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”

Inevitability

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 8:27-38.

Mark will tell us that it was “necessary” for John/Elijah (Mk 9:12:f) to challenge the highest powers and be executed by them; so too with Jesus, for that is the “script” Yahweh has given to the servant/prophets, as Mark will make clear through his parable of the tenants. Continue reading “Inevitability”

The Cornerstone to the New Social Order

BindingWe continue our every-Sunday-celebration of the 30th anniversary of Binding The Strong Man, Ched Myers’ political reading of Mark’s Gospel. 

The story of the Syrophoenician woman bears certain affinities with its counterparts in the Jewish cycle. She, like the hemorrhaging woman, demonstrates inappropriately assertive female behavior that is vindicated. The parallel with the Jairus story goes beyond the common petition on behalf of ailing daughters at home. Both these episodes articulate feeding-symbolics that are carefully correlated to Jesus’ feedings of the masses in the wilderness. Jesus’ somewhat anticlimactic instructions in the aftermath of his dramatic raising of Jairus’s daughter were for those present to “give her something to eat” (Mk 5:43). In like fashion, Jesus instructs his disciples in the first feeding to “give the crowd something to eat” (Mk 6:37). Similarly, Jesus tell the gentile woman that “the children must first be satisfied” (Mk 7:27 chortastenai)–which satisfaction has indeed already been reported in Mk 6:42 (“they all ate and were satisfied,” ephagon pantes kai echortastesan)! This is how Mark prepares the way for the fulfillment of the Syrophoenician woman’s request–the feeding and satisfaction of the gentiles–which will indeed shortly take place (same verb, Mk 8:4,8). Continue reading “The Cornerstone to the New Social Order”

Attacking Their Ideological Foundations

BindingWe continue our every-Sunday-celebration of the 30th anniversary of Binding The Strong Man, Ched Myers’ political reading of Mark’s Gospel. This week, the lectionary gifts us with an episode from Mark’s Gospel where Jesus deals with obstacles to an integrated community.

This episode resumes Mark’s polemic against the Pharisaic movement, begun in Mark 2:15, over the issue of the purity code as it defines the propriety of table fellowship…The issue at hand is maintenance of strict group boundaries, represented here by practices of ritual purity and dietary restriction. The Pharisees defend the purity code as fundamental to the ethnic and national identity of the people; Jesus repudiates these exclusivist definitions by attacking their ideological foundations… Continue reading “Attacking Their Ideological Foundations”

Our Script

BindingWe continue our every-Sunday-celebration of the 30th anniversary of Binding The Strong Man, Ched Myers’ political reading of Mark’s Gospel. This portion is excerpted from the book’s “Aftermath” entitled On Continuing the Narrative of Biblical Radicalism.

The empty tomb at the end of Mark’s Gospel symbolizes that his story, like its subject Jesus, has not ended but lives on. Just as Mark reached back across the centuries to bring the “old story” of Hebrew prophetic radicalism to life again in a new story about Jesus of Nazareth, so does he reach forward across the ages to us, challenging us to continue the story by “returning to Galilee” (Mark 16:7). But how is it that an invitation to “reread” this story is politically subversive? Does not the circle of narrative actually lead the reader away from practice, shutting out the real world and seducing us with one that exists only in our imagination? This is certainly what those who dismiss the fictions of apocalyptic narrative as the wish-dreams of the alienated would have us believe. Continue reading “Our Script”

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 “The Battle for the Bible”

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 “Theology in Pharoah’s Household”

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 “Sheep Without a Shepherd”

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 “Parody Exposing Power”

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 “Strategies of a Subversive Movement”