Like a Mustard Seed

BindingToday, we continue our celebration of the 30th anniversary of Binding The Strong Man, Ched Myers’ extraordinary political reading of Mark’s Gospel.  Each Sunday, we will post excerpts from Myers’ comments on the lectionary reading of the day.  Today’s passage is Mark 4:26-34.

He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade. (Mark 4:30-32)

In the famous parable of the mustard seed Mark one last time expands upon the theme of sowing in the earth (4:30-32).  There can be no question that this similitude concerning the disproportion between the seed and the mature plant is meant to instill courage and hope in the small and fragile discipleship community for its struggle against the entrenched powers.  As in 4:29, the appended scriptural citation places the parable firmly within a political context.  Mark adopts the conclusion of Ezekiel’s cypress tree parable for his own: the “small sprig” planted by Yahweh will bear fruit, and its branches will give shelter to birds (Ezekiel 17:22f).  In late biblical literature the sheltering branch was a common metaphor for political hegemony.  Daniel explains the image to Nebuchadnezzar: Continue reading

Binding The Strong Man

BindingAs we transition into the summer months of Ordinary Time, we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of Binding The Strong Man, Ched Myers’ extraordinary political reading of Mark’s Gospel.  Each Sunday, we will post excerpts from Myers’ comments on the lectionary reading of the day.  Today’s passage is Mark 3:20-35, the episode in which the book is named after.

But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. (Mark 3:27)

Mark has come clean: Jesus (a.k.a. “the stronger one” heralded by John, 1:8) intends to overthrow the reign of the strong man (a.k.a. the scribal establishment represented by the demon of 1:24).  In this parable the oracle of Second Isaiah lives again: Yahweh is making good on the promise to liberate the “prey of the strong (LXX, ischuontos) and rescue the captives of the tyrants” (Is 49:24f).  Imperial hermeneutics, ever on the side of law and order, will of course find this interpretation of the strong man parable strained, offensive, shocking.  Yet Mark drew the image of breaking and entering from the most enduring of the primitive Christian eschatological traditions: the Lord’s advent as a thief in the night (Mt 24:43 par; I Thes 5:2; 2 Pt 3:10; Rev 3:3, 16:15). Continue reading

The Feast of St. Mark

St MarkFrom Ched Myers’ Binding The Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus (1988):

Mark’s Gospel originally was written to help imperial subjects learn the hard truth about their world and themselves…His is a story by, about, and for those committed to God’s work of justice, compassion, and liberation in the world…to those willing to raise the wrath of the empire, Mark offers a way of discipleship.