture. Most of the commentary on the Passion accounts in my experience has created an impersonal and analytic distance between my life and the reality of the Cross. That is an intentional, if obscured, working of privilege, since I don’t find myself in any place where public political torture is even a possibility. Most dominant-culture scholarship keeps the reality of torture in Mark 15 at a comfortable distance.

“My argument,” Menéndez-Antuña writes, “shows how, contrary to these claims, sustained attention to the phenomenology of torture, to the literary analysis of its witnessing, and to the testimonies of those who have survived, enhances literary analysis rather than obscuring it” (page 5). While I don’t advocate another exercise in voyeuristic violence from the pulpit, as an interpreter I must come to terms with what is being reported and performed in the Markan composition if I am to faithfully proclaim the text.

Menéndez-Antuña has an extended dialogue with the work of Elaine Scarry in her 1988 book, The Body in Pain. Scarry describes three phenomena at work in torture – inflicting pain in increasing intensity, objectifying the pain and making it publicly visible, and the pain being viewed not as pain but rather as power. She argues that torture includes both the infliction of physical pain and the conduct of verbal interrogation. Menéndez-Antuña notes that “both components work to achieve the ultimate effect of torture: the destruction of language and ultimately the erasure of a world” (page 6).

Therefore, the purpose of torture is the destruction of any world that might be an alternative to the world of the people “in charge.” As Menéndez-Antuña notes, the ethical status of torture is often debated in terms of whether it is “productive” or not. This discussion assumes that the goal of torture is to obtain important information or intelligence. In this theoretical framework, it is, in principle, possible to find a “justification” for torture, if only the information produced is of sufficient intelligence value. Thus, the victim’s pain becomes a means to achieve the torturer’s ends, and the victim ceases to be regarded as fully human.

The reality, however, is that this application of interrogation and pain generally reduces the victim to whimpering incoherence. “Pain is world-destroying,” Menéndez-Antuña writes. “The moment the torturer drills the victim’s nerves, their conscious world empties. The destruction of language accompanies world-destruction,” he argues, “because pain is essentially non-linguistic” (page 7). Menéndez-Antuña points to the silent darkness of Mark 15:33 to illustrate this reality on a cosmic scale.

It should be clear from even a superficial reading of the Markan account that the purpose of Jesus’ torture is not to extract information. The purpose of this process is to destroy Jesus and the alternative world which he proclaims and performs. “Torture condenses a process,” Menéndez-Antuña, “where oppositional visions of future worlds collide, hence the torturer’s ultimate goal of annihilating the victim’s project for a new reality” (page 9). “Annihilating the victim’s project for a new reality” – that sounds like the response we read in the Markan composition to “the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Menéndez-Antuña examines two elements of the makeup of Jesus’ new reality – discipleship and the temple. I’ll describe the former in a few sentences. Discipleship, at least in the Markan composition, is a move from the old world into a new one. The disciples struggle, and ultimately fail, to inhabit this new world. Thus, the report of Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus is one of the ways to illustrate the world-destruction the torturers intend to enact. In the face of that destruction, Peter can only weep in despair.

The temptation to hold the victim responsible for their own suffering is always just beneath the surface of any experience of inflicted pain. Menéndez-Antuña argues for great caution in how we describe the relationship between Jesus’ actions and the actions of the torturers. If we see his actions as “triggers” for the torture process, we can end up ratifying the reasons the torturers give for their conduct. He argues that “considering the accusation as the origin of torture risks accepting the logics of torture itself” (page 16).

An historical description of Jesus’ ministry and the Roman response may well show that Jesus’ aggressive actions during Holy Week led to his execution. “But when it comes to the narrative and literary representation,” Menéndez-Antuña writes, “to locate the etiology of torture in the victim’s actions is to reinscribe a justification of torture” (page 16). In other words, it is not the victim who is somehow to blame but rather the old world which is refusing to die that is responsible for the torture.

In his torture and death, therefore, Jesus stands with every victim who envisions and seeks to enact the new world of God’s wholeness, justice, and hope (whether that vision is framed in terms of the Gospel or not). The parties responsible for the suffering are the representatives of the old world, bent on maintaining the power they have in that old regime. We must always resist the easy option of blaming the victims for their own suffering.

If only, for example, the protestors in the Black Lives Matter movement wouldn’t engage in demonstrations and disobedience, they wouldn’t be arrested, assaulted, and abused. Their behavior, the argument goes, triggered the response. Therefore, that response is, at least partially, their fault, the argument continues. If that is the case, then Jesus’ crucifixion is his own damn fault as well. If he had just stuck to prayers and piety, no one would have gotten hurt.

This is always the thinly veiled threat when we preachers hear that we need to keep politics out of the pulpit. If we don’t know enough to keep our mouths shut and just do “theology,” there will be unpleasant consequences – for us, for our families, and for those who might share our views in the congregation. While physical violence is not the “go to” strategy these days for white preachers, reputational, financial, social, and institutional violence are ready substitutes. These consequences may not be “torture,” but they are no less real.

The intention of Jesus’ torture and death was to demonstrate that this is what “the King of the Jews” looks like – tortured to death in a process that culminates in a cross. The Markan composition wants us to see that, ironically, the Romans got that part right. More on that next time.

References and Resources

Alexamenos graffito: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexamenos_graffito.

Burton, Oliver Vernon, and Defner, Armand. Justice Deferred: Race and the Supreme Court. Cambridge, MA.: The Belknap Press, 2021.

Chan, Michael J. https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/not-without-gods-power.

Diggers, Ira Brent. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/sunday-of-the-passion-palm-sunday-2/commentary-on-mark-151-47.

Menéndez-Antuña, Luis. (2021). The Book of Torture. The Gospel of Mark, Crucifixion, and Trauma (forthcoming in Journal of the American Academy of Religion). Journal of the American Academy of Religion. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/353804044_The_Book_of_Torture_The_Gospel_of_Mark_Crucifixion_and_Trauma_forthcoming_in_Journal_of_the_American_Academy_of_Religion.

Serwer, Adam. “The Cruelty is the Point.” https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/10/the-cruelty-is-the-point/572104/.

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Make your gift before the end of the month!

Friends, don’t forget to make a contribution to support workingpreacher.org before the end of November. It’s their fundraising campaign, and gifts during the campaign will receive a dollar for dollar match. You know that I value the folks who write for workingpreacher.org and who bring us Sermon Brainwave as valuable conversation partners in the task of preaching. I will be supporting their work with a gift, and I hope you will as well.

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Text Study for Mark 13:1-37 (Pt. 5); November 14, 2021

Watch Yourself!

If the function of the Markan composition is more impact than information, then what is that intended impact? It is hard to proclaim faithfully from the text if we can’t come to some modest understanding of that intention. Elizabeth Shively offers this proposal in her article. “My thesis is that Mark’s Gospel functions as persuasive rhetoric by telling the story of Jesus so as to reveal the only world that is reasonable for its audience to inhabit. It does this, in part,” she argues, “by employing apocalyptic language in order to restructure community identity” (page 382).

What does that phrase “community identity” mean? I think many of us would describe our identity as the way we are seen by others. I am a white, male, cisgender, reasonably well-educated (in the European sense), lower middle-class, Christian, Midwesterner. That’s not all that others see about me, but that’s a good start. I get those identifying marks from my communities and often regarded those marks as “given.”

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But community identity is much more a matter of how I see than how I am seen. I see my reality from the perspectives of whiteness, maleness, cisgenderness, etc. In this way, my identity (and that of my community) is not so much given to me as I impose it on my experience. Realities outside of my body don’t become “experience” until I interpret them. Interpretation happens through lenses and within a framework. The lenses and the framework are internal to me and my community. They don’t exist objectively out in “the world.”

It is, therefore, no accident that some of the miracle stories in the Markan composition are about changes in perceptual abilities. Blind people are now able to see, because of Jesus. Deaf people are now able to hear, because of Jesus. In the case of Bartimaeus, that change in perceptual capacity makes it possible for him to follow Jesus on the way to the cross. Identity shapes perception.

And identity describes position. I perceive through my lenses which begin to shape the experience. I interpret that experience from my position in life. Identity both shapes and responds to my perspective. My perspective is my view of the world – my worldview. It’s no surprise that following Jesus means “changing my mind,” that is, accepting a different view of the world.

I notice, therefore, how many times words for “seeing” show up in the Little Apocalypse. Do you see these big buildings? Watch out for yourselves (twice)! When you see the desolating sacrilege; they will see the Son of Man; when you see the fig tree. Keep your eyes open since you don’t know the day or the hour. Keep watch! Of course, there are a few auditory allusions as well, but the Discourse focuses primarily on seeing.

The reliable markers of community identity will fail the disciples as they have failed Jesus during his earthly ministry. Governing and religious authorities will reject the changes in perspective and position that following Jesus requires. Biological family members will hand over the troublemakers – those who have taken the name of Jesus. There will be no limit to the displacement and distress.

But those expected sources of identity – family, community, religion, government – they are passing away. The destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple is an example of that passing, although it is not the definitive and final example of that passing. There is one source of identity that is stable and lasting – that of following Jesus. The one who endures to the end will be saved. Heaven and earth will pass away, but Jesus’ words will not pass away. So, keep watching.

Pablo Richard, discussed in an earlier post, represents what Shively calls the “resistance literature” approach to apocalyptic in general. While Richard’s arguments are directed toward the Book of Revelation, they are, as I noted previously, equally applicable to the Little Apocalypse in Mark 13. These resistance literature interpretations “agree that Mark is written to address the audience’s experience of oppression and social alienation under Roman and Jewish authorities. Accordingly,” she continues in describing this approach, “Mark employs apocalyptic language in the service of political discourse, which functions to shape a social group that resists the dominant order” (Ibid).

Shively notes that additional research demonstrates the limitations of this approach. Some apocalyptic literature is, in fact, political resistance literature. But some works are more focused on “social injustice,” while others address “temptations that plague the flesh” (page 389). The Markan composition has elements of apocalypse not only in chapter thirteen but scattered throughout the composition. While we can use the analytical tools applied, for example, by Richard, to the Book of Revelation, the approach to the Markan account is not and cannot be the same.

“Although we cannot ascertain the particular social setting of Mark with certainty, evidence internal to the Gospel suggests that Mark seeks to explain the suffering and death of Jesus and his followers,” Shively argues (page 390). “The main rhetorical function of Mark’s apocalyptic discourse is to persuade the audience to testify and suffer for the sake of Jesus and the gospel,” she continues. “Nevertheless, the function of Mark’s discourse extends to challenge visions of the world espoused by Rome and the ruling authorities” (Ibid).

Shively proposes that in the Markan composition, Jesus is not so much creating a resisting movement as he is forming a new family. “Jesus forms a social group, that is, a community gathered for a particular purpose and organized around shared customs,” she argues. “Particularly, Jesus restructures kinship ties to form a new family organized around ‘doing God’s will’” (page 392). This community has a family identity that is defined by practice rather than blood relationship. “Ultimately,” Shively concludes with a nod toward Mark 13, “Jesus’ new family not only transcends the borders of kin and ethnicity to participate in a cosmic conflict, but also transcends the borders of time and space to enjoy an eschatological existence” (page 393).

The Little Apocalypse, according to Shively, develops and describes the nature of this family in light of the destruction of the Temple and the coming of the Son of Man. “Jesus’ point is that the destruction of the temple may be a harbinger, but it is not the end of all things, as the disciples appear to believe,” Shively writes. “The end will come only after Jesus’ followers endure the kind of suffering that the disciples have resisted so far in the narrative” (page 393). She notes that the Parable of the Householder, at the end of the discourse, shows the new household at work – resisting, testifying, suffering, and dying, until Jesus returns.

What does this mean (for us)? Shively argues that the community created by the text (or performance, I would add), is a theological reality with political ramifications. “It exists as an alternative social reality because it follows Jesus, not because it resists, reorders or manages socio-political power structures,” she argues. “Because it follows Jesus, the community faces opposing power structures that it may then resist, reorder or manage” (page 402). The Markan community does not exist as a community of resistance per se. The values and practices of following Jesus, however, create the conflicts that make resistance necessary.

“Apocalyptic discourse provides the resources for Jesus’ followers to form and maintain their identity as those who proclaim the gospel in the context of a hostile environment and who live self-sacrificially even in the face of death,” Shively concludes. “Mark gives the audience eyes to see what human vision would otherwise miss about the experience of rejection, suffering, domination and power, in order to shape a new community, inspire it to hope, and compel it to action” (pages 402-403).

Identity is perhaps the fundamental field of struggle in American culture at this time. What does it mean to be a “real American”? What does it mean to be a “real Christian?” What does it mean to be a “real man” or a “real woman”? People have been asking those questions for the last hundred years or so in a variety of venues, but there is a particular and sometimes violent urgency to the questions these days.

Will we White American Christians, for example, continue to assert that being White American Christians (with a firm commitment to fixed gender identities and roles as well) is the definition of and norm for what it means to be fully and authentically human? That has been the perception and perspective of our community for the last five hundred years. But it seems that this perception and perspective are passing away – or at least that they should be passing away.

Will we economically privileged Christians assert that a capitalist model is the only way to describe and organize what a faithful congregation looks like? Will we maintain our idolatries of numbers and real estate, of “profits” and success at the expense of love for God and love for neighbor? So far, that is the order of the day. But Christian bodies that maintain these perceptions and this perspective are passing away, and some are doing so rather quickly.

Will I embrace the likely discomfort and perhaps even the suffering that real changes in perception and perspective will produce for me? Am I ready for life as I have known it to pass away (and good riddance)? I’m not at all sure of that. I think I am continuing to look for the community that will help me to find that identity. But will I take yes for an answer when I find it?

That remains to be seen…

References and Resources

Brobst-Renaud, Amanda. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-33-2/commentary-on-mark-131-8-5.

Dewey, Joanna. The Oral Ethos of the Early Church: Speaking, Writing, and the Gospel of Mark Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Dein, Simon. “Covid-19 and the Apocalypse: Religious and Secular Perspectives.” Journal of religion and health vol. 60,1 (2021): 5-15. doi:10.1007/s10943-020-01100-w.

Richard, Pablo. Apocalypse: A People’s Commentary on the Book of Revelation. Orbis Books, 1995.

Shively, Elizabeth E. “What Type of Resistance? How Apocalyptic Discourse Functions as Social Discourse in Mark’s Gospel.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 37.4 381–406. Web.

Notes about upcoming text studies

Friends, I am going to stick with the Gospel of Mark for Reformation Sunday (10/31) and All Saints Sunday (11/7). Our time with Mark (my favorite gospel account) is speeding toward its end for another three years. I want to read and reflect on as much of the Markan composition as possible in the time remaining. So, I’m going to focus on the following texts.

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October 31 (Reformation): Mark 12:28-34 — The greatest commandment. I can’t think of a better text to focus our attention in a “First Commandment” way. And therefore, I can’t think of a better text to help us read texts the way Luther reads texts.

November 7 (All Saints): Mark 12:35-44 — David’s son and the Widow’s Mite. These verses provide some interesting opportunities to reflect on the communion of saints.

November 14: Mark 13:1-8, 32-37. I think that the prologue and epilogue of the Little Apocalypse is a good way to treat the text with integrity.

November 21 (Christ the King): Mark 15:1-20 — I think the Markan composition offers at least as many ways to reflect on Christ the King as does the Johannine text (especially with the Barabbas scene).

I hope this will offer a helpful heads up for ongoing readers.