A Redundant Dualism or Not?

Posted: September 20, 2021 in Uncategorized

Mark 9:38-50

A Redundant Dualism or Not?

Mark’s borrowed story set down in the Lectionary for today has the potential to raise many issues 
and touch painful experiences. Why? Because it has the potential to press many of our social conscience, and maybe even personal, ‘buttons’, such as: Exclusion. Child abuse. and Power. Coupled with these, Mark has Jesus speaking in some fairly desperate and exaggerated terms in order to underscore his vision of reality.

It seems that someone outside the circle of Jesus and his close associates is seen to be ‘trading’ without the proper credentials. The disciples, but probably more correctly, Mark’s struggling congregation, see this person and others, as outsiders. And they want to be sure that outsiders remain outsiders. They check him out. Listen to what is being said. Watch what is done. Take notes for further reference. And to be sure the disciples are diligent.  They present their case to Jesus. Outsiders should remain outsiders. The trouble is that Mark says Jesus doesn’t agree.

On this point William Loader of Australia suggests: “Jesus is not an egotist obsessed with protecting his reputation, but someone who cares about people. It does not matter if the love comes from his hand or the hand of another, as long as it comes” (William Loader/Web site 2003).

What this implies is that when so-called ‘insiders’ start deciding who the so-called ‘outsiders’ are, they walk with real danger. And this is expressed well in Richard Jensen’s comment on this story: “Whenever you want to draw lines in order to mark who is outside the kingdom and who is inside, always remember: Jesus is on the other side of the line!  Jesus is always with the outsiders!” (Jensen 1996:149).

So, this story starts out about insiders wanting to keep outsiders out. But it also includes a cautionary note that suggests insiders, ‘though they don’t often realise it, can very easily become ‘outsiders’ themselves by their actions. This prompts our title for today. Is this a redundant dualism or not?

Mention child abuse and immediately many of us will recall the stories of sexual abuse experienced by children at the hands of some clergy and religious in the church. Because of the media coverage given to these cases and the Royal Commissions established to judge it is logical that many, if not all of us, have formed some strong opinions on this subject.

To think this is commendable and proper as injustice of such heinous proport needs exposing and eradicating. Returning to the title for today and not wanting to downplay the seriousness of child sexual abuse in any way, we might remember there are other, perhaps more subtle forms of abuse as well. Joel Marcus is professor of New Testament and Christian origins at Boston University School of Theology. Raises a point that anyone who has travelled in ‘third-world’ countries will, resonate with in his touching, if not challenging, story:

He writes: “Once, on a bus tour of Egypt, we were led into a ‘school’. It turned out to be a carpet factory where children sat hour after hour before huge looms, weaving lovely rugs to grace the living rooms of Western tourists like ourselves.  They were beautiful children who flashed us shy smiles, and their hands flew so rapidly over the looms that we could scarcely see them.

“I remember a young woman from the tour, a college student, hugging one of the little girls and weeping – weeping that this child should have to forfeit her childhood, and her hope for the education that might lift her out of poverty, for the sake of the few dollars she was earning for her family by making rugs for tourists.

“Somehow, just by visiting, we all felt complicit in the exploitation and destruction of spirit that was going on in that so-called school” (Marcus/Religion-on-line web site).

These stories, both biblical and otherwise, certainly seem hard stories for any who wishes to make distinctions between outsiders and insiders. Mark seems to be saying to his congregation, here is a choice: restriction and constraint, or preservation and setting free.

To choose the first is to fall into the disciples’ trap of exclusiveness. To choose the latter is to rise to the Jesus challenge of inclusiveness. An inclusiveness which, as has been suggested on previous occasions, enlarged God to include humankind and enlarged the self to include the neighbour.  According to Mark, Jesus talked a lot about what he called the kin(g)dom or realm or domain or empire of God. But this domain… this re-imagined vision of reality wasn’t some ‘pie-in-the-sky’ thing to wait for. It was present but invisible, becoming a part of their lives right then. Hidden in the dualism perhaps was the significance of division, the significance of the power of hopelessness, the significance of the courage needed to rise above the dualisms and as Jesus advocated embrace the alternative which is an inclusiveness rooted in a world beyond fear, beyond dualisms, beyond exclusion as a manes of ordering life. And it is an inclusiveness that gave and gives a preference to the underside of their social world. The poor and landless.
The unclean. The prostitute. The toll collector. The slave child. All those who had been marginalized, treated as ‘outsiders’, became privileged in God’s domain. And remember it is always a ‘Way’, an alternative always there to be found. Dualisms such as insiders and outsiders are not enough, they identify but they do not provide solutions.

Mark’s listeners were not prepared for the irony of that. It contradicted their normal notion of who belonged and who did not, of who was in and who was out of who should hold leadership in the movement and who should not.

So, where is the good news in all this? Well, it seems that the God of Jesus is the God of politics and the marketplace, the God of the poor and the working and the retired, the tillers of the land, the students, and the people of justice. Of people of all sexual orientation. Dualisms are still with us even today so its nit about eradication nor of living with. It is about an alternative Way of being and doing. Don’t get hung up on the energies required to sort out the insiders and outsiders just get on with providing an alternative that includes all of them.

We can see every day what dualisms like that can do and do, do to our society, to people. We can see the groups of noisy people running around in anguish, shouting: Forbid her!
Not him! Imprison him or her but not him or her. But as Mark reminds us: in Jesus’ vision, God breaks out of our rules for proper credentials, for power and authority.

Whenever we want to draw lines in order to define who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’, Mark says remember… Jesus is always with the outsider! And that, has to be the real message of hope for us in these stories! What do you think?

Jensen, R. A. 1996.  Preaching Mark’s Gospel. Lima. CSS Publishing.


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