Authority and The Messiah Complex!

Posted: January 23, 2018 in Uncategorized

Epiphany 4B, 2018
Mark 1: 21-28

Authority and The Messiah Complex!

We have been exploring what the text talks about as the authority Jesus speaks with. We have asked what it is and how we might understand it across the time span between the tome of the text and now as well as the time the text is talking about. While we have little material upon which to base our argument because of the weight the tradition has given to this authority we do need to wrestle with an understanding. The dictionary says that authority means the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes; jurisdiction; the right to control, command, or determine. In his context then Jesus is given the authority to make decisions about what is important. We note that this may have had a sense of a legal authority as well because of the status he was given. We need to be careful here to note that this authority was not required for the banishing of demons because exorcisms would have been quite commonplace and conducted by many as well. What we can surmise however is that in his time, in the social, political and economic environment the granting of authority would have been significant. It is very likely that the authority given was an acknowledgement of significant leadership skills.

It would also argue for the concept of Messiah to be considered strongly. Here we have someone who seems to show significant knowledge of how things work on the big scale, a relationship with a world beyond Roman dictatorship, a world beyond a passive complacent acquiescence in the face of oppression, a world beyond political and social patronage and class systems, a world beyond what is obvious.

It could be argued that we today live in a similar environment where leadership with an authority like that conferred on Jesus is needed. I want to show you a video now that raises questions about this big picture that we could see as our environment and if the video and Jared Diamond are correct the situation our leadership are faced with and also the authority that leadership might need to help us address our future. Diamond asks the question Why do societies fail? And with lessons from the Norse of Iron Age Greenland, deforested Easter Island and present-day Montana, he talks about the signs that call us to critique that environment to see if we can build an alternative, not unlike the call Jesus must have felt when he did what he did and said what he said. Small bickies perhaps in terms of the level of complexity but none the less a very similar scenario in terms of the changes the systems faced.

Video             Collapse of Societies

We can look back and label the agrarian, industrial and information ages and we can look back and label the premodern, modern and postmodern ages as indications of change the human species has made as evolution takes its path. Each one a crisis that things must change or die and in fact end up changing so that what was dies. But what does this have to say about the authority of Jesus? Well I wonder, and I am open to be challenged on this. I wonder if the leadership Jesus gave was akin the leadership that brought about a societal change and thus a leadership that is required today.

When you think about it many of those changes Diamond spoke of are similar to our own experiences, as if these changes are going on all the time, but the ones we notice are the ones that come clear after they have eventuated, and history says that in times of rapid social change people look for a ‘messiah’! We have been asking questions about the effect Jesus had on the world by way of his personal being. What was it about him that was different? What was it that he brought to the world that created a movement. Recent tradition says that it was his God status, his supernatural being, but we have asked questions about that and there was something else.

According to this morning’s gospel anecdote, which we believe was created by
the storyteller Mark to express his notion of the mission of Jesus,
when Jesus spoke people found something powerful happening to their psyches. ‘And the teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, Jesus taught them with authority…The people were so astonished that they started asking each other what it all meant.  Here is a teaching that is new’. We note that the authority is linked to something new, a new understanding, a new world view, and alternative they had not thought of. We note also that the people are astonished not that Jesus taught, but at the authority by which he taught. The information he gave them seemed to fit with their understanding but the way he put it seemed to be radically new and challenging and encouraging. A re-imagining of what this was is offered by John Dominic Crossan: He says; ‘He was an illiterate peasant, but with an oral brilliance that few of those trained in literate and scribal disciplines can ever attain.’ At best, we can guess a credible Jesus taught about the kingdom or realm or domain of God, which was everywhere present but not yet demonstrated by society.

The way Jesus presented this alternative was to focus on some central themes like celebration, compassion, and inclusiveness, and by illustrating the realm and activity of God “by focusing his hearers’ attention on the observable behaviour of phenomena in the physical world around them rather than by reporting his own personal mystical visions…” (Smith 2008:79). He drew on common life experiences, trading in the trivial, the ordinary, rather than interpreting scripture. He was it seems, a secular sage! Who left the interpretation of scripture and the interpretation of his authority to the society that followed. This personal style would have had the effect of shifting the power base of knowledge from the experts (in scripture, scribes) to the common people. It was a very different way of doing theology. And it was fresh and news!

One might also suggest that our traditional classical theology and traditional ecclesiastical authority do not sit comfortably with this view even today and our good times as a Christian Society could not allow this kind of a position. The conservative church today wants a return to the ‘good old days’… Good old days of a powerful church, a clear influence on society with capital and corporeal punishment, Christian instruction in schools, (Note I said instruction and not education) fixed laws on moral conduct, longer Jail sentences, and direct lines of external authority: parent, teacher, boss, bishop, pope, prime minister. All models that Rome and Israel had adopted as the society of the day. And then along comes Jesus ‘And the teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, Jesus taught them with authority….

Our question is do we, living in the early part of the 21st century, have a chance as never before, to facilitate a new ‘religious’ authority? For 2000 years, Jesus of Nazareth has been represented to the world “in terms of later inferences drawn from his sayings and deeds, rather than in terms of what he himself did and said”. What is truly incredible is that “The only other time in history that this was possible was in the first century”. When one thinks about this the decline of the church has to be considered as an outcome of holding on to a tradition that no longer makes sense as literal history. Throughout the last 500 year or so history of the church, people have wrestled with the clash between the Bible and modern science. And many have coped by a ‘suspension of disbelief’ for an hour or two each week. But what happens when those same people decide they can no longer live with the inconsistencies of tired metaphors and a belief known “to be patently false”?

The urgent question for the church right now, in the 21st century is: How long can it – you and me – count on suspended disbelief to shore up its outworn myths?  I would also like to suggest that this is the kind of argument Jesus had with the authorities of his day. That is why imagining another possible way of being in the world, another completely re-imagined society was, and can be, fresh news. Amen.

Hedrick, C. W. “The ‘good news’ about the historical Jesus” in A. Dewey. (ed) The Historical Jesus Goes To Church. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2004.
Myers, C. Binding the Strong Man. A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus. Special edition. Maryknoll. Orbis Books, 2008.
Smith, M. H. “Ears to Hear. Learning to Listen to Jesus” in C. W. Hedrick. When Faith Meets Reason. Religion Scholars Reflect on their Spiritual Journey. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2008.


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