The Battle for the Bible

BindingWe continue our celebration of the 30th anniversary of Binding The Strong Man, Ched Myers’ political reading of Mark’s Gospel.  Today, as the lectionary once again pivots to the Gospel of John, we share an excerpt from Binding, in which Reagan-era Ched clarifies the ideological nature of interpretation–almost thirty years before 81% of white Evangelicals voted for Trump.

The truth is, the “battle for the Bible” today has increasingly less to do with theological divisions and allegiances and more to do with political and economic allegiances.  This is perhaps more evident in many Third World countries, where churches are becoming polarized along class and ideological lines.  In Latin America, for example, we see the base communities empowering the poor masses through a more popular model of church.  This predominantly Catholic movement has, with almost Protestant fervor, restored Bible study, along with grass-roots social analysis, to a central place in the life of the community.  In stark contrast stand the words of Pope John Paul II in his opening address to the Puebla episcopal conference in 1979: Continue reading

Theology in Pharoah’s Household

BindingWe continue our celebration of the 30th anniversary of Binding The Strong Man, Ched Myers’ political reading of Mark’s Gospel.  Today, as the lectionary pivots to the Gospel of John, we share an excerpt from the Intro of Binding.  

Those doing theological reflection from a vantage point on the peripheries have properly focused upon the themes of liberation in the story of exodus.  We at the center, however, have no choice but to learn to “do theology in pharoah’s household“–that is, to take the side of the Hebrews even though citizens of Egypt.  There is a significant minority of Christians in the U.S.A. and other First World countries who are struggling to find a lifestyle and politics that does just that.  This movement also constitutes the site from which I read Mark. Continue reading

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: Continue reading

Parody Exposing Power

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 6:14-29.

The portrayal of the Herodian court intrigue gives an even sharper edge to the episode; the dinner party (6:21-28) becomes the occasion for the murderous whims of the ruling class of Galilee to be revealed.  The guest list of his birthday banquet (6:21) reflects, in the words of Sherwin-White, “the court and establishment of a petty Jewish prince under strong Roman influence:”

  1.  his court nobles (tois megistasin)
  2.  his army officers (tois chiliarchois)
  3.  leading Galileans (tois protois tes Galilaias).

Mark accurately describes the inner circle of power as an incestuous relationship involving governmental, military, and commercial interests. Continue reading

Strategies of a Subversive Movement

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 6:1-13.

There is no indication that Jesus’ “orders” are unique to this mission; they are for “the way” (eis hodon)–that is, paradigmatic of discipleship lifestyle (6:8).  Their narrative significance lies not in some model of heroic asceticism (which would contradict Jesus’ ambivalence toward, e.g., fasting), but in the emphasis upon the utter dependence of the disciples upon hospitality.  The “apostles” (so designated for the only time in Mark upon their return from the mission in 6:30) are allowed the means of travel (staff, sandals) but not sustenance (bread, money bag and money, extra clothes).  In other words, they, like Jesus who has just been renounced in his own “home,” are to take on the status of a sojourner in the land.  We might note that the “donning of sandals” as a Markan metaphor for discipleship was missed by both Matthew (who forbids them, Mt 10:10) and Luke (who omits the reference, Lk 9:3). Continue reading

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