Sheep Without a Shepherd

BindingWe continue our celebration of the 30th anniversary of Binding The Strong Man, Ched Myers’ political reading of Mark’s Gospel.  Today’s passage is Mark 6:30-34.

…Mark is decidedly presenting Jesus as an “organizer,” but with the intention of feeding the needy, not plotting a military campaign on Jerusalem.  This however, hardly makes the narrative ideology less subversive!  Indeed, there is an implied political criticism here, which we see if we do not limit the intertextuality to the Joshua tradition.  The “sheep without a shepherd” motif is seized upon by the prophets to criticize the leadership of Israel.  Ezekiel 34 spins a parable around it that specifically condemns class stratification: “I will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep” (Ez 34:20).  The ruling class protects its privilege rather than the collective prosperity of the people, becoming predator instead of the shepherd:

Should not shepherds feed the sheep?  You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the sheep…With force and harshness you have ruled them.  So they were scattered…and they became food for all the wild beasts [Ez 34:2ff].

The motif is reproduced again in the apocalyptic section of Zechariah 11-12, for similar reasons:

Woe to my worthless shepherd, who deserts his flock [11:17].  Those who buy them slay them and go unpunished; and those who sell them say, “Blessed be Yahweh, for I have become rich”; and their own shepherds have no pity on them [11:5].

Clearly, linking Jesus–as one who attends to the hunger of the crowds in the wilderness–with these prophetic traditions is meant as a criticism of the political economy of Palestine and the ruling class who profits from it.  And, as we shall see, Mark will again draw upon the Zechariah parable at the end of the story (Mk 14:27).

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