‘Terror Matched by Hope Beyond Description’

Posted: November 8, 2021 in Uncategorized

‘Terror Matched by Hope Beyond Description’

Today is the last week we will hear the gospel story from the storyteller we call Mark. The last, for three years, that is. This year I have preempted this a bit in that last week I spoke on the Reign of Christ Last week which is normally the pre-curser to Advent. Next week is the end of this liturgical Year B. Then after that we enter a new Church year and a new season – Advent. And the cycle begins all over again. There is a sense of sadness about this in that with this year, coming to the end of Year B, Mark – it feels a bit different.

I suspect like some other progressives that Mark’s stories are good down-to-earth stories which preserve the Jesus Movement’s memory of Jesus. They seem to be stories that are not only the earliest stories but also because there is less ‘layering’ onto these stories. That is, there seems to be more of an honest Jesus than a church Christ in these stories. And that has become an important difference for me. I think it was the Jesus Seminar scholars Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan who alerted me and several other theological discussions to the important difference between the pre-Easter Jesus and the post-Easter Christ. That is, when we take the stories about the post-Easter Christ as historical reporting about the pre-Easter Jesus, Borg pointed out: Jesus becomes an unreal human being, and we lose track of the utterly remarkable person he was.

Third, and this was another new experience which was to discover the Jewish structure of Mark’s stories. The liberating experience is to view these stories through Jewish eyes. Bishop John Shelby Spong some time back lectured on Mark, as a Midrash storyteller, telling the Jesus story based on the Hebrew scriptures and organised around the liturgical year of the Jews from Rosh Hashanah (New Year) to Passover. Spong claimed it was inevitable that the first members of the Jesus Movement, who were Jewish people, would: interpret Jesus, organize their memory, and shape their religious life based on their Jewish religious heritage, which was the only tradition they knew.

 In hind sight it seems so logical and obvious that one wonders how one missed it but what it did was stimulated one’s curiosity as both a storyteller and a liturgist. It stood in contrast to the suggestion by Narrative theologians who argued that Mark’s stories are modelled on the parable of The Sower. We remember that story where some seeds fall on a hard pathway, some seeds fall on rocky ground, some seeds fall among thorns and are choked, some seed fall on good soil. Narrative theologians might say that as we journey through Mark we hear this story in the various and many other stories… The rich young man. The healing of a man with an unclean spirit. The widow and the coins. And many more. People heard, but only some responded. For some the words have fallen on a hard pathway, on rocky ground, among thorns. All through Mark, according to this theological vision of sown seed and productive and unproductive earth.

However, with progressive challenges to this and the discovery of the Jewishness of Jesus we have become more sensitive to the stories about outsiders and outcasts in Mark… And to Jesus as an outsider. Robert Funk, of Westar said: “Jesus apparently regarded himself as an outsider.  He was in exile from his hometown, from his friends and neighbours… he was a guest, a traveler, a stranger, an alien in most contexts. ” (Funk 2002:45-46).

Jesus appears to have ignored the social boundaries of his time. He embraces the beggars, the poor, the hungry.  He becomes known as a friend of toll collectors and prostitutes. All these, fall outside the boundaries of his society in the most radical manner.

Again, Funk was pivotal to this new awareness: He said: “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…  No wonder Jesus auditors were puzzled by his vision of… God’s domain – it contradicted their normal notion of who belonged and who did not, of who was in and who was out.” (Funk 2002:55)

So, what are we to make of this final story from Mark? Today’s story by the one we call Mark is a pretty scary story. Historically it probably refers to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple many years after the death of Jesus. Theologically it probably warns of those who offered the small Jesus Movement false hopes through dubious signs and wonders.

Either way there would be real human memories: the brutality of war, the rape and pillaging, the burning and torture, the killing and mutilation. The Jesus of Mark takes us into this world of terror and offers a vision of hope. A defiant hope. A hope centred on the vision of the domain of  God where inclusiveness is its rule. And a passionate concern for others fires imaginations and compassionate acts. Terror beyond description is being matched by hope beyond description, is the way William Loader describes it. Perhaps this is all we can say about this story. I trust it is enough. If it is, then we too can also be blessed.  Perhaps we can see its simple message as a challenge to look beyond all the doom and gloom and end times images we are being given by science, media, and society in this time of global crisis we seem to be living. May be the challenge is to look beyond and find the hope that comes with a new perspective.

It won’t be easy but if Mark’s Jesus has anything to say to us it is that the terror is matched by a hope beyond description. Amen.

Funk, R. W. A Credible Jesus. Fragments of a Vision. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2002.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.