The See What is Possible in Looking Again.

Posted: October 20, 2021 in Uncategorized

The See What is Possible in Looking Again.

The world watched as the officer knelt on the neck of a man until the life went out of him. He cried for his mother and complained that he could not breathe. The mob member misjudged the initiation requirements and a member of the other gang died with a bullet in his chest. The initiate knew there would be retaliation so brazenly went on as if nothing had happened. The community watched as the mighty made an example of him as a means of keeping the peace and maintaining control. The executed him in the public scene so as to maintain the level of fear and sustain their empirical control. They had support as the colleagues looked on, as the clan put up the defence of their own, as his friends hid and his communities of allegiance sought their own safety in the realm.

The Jesus story evolves in its context yet remains the same in the face of violence and destruction. It stays with us. It matters.

What seems to strike a cord, in the similarity of the stories above is that the crucifixion was a sanitized murder within systemic violence. Another approach might be to say that because such things can happen in our human community there has to be a communal, social disfunction that perpetrates a systemic injustice that hinders a just response because it seems to be socially unacceptable to make waves, or question why such things happen. Put it down to bad people, original sin or some sort of parental irresponsibility but don’t question the system. In so doing we sanitize the reality and like the disciples of Jesus, the fellow policeman on the scene and the other gang members watching find cover just in case. They don’t question their own actions because they are too busy saving themselves.

The Jesus story evolves in its context yet remains the same in the face of violence and destruction. It stays with us. It matters. The crucifixion is not an historic event anymore. It has transcended space and time perhaps and is in our very faces, it is happening now. The violence like the poor seems always with us, even if the evidence that there is less than there used to be, the world after all is a more peaceful place overall and it is communication advances that enable us to see what was hidden before and not the level of global violence expanding. It is just more visible rather than growing. We use the big picture to justify our individual dilemma.

What seems to be developing alongside this is an awareness that we are sleeping if we miss this example of crucifixion under our very eyes, it seems too complex and too far away from me as an individual to really make any difference. Like the disciples I need to make sure I am around after all this noise dies down. I need to put this crucifixion into perspective and make sure I continue to be able to tell true story. I don’t really want to ask the hard question. Is this the crucifixion all over again? Is this the systemic violence that executed Jesus.

The Jesus story evolves in its context yet remains the same in the face of violence and destruction. It stays with us. It matters. The crucifixion is not an historic event anymore. But be careful here, if you agree with this then you have to think that Jesus dying for our sins is as Brandon Scott suggests, Jesus dying for our sins if a theological way to avoid what Paul says is the scandal of Jesus. Execution. That scandal being that the Jewish expectation of Gods power standing up for good doesn’t work nor does the Greek expectation of the divine wisdom sorting important things out. Crucifixion says that Rome won, the Roman system won and Jesus lost. Empire triumphs and it always does and it always will. And the best response to this inevitability is to deny its brutality and its violence. Call it conspiracy theory or wacky backy thinking. In fact evidence suggests that the followers of Jesus in the 1st century stylized the story and so began the development of the crucified Christ in a wooden cross as symbol of salvation. The brutality and violence was sanitized into a good Friday event. And take note that Jesus suffering and agony becomes some sort of divine gift. There are attempts to liturgically raise a Holy Saturday and note the suffering as a vigil, a recognition of the suffering Christ, but it is the deified Jesus that suffers, It is God’s son that suffers not humanity. The deification of Jesus bar Joseph is completed. Over time and the systemic violence is sanitized as our fault. Note I am not denying the crucifixion, just trying not to deny the horrific violence and brutality of a system trying to defend itself against change and loss of power.

When the centurion supervising Jesus; execution sees Jesus die he says. “This man really was God’s Son!” The author of this in Mark intends Jesus’ last words to be provocative and confrontational. It is a sarcastic comment that says You must be joking to think that this guy is a son of God! You can imagine the officer with his knee on the neck saying that ‘You must be joking if you think this guy doesn’t deserve this” and you can imagine the mobster saying that you have got to be joking is you think this is not a justifiable rite of passage that confirms loyalty and support and inclusion. The Jesus story evolves in its context yet remains the same in the face of violence and destruction. It stays with us. It matters. The crucifixion is not an historic event anymore.

So, what about the resurrection? Can we say the same about that?

The shocked family was standing on the footpath in front of their house, watching the firemen swarming in and out. A grease fire had severely damaged the kitchen and smoke was saturating everything they owned. They felt deeply the probable loss of treasured items and they wondered how bad it could be. They watched in dismay as the fire was put out.  They saw the holes in the walls. The scorched ceilings. The broken crockery. Their home was a real mess and they tried not to think about the cleanup job that awaited them.

Suddenly a pizza delivery car pulled up next to the curb, and a young bloke jumped out carrying
one of those large pizza delivery bags. The father of the family looked puzzled: “Sorry mate! He said; you must have the wrong address. None of us ordered a pizza, and besides, my wallet was in my coat pocket – in the kitchen”. The delivery bloke smiled, shock his head and said:
“Yea, I know you didn’t order this.  But I saw you all just standing there and I had to do something.
“There’s no charge.  Just take it easy and have something to eat”. And with that he jumped back into his car and sped off as the astonished family watched.  (A story adapted from William Bausch)

 The crucifixion was there before them and how many of them saw the fire, shook their heads, and drove on? How many saw the people in need? Saw the brutal blow to their family and their friends. How many saw the brutality of the devastation perpetrated by the destructive event and didn’t jump to conclusions about poor maintenance, accidental use of volatile materials mismanaged, or unfortunate accident and drove on? One young bloke saw and decided to do something about it. The ‘doing’ was not some heroic firefighting or lifesaving risk taking. It was some simple words and ordinary caring.

It was similar to that of the Jesus of the Mark story who saw and heard Bartimaeus and,
as the storyteller says, did something about it. He offered some simple words and ordinary caring.

The story of Bartimaeus, clearly created by the storyteller Mark, is an interesting and important story. In the metaphor of the resurrection. There is a nobody in the world’s eyes, a sidelined person, a blind beggar sitting in the dust, suddenly, and to the surprise of all, becomes the hero of the story. When he raised his voice, people were quick to remind him he was a nobody.

Shut up you; they said! Be quiet! No-one wants to listen to you! Get back in the closet! Yet with the persistence which can characterise the desperate, he does not shy away from being a nuisance… He says; “I am not odd, or stupid, I am not a case to be solved, a need to be met. I’m a person, and not a discounted person or a person to be discounted.

Mark’s Jesus responds, hears his request, and, we are told, and makes him whole. William Loader, the Australian biblical scholar, suggests this is storyteller Mark at his subversive best.
“Mark can do this because he knew such stories.  Jesus did not sideline people. Jesus responded to what were seen as the ‘hopeless cases’ of his day” (William Loader/Web site-2003).

And again: “Whether at the symbolic level or at a literal level, the story illustrates an approach to people which is central to Jesus’ teaching” (WLoader/Web site-2003). Again the resurrection is lifted out of its historical time prison and becomes a living example.

I am sure you will recognise this ‘inclusive’ theme as a familiar one in Mark’s stories.
If you have been following this lectionary year of Mark you will note the inclusive focus on Children. Legalism. Toll collectors. Lepers. Purity rules, and Women. “The invisible domain of God is populated with the poor, the destitute, with women and unwanted children, with lepers, and toll collectors, all considered under some circumstances to be the dregs of society.  They are outsiders and outcasts.  They are exiles from their native religious tradition” (Funk 2002: 55).

Much of Jesus’ energy is in controversy with his fellow Jews and was spent trying to show that we must interpret scripture in a way which sees its priority as concern for human well-being some theory. The systemic battle highlighted by the execution and murder of Jesus is overturned by love, inclusion of the outcast, respect for the other and commitment to the alternative. The resurrection is the process of reconciliation, of renewal and of restoration of the realm of God.

There is another story that might signal resurrection too and it was one told by Bishop John Shelby Spong when he was in Australia some years back. We note also his recent death in the States. His story Was in what was a sharing of a theological vision for, and call to, the church. The whole event – sponsored by The Centre for Progressive Religious Thought – proved to be  a rewarding, 
challenging, and an inspirational experience for nearly everyone of the 650 people concerned.

Only one person, when 649 others were giving Spong a standing ovation, indicated a ‘thumbs down’ response.

Like the story of Bartimaeus, Jack Spong said during his Tuesday morning presentation:
“In Jesus we have met a presence of God… come among us offering life, love, and being to this world” (J S Spong. 2003).

The question we are reminded of is. “Is this what blind Bartimaeus saw in Jesus?” Was it a resurrection experience? A God presence offering life, love and being?  Another biblical storytelling person Tom Boomershine, when working with this story, says: “Jesus response is a word of affirmation and encouragement in which he gives permission for Bartimaeus to act on the power implicit in his own faith” (Boomershine 1988:128).

We can resonate with that comment. And we can also be bold enough to suggest this is what John Shelby Spong did. He gave people permission to express and act on the power implicit in their own faith or religious journey, especially when others want to say to them: shut up! The daily engagement between faith and life is relived constantly as a resurrection event.

The thoughts and words and ideas of Jack Spong are an affirmation of courage and faith and encouragement which allow that faith or religious journey to be fully lived out… offering life, love and being. Where Spong and those who respond to his vision of religion usually fall foul of conservative or evangelical church folk, is the fear of people who choose not to, or are unable to, see or hear the value of the individual in the systemic driven environment. Their resistance seems to be because of a fear of the systemic nature of the human need to be socially responsible because that will mean personal change. And we know that a life lived in fear can never bear to face the need for change, or to see the possible in looking again from a different perspective.

So, I hope you can see why Mark’s story about a bloke called Bartimaeus might be an important story in our religious tradition, at this time in human history. Perhaps we need to listen to all the Bartimaeus’ when they speak up! Maybe we need to hear then as affirming the resurrection journey we are on?

The Jesus story evolves in its context yet remains the same in the face of violence and destruction as well as peace and love and the indwelling of the realm of God. The story stays with us. It matters. Amen.

Bausch, W. A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers. Mystic. Twenty-Third Publications, 1998.
Boomershine, T. E. Story Journey. An Invitation to the Gospel as Storytelling. Nashville. Abingdon Press, 1988.
Cairns, I. J. Mark of a Non-realist. A Contemporary Reading of the Second Gospel. Masterton. Fraser Books., 2004
Funk, R. W. A Credible Jesus. Fragments of a Vision. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2002.

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