Jesus Still Goes Before Us

BindingAn excerpt from Ched Myers’ Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus (1988), reflecting upon the open tomb ending of the first Gospel.

We should not be surprised that the women are overcome with “fear.” The disciples have in fact been described as “fearful” (phobeisthai) at several important “passages” in their journey with Jesus: both stormy boat crossings (4:41; 6:50), his transfiguration (9:6), the portents of his execution (9:32), and the journey up to Jerusalem (10:32). And does not this closing scene represent the most difficult passage of all? For in it the martyr-figure beckons the disciple to take up the journey afresh, to return to the beginning of the story for a new reading-enactment. The young man’s invitation ought to provoke trepidation in us, if we take it seriously. As Bonhoeffer paraphrased Mark 8:34 in Cost of Discipleship (1953), “When Christ calls a person, He bids them to come a die.” Continue reading “Jesus Still Goes Before Us”

Rooted in Story and Struggle

BindingFor our final Sunday installment celebrating 30 years of Ched Myers’ Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, radical disciples weigh in on both Ched and his book. 

From Jennifer Henry, the executive director of Kairos Canada, reflecting on the viral image from Ossie Michelin’s cell phone in 2013 (left), portraying resistance to fracking led primarily by indigenous women:

OssieWhat I have learned from the witness of Ched Myers is that we can bring kairos moments like these into conversation with biblical moments, in ways that deepen understanding of the present day struggle and inspire prophetic action. His life’s work does not just demonstrate that we can build this bridge, but that we must, for the integrity of our faith and its call to justice. It is an intersection that enriches both our grasp of the historic texts and our commitment to current struggle. In Ched’s hands this process is never theoretical, but embodied, wading deep into the bible, but just as deeply into social change movements so that we’re grounded in, both rooted in story and struggle.

Continue reading “Rooted in Story and Struggle”

Counter-Recruiting for the Politics of Nonviolence

BindingComments on this week’s Gospel text (Mark 13:1-8) from Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus (1988), the commentary from Ched Myers, celebrating 30 years of prophetic utterance. 

The images Mark uses in 13:7f.–wars, famines, earthquakes–are all virtually generic to apocalyptic literature. One need only consult contemporaneous apocalyptic literature such as John’s Revelation, 4 Ezra, the Assumption of Moses, or the Qumran war scrolls. At the same time, these events could be correlated to contemporaneous history. “Rumors of war” aptly characterizes and describes the way in which news regarding the seesaw political events of 68-70 C.E. would have circulated around Palestine. Was the siege coming? Were the Romans withdrawing? “Kingdom rising against kingdom” might have referred to the wavering fortunes of Rome in 67, embroiled in a civil war and fearing a Parthian invasion. Major natural disasters were also part of contemporaneous history, such as the famine (which hit Palestine especially hard) of the early 50s C.E., or the earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that destroyed Laodicia and Pompei in 61-62 C.E. Both Mark and his opponents could–and did–appeal to the “plurivalent” (multi-referential) nature of apocalyptic symbolics in making their respective cases. Continue reading “Counter-Recruiting for the Politics of Nonviolence”

Impoverished By Her Obligations

BindingComments on this week’s Gospel text (Mark 12:38-44) from Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus (1988), the commentary from Ched Myers, celebrating 30 years of prophetic utterance. 

The last episode in the temple is a story of a widow being impoverished by her obligations to the temple cultus (12:41-44). Long mishandled as a quaint vignette about the superior piety of the poor, Wright has shown that Jesus’ words should be seen “as a downright disapproval and not as an approbation”:

The story does not provide a pious contrast to the conduct of the scribes in the preceding section (as is the customary view); rather it provides a further illustration of the ills of official devotion. Jesus’ saying is not a penetrating insight on the measuring of gifts; it is a lament….Jesus condemns the value system that motivates her action, and he condemns the people who conditioned her to do it.

Continue reading “Impoverished By Her Obligations”

Orthodoxy is not Enough

Binding30 years in and Ched Myers’ Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus (1988) is more relevant than ever. We’ve got four more Sundays to celebrate it! This week’s commentary homes in on Mark 12:28-34.

The man’s question concerning the “first of all the commandments” is a common topic of rabbinic discussion, but could also be interpreted as yet another attempt to get Jesus to reveal his own political commitments. Jesus’ answer at first glance seems cautious in its orthodoxy: he quotes from the Shema (Dt 6:4f), with minor changes to the LXX text. Suddenly, however, he adds a citation of Leviticus 19:18 about obligation to neighbor, and concludes that “No other command is greater than these.”  Continue reading “Orthodoxy is not Enough”

Seeking True Vision


Binding30 years in and Ched Myers’ Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus (1988) is more relevant than ever. We’ve got five more Sundays to celebrate it! This week’s commentary homes in on Mark 10:46-52.

The community now approaches the suburbs of Jerusalem. Mark opens this second story of a blind man as he did the first: “And they came into” (kai erchontai; see 8:22) Jericho. Mark sets a scene for this episode, which was no doubt familiar to anyone who had gone to Jerusalem on pilgrimage. Jericho was the last stop en route to the city of David; the road out of town, representing the final, fifteen-mile leg of the pilgrim’s journey, would have been the standard beat for much of that city’s beggar population. The odds were good that pilgrims would have the mood and means to give alms. There Jesus, the disciples, and a great crowd meet Bartimaeus, the destitute blind man. Continue reading “Seeking True Vision”

On the Right and the Left

Binding30 years in and Ched Myers’ Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus (1988) is more relevant than ever. This week’s commentary homes in on Mark 10:35-45.

The petition by James and John shows that the disciples are still “deaf” to Jesus’ portents, continuing to understand his talk of the manifestation of the Human One’s “glory” (en te doxe sou) to mean some kind of messianic coup. Convinced their leader will prevail, they are already considering the administration of the new regime; they lobby for “first and second cabinet position.” The image of “sitting on the right and left” could be an allusion to Psalm 110:1, or to places at the messianic victory banquet, or subordinate thrones. In either case, it is an overtly political euphemism. Continue reading “On the Right and the Left”

The Eye of the Needle

Binding30 years in and Ched Myers’ Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus (1988) is more relevant than ever. This week’s commentary homes in on Mark 10:17-31.

Mark’s wry joke about the camel and the needle in particular has received ingenious “manipulation at the hands of bourgeois conscience-tranquilizing exegetes” (Jose Miranda). The famous medieval assertion that the “eye of the needle” referred to a certain small gate in ancient Jerusalem through which camels could enter only on their knees (!) is only one of the more obvious ways devised to rob this metaphor of its class-critical power. The proposition is plainly an impossible one. Bailey points out that the Babylonian Talmud records a similar hyperbole–an elephant going through the eye of a needle–and comments that “the elephant was the largest animal in Mesopotamia and the camel the largest in Palestine.” Mark’s stinging sarcasm is perhaps more recognizable in Frederick Buechner’s contemporary paraphrase: for wealthy North Americans it is harder to enter the kingdom “than for Nelson Rockefeller to get through the night deposit slot of the First National City Bank!”  Continue reading “The Eye of the Needle”

Practice, Not “The Right Name”

Binding30 years in and Ched Myers’ Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus(1988) is more relevant than ever. This week’s commentary homes in on Mark 9:38-50.

The arrogance in John’s objection lies in its attempt to erect boundaries around the exercise of compassionate ministry “in Jesus’ name.” He equates exorcism with the accrual of status and power, and wishes to maintain a monopoly over it. This is especially ludicrous in light of the disciples’ lack of exorcism power, which we have just witnessed (9:14-29). But more importantly, it cuts directly against the grain of “receiving” in 9:37, an exhortation to inclusion, not exclusivity. On top of all this, John’s censure is based on the fact that the stranger “was not following us.” The disciples want to be followed, not followers. Never was a “royal we” less appropriate! Continue reading “Practice, Not “The Right Name””

Radical Status-Reversal

Binding30 years in and Ched Myers’ Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus(1988) is more relevant than ever. This week’s commentary homes in on Mark 9:30-37.

They next reach the home in Capernaum. That the community would stop in here on its way south, specifically for instruction on internal matters of power and discipline, is significant, for Capernaum was the center of gravity for the first part of the Gospel (Mk 1:21; 2:1). It is here that Jesus really begins to unmask his disciples’ true aspirations to power. Not only do they not understand where Jesus is trying to lead them; they are headed full speed in the opposite direction. Mark contrives the episode for maximal irony: the disciples are caught debating who was greatest among them “on the way” (twice, 9:33b, 34a)! For Jesus’ response, Mark sets a familiar stage: the twelve are called (3:14; 4:10; 6:7; 10:32; 14:17) and Jesus takes his seat (4:1; 12:41; 13:3). The narrative signals: Pay attention to the teaching that follows! Continue reading “Radical Status-Reversal”