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The Gospel of Mark in the Light of the Prophets

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March, 2005 Dr. Peter Krey, Berkeley, California SOLI DEO GLORIA!

Reading the wonderful Isaiah chapters something impressed upon me that began in the 40’s. I noticed a reversal of our secular assumptions. In prose of chapter 44, Isaiah describes the absurdity of idolatry – the same wood that is burnt to warm the people, is used as fuel to bake bread, and then is also shaped into an idol to worship.

That is a complete “fabrication” – to use the word in two senses. A self-deception made with one’s own hand and made with a confused mind.

Isaiah continues in poetry with verse 21:

Remember these things, O Jacob and Israel,

for you are my servant, I formed you.

You are my servant… I have redeemed you.

That means that we are the work of God’s hands, we are wonders, we are miracles, we are marvelously made, because we are formed by God, because we are God’s servants.

Idolatry places the focus on the work of our hands, an artifact, a fabrication, an invention, upon which we focus, rather than the envelope or radiance created by the divine: we ourselves the work of God’s hands.

The latter reversal can also be considered on other levels. This God is not a concept of human conceiving, but we are creations of God’s conceiving and formation. Being the passive living sculptures made in heaven, makes us the purveyors of divine grace here on earth, because the divine active and passive do not make human beings passive and active – let me say it again: just because God is active and the human being passive coram deo (before God), the human being is not passive coram hominibus (before others), but active on a whole new qualitative level coram hominibus. The person in that state of grace is mindful of the motion of happening in which being, doing, having, all play a role and the creativity involved is not given a reductionism to mere doing.

Thus if we consider taking the idolatry from the woodcarver or sculptor of Isaiah into religious conceptuality, then we did not conceive God as a fabrication for our self-deceptive comfort. God conceived us, and called us into existence. We are God’s concepts and God concepts, and not vice versa. The evidence lies in the wonder of this universe, its galaxies, black holes, nova, shining stars, our sun, this planet earth, and its silver moon and the wonder of life and love and redemption, that is not of our making, but presents itself as a given, a gift from the divine hand that made it.

Thus interpreting God as human projections of a father into the sky like Ludwig Feuerbach; or religion as an opiate of the people, because of its being a human fabrication or self-deception – misses the whole wonder of what we are, the marvels of what God’s hand has formed and fashioned for us.

Isaiah is saying we cannot form God; God forms us, the God besides whom there is no other (43:11, 44:8b, 45:5, 14b, 21b, and 22b).

It would be interesting to study Luther’s faith creating God – the way Gerhard Ebeling presents it – and in what sense it does not violate these Isaiah’s passages as well as Karl Barth’s sensibilities.

Perhaps the line of reasoning would have to go this way: Faith is the power of God in us – faith is Christ in us giving us the conception of God, from having come to us from God in heaven. I would have to check this out by returning to my notes:

Ebeling argues in his Lutherstudium Band III. (p 190 ff.) that the scholastics divided faith into a pluralism of faiths: formata, actus, habitus, acquisita, infusa, above all, fides informis vs. fides formata. If faith justifies, Luther argued, St. Paul could never have spoken or understood faith in such a pluralism of forms.[1]

It had to be faith in a holistic form justified and not faith dissipated away in many different compartments.

Now here is why the Isaiah passage calls this Luther via Ebeling passage to mind. Luther writes that fides est creatrix divinitas, “faith is the creatrix of divinity, not God,” Ebeling argues. Faith creates divinity, because faith gives God the glory and it is impossible to do anything for God, except to make God our God. God shares God-self with us through faith. So in the power of God, divinity is created in us.

Not in person,

Not in substance, (194).

But in nobis, in us. The justified has new life not in his/her person, not in se, but in Christ. The substance is in Christ. So by faith, God is making Christ become a reality in us. Jesus Christ is God becoming incarnate and human reality (197).

Thus reason, which cannot allow God to be God and cannot give God the glory, is overcome by faith – is killed (spiritually) by faith, dies by faith, and Christ is formed within us – and the incarnation is continued.

I can see from reading Ebeling again why I had such a high understanding of human activity subsumed into God, or really human beings, participating in divine action because of the reversal of faith and grace – that Duane Larson at the Wartburg Seminary thought I was close to Finnish Theosis.[2]

For example, from page 26 of my Ebeling notes, I wrote: “There seems to be an overlap here, almost a reserve against Pelagianism. Human action and agency do not encroach on what is the divine prerogative; but faith reaches down and lifts the person, without subject, agent, free will, etc. into the divine action of God – that is, however, the furtherance of incarnation or continuous creation.”

Thus in my “Grounding Missiology in Lutheran Confessions” lecture at the Wartburg – I can see that this study became a part of me and I was not even conscious that I was drawing on it.

Now this is not idolatry at all, to say that our faith makes Christ be within us, and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

18. March 2005

Reading Isaiah, it became clear to me that “he has received the tongue of a disciple and is capable of sustaining with a word the weary.” Read Chapter 50:4 and then read the following chapters – I read through 57 – and there is powerful comfort there. He really binds up the wounds of the people with his words. There is very strong comfort there and it flooded me with emotion to read the words. The suffering servant is in 53, and then the verses in 54 come in. Verse 8 and 10:

8. For a brief moment I

have abandoned you,

But with great compassion

I will gather you.

In overflowing wrath for a moment

I hid my face from you,

But with everlasting love

I will have compassion on you,

says the Lord, your Redeemer.”

10. For the mountains may depart

and the hills may be removed

but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,

and my covenant of peace

shall not be removed,

says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

I also noticed that the verse Jesus uses to cleanse the temple, (56:7b) “For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples,” is in a chapter where the covenant is extended to foreigners and eunuchs, if they refrain from evil and keep the Sabbath. Here we could interpret the Sabbath in the mode of justification by faith, i.e., because we can have peace in our hearts and rest from all our worry and labors, we have to do nothing, because God works through us, doing that which is humanly impossible to do. Like Kahil Gibran, the Arabic poet would say: “When you work you are like a flute through whom the whispering of the hours changes to music” – in the same way, when Christ works through us the whispering of the Word of God continues the creation, God’s own handiwork. We can do nothing in this Sabbath, God does it all, but we pray that God might do it through us.

23. March 2005

Just finished Isaiah again – the many prophecies without historical underpinnings or details to fix them in distinct times and places make them somewhat confusing. They alternate between judgment and comfort. They do contain an expanded vision that transcends the borders of Israel, that’s for sure. Perhaps being taken to Babylonia and Persia makes the story of Israel appear in a larger imperial context, and the universal vision that provides.

To get to the problem of many prophets writing under one name – if this is indeed true…I thought that it meant that those without authority attribute their writing to those who have authority in a corporate or collective personhood.

Erich Auerback in Mimesis has an interesting thing to say about slaves depicted by Homer. They spend their life in service of the family “closely connected with its fate, love them and share their interests and feelings. [The slaves] have no life of their own, no feelings of their own, [they] have only the feelings and life of their master.”[3] Perhaps we can plug in the word “school” for “family” – and refer to the school of Isaiah, for example.

Those who could have been in a school of Isaiah would have been more closely tied than such slaves to a family even. They may have shared First Isaiah’s thoughts and feelings and life. Their life may not have been their own, so absorbed may they have been in the life under the name of their prophet. “They could have had no life apart from the school, no [thoughts] and feelings of their own.” This hypothesis may be worth exploring.

In my guest lecture as a candidate for a position at the Wartburg Seminary, I wrote the lecture they required: “Grounding Missiology in Lutheran Confessions.” In many ways, especially in the conception of historical movement, my ideas on these pages build on the insights I attained in this lecture.

28. March, 2005

I’m reading Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis.[4] He certainly adds depth to my understanding of movement in Luther’s terms, because the word “Gospel” itself spells movement – “a deep subversive movement” in which ordinary people in their ordinary lives are caught up and brought into a world-revolutionary event, (I am using Auerbach’s language).

When Auerbach is comparing Tacitus or other literature of Antiquity with the New Testament, here doing so with Peter’s denial of Jesus – we are witnessing, he says,

the birth of a spiritual movement in the depths of the common people, from within the everyday occurrences of contemporary life, which thus assumes an importance it could never have assumed in antique literatures. What we witness is the awakening of “a new heart and a new spirit” (p. 37).

Thus the Gospel itself represents this movement – and Luther realized it had been set afoot again around him. When I commented to my brother, Philip, that Luther had rediscovered the Gospel, he asked, “When had it been lost?” But when the Gospel is rediscovered its powerful historical forces are unleashed again and Luther sees that in the martyrium of many; that people are again being picked up at random and being involved in world changing events, common everyday ordinary people who, even in their worst weakness, see how what is divinely crucial moves forward.

Thus Peter Blickle’s criticism of Luther and the Reformation is unwarranted. He said that Luther was completely inexperienced in politics and government, how could he really be taken seriously on this account. In light of Auerbach’s insights, this critique is misguided. Auerbach argues that the discovery of the Gospel is the birth of a new spiritual movement in the depths of the common people, from within the everyday occurrences of contemporary life. St. Peter is a fisherman, an everyday random person, the way the rest of Jesus’ disciples were.

it is essential that great numbers of random persons should make their appearance; for it is not possible to bring to life such historical forces in their surging action except by reference to numerous random persons – the term random being here employed to designate people from all classes, occupations, walks of life, people, that is, who owe their place in the account exclusively to the fact that the historical movement engulfs them as it were accidentally, so that they are obliged to react to it in one way or another (Auerbach, p. 38).

So the proclamation of the Gospel is the tip of the iceberg, where the centripetal and centrifugal forces unleashed bring about the change and renewal of the world. Luther: “For the Word of God comes, whenever it comes, to change and renew the World” (from his Bondage of the Will).[5]

I’m a little confused by Auerbach’s argument comparing the individual and society of antiquity with that of ours today.

I thought perhaps that the identity of people in antiquity was social and not individual – take for example the slave and master, where the slave was subsumed into the master, as I wrote about a few days’ entry before – but here Auerbach speaks of antiquity seeing an individual and not in any sway of social forces. It merely sees vices or virtues in that individual (p. 33). But it is not an individualism seen by Antiquity versus a social dimension seen today – it is a matter of their inability to see social forces at work that can be in motion. They see only the vices and virtues, successes and failures of a person. I believe the difference is the historical development of these forces which the New Testament is aware of and which our modern historiography is conscious of – but which failed the ancients – and they may well have been stultified in their “aprioristic model concepts” of society, to use Auerbach’s words (p. 34) – unaware of social forces at work picking up individuals in the waves of a new history changing force.

12:20 pm.

It just occurred to me that those caught up in the nobility of the Spirit, those caught up in the movement of the Gospel, are caught up in the coming Kingdom of Heaven. Thus the real dignitaries are a David, a Peter, Paul, Mary and Martha. The world changing events are in their hands, for they are consciously caught up in them. They are the stars, the real leaders in the sight of God. What does it matter, who those personalities might be in the eyes of the world?! Jesus, Peter, Paul, Mary and Martha felt the pendulum sway from Caesar to the Christ, from the Roman Empire to the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Kingdom of Heaven is not at all co-terminus with the empires, kingdoms, and states of this world. The latter are drawn with “human effort and human ordaining, the former are drawn by God’s ordaining and God’s majesty” to use Luther’s words.

The trouble is that the great people in God’s eyes are not the great people in the eyes of the world. And thus there is a great deal of suffering, invisibility, unmet needs, except that the deep sub-surface forces will make the last first and the first come out last.

When Auerbach describes the birth of a spiritual movement in the depths of the common people, from within the everyday occurrences of their contemporary life, I like to add ordinary life – then I think how Hinduism is diametrically opposed to Christianity – or rather the latter’s basic vision. If the caste system is the social institutionalization of Hinduism, then the movement would begin among the untouchables, the Dalats, and lift them up higher than the Brahmans, because the Kingdom turns what is important in the eyes of the world into invisibility and what is in the low regard in the eyes of the world, to world changing and salvation bringing, and from the Christian point of view, by the untouchables caught up in the Holy Spirit and bringing about what is humanly untouchable – because it is the work of God’s hand, God’s word.

Let’s face it – perhaps the nations are false churches – the Kingdom of God is not co-terminus in its divisions with the nations of the earth, especially if Christ is the King of the Jews and of all the nations. I do not think the nations were ratified in that way by the kingdom and given any spiritual standing. The boundaries should be drawn with love and compassion and not for privilege and oppression. And patriotism is a riot against religious reverence for the Holy One who has compassion on the people, the Lamb of God who bought us all with the price of his blood, very different from those who gain their power at the price of the lives of soldiers and many who stand in their way. Like St. Patrick explained to the warriors who took prisoners to sacrifice to the blood-thirsty gods of paganism – Christ gives us his blood to drink and does not want to drink the blood of sacrificial victims. That to the Irish, that word of St. Patrick was “Good News,” that stopped human sacrifice in those days.[6]

29. March, 2005

The Gospel is “good news” breaking – because the good things are happening and they have to be witnessed because new history of salvation is being made by them.

The in-breaking good news is also the continuous creation of God, because Christ is in the people and the next verse of the gospel song will be heard again, lived again, coming down in grace again, and the Gospel will be afoot and stirring people’s hearts again.

March 31, 2005.

In rereading the Psalter once again, Psalm 46 moves me again.

The City of God is what Augustine wrote about, and the river whose streams make it glad is the river of grace bringing abundant life.

Faith is a force, it’s a historical, a social, a personal, a divine force that people need to be caught up in and it will make a City of God possible here on Earth, which is naturally not humanly possible, but for God its no big deal. God could do it anytime. So that is a Gospel movement that it is part of and not in a political way, so that you would have to be orthodox. For example, if teeth are crooked, you need an orthodontist – but if they are allowed to grow in grace, there is no need of braces. The thoughts will be full of trust and the trust in God will fill every thought. Our thoughts do not have to be straightened by orthodoxy.

What to do about secular people, atheists, or those of other faiths? They are to be loved just like those in the faith, because the wonderful envelope of the City of God will bear witness to them of this heaven of grace and forgiveness, coming into being from the Lord God.

You say, “That could never happen. It would be prevented.” Very true. But those outside of Christianity are not preventing it, but those who are in the faith themselves, but not at all caught up in the vision and peace and truth of it, are those who are preventing it.

Recently I became very discouraged because I thought the Gospel is a movement – but in how so far are our Lutheran Churches themselves and other Christians completely in contradiction to the movement of the Gospel? Our conservatives should know enough to bank the Kingdom of God on this United States of America! We are a wicked and unrepentant country and the church of God has to be from a humble and very repentant forgiven sense of a country that does not yet exist but in the power of faith God can establish it and make it flourish with the Lamb as its light and gentleness and tenderness at its heart.

We would merely have to declare it to be so in a movement of prayer throughout our churches so that a very important critical mass of people help change the whole city in the twinkling of an eye. And it has to be done in a conscious way, yet we can only anticipate, we cannot inaugurate the City of God, as David Bosch would say.[7]

We would not do this through the Republican Party, not through the Democratic Party, but by a non-party festival of people agreeing to grow in faith.

9th of April, 2005

Reading Mark: Isaiah’s passage – Prepare the way of the Lord – refers to a road from captivity back to Israel. (Note the complete unity of the people of God’s possession and their Lord.) Now it is not a matter of the change of geography but the transformation of the conditions and the Roman possession they are living in. Of course if the Roman possession is not an oppressive, unjust, and godless one, it is not problematic – so Christianity does go right for the jugular and tries to convert the Roman Empire…it does so without converting Israel, however.

But back to the word, which is also back to the City of God and back to the Israel of God. Then Jesus chooses his twelve disciples and starts preaching with authority. Now persons possessed with unclean spirits try to block him.

My idea of coming up out of the City of God and doing wonderful things is a little different from transferring the whole country into a new one and having the ones possessed by the old one become obstructionist.

Thus it says in 1:34b: That he would not let them speak. Interestingly enough in 2:2b, it says “he was speaking the word to them: and the Greek is “ton logon.” The Jewish culture must have been aware of the logos and the rationality it represented. The logos was certainly becoming influenced by the spirit of Judaism but if we just take Origen whom I have been studying for philosophy, he places love inside reason.

So Jesus is trying to preach a dynamic rationality to them – making them rational, but imbued with the steadfast love of God as well so they could become fully mature and fully rational for the City of God. Naturally out of Judaism this rationality and maturity is predicated on faith.

In chapter 3:24-27, Jesus has a much more dynamic understanding of the Kingdom. It is not divided against itself. It has a unity without contradiction and thus it is full of love and power and life. And the adversary, who introduces the contradictions, has to be the strong man who is bound up so that all his goods can be plundered and taken into this kingdom.

I do not know how to integrate that with my concept of the City of God bringing one experience after another of heaven into reality, except in anticipation and the people rising up into this reality like guerilla attacks but of suffering love, and keeping on until a critical mass might be reached and a more massive change becomes possible. Yet all such experiences are always in hors d’ourves, in foretastes, or like “previews of coming attractions” because God alone can inaugurate the Kingdom (Bosch)[8].

When Jesus speaks of the new patch of cloth and the old fabric of society, he is saying that a new kingdom needs to be in the works, for the new Gospel to work, because otherwise going through the turmoil and struggles of the wash, the new cloth would shrink and tear up the old fabric of the society, so if both were renewed, that tension would not be destructive: you need fresh new wine skins, for the new wine.

In chapter 4:13, it is surprising how the seed is the logos. To just translate it as faith, I think is too abstract. The Word of God is right if it has the mystery, dynamic, and creative power that reason filled with love and trust implies. And this faith is really exchanged for grace, which implies divine power, love, and understanding intellect knowing God’s way back to the Holy Israel, the land, the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey.

Note: in these eight verses 4:13-20 the word “logos” comes up eight times – once for each verse. Their conception of the Word of God must also have known the significance of the logos, or reason, for philosophers of the Hellenistic world with the common Greek: Koiné.

Perhaps 4:21 ff. could also be like the unshrunk cloth and the new wine metaphor. The new person is featured by the society the way a lamp is placed on a lampstand – and the society should not try to encapsulate the new light, like a bushel covering him or her – or instead of the new person on the bed, cover the person with the bed / all the oldsters sleeping on top of it above him/her – perhaps the metaphor allows itself to be extended in that way.

The bushel or the bed cover will not be able to keep it a secret anyway, because the new lamp, the new person, will come to light.

It is strange – the wicked person, the sinful person – even we might say the criminal, tries to keep the darkness of his/her ways from coming to the light of society, while here the deviousness, the wickedness of the society is trying to cover the light of the new person.

Again chapter 4:26 ff., the growing of the seed is the logos – and if the different disciplines that grew out of philosophy are considered, that would illustrate this parable well: natural philosophy to science; moral philosophy to sociology, psychology, anthropology – you name the fields – fruit, stalk, the head, the grain, full-grain in the head.

Now the Word of God is more than abstract logos, static logos. It is rationality that is dynamic with justice and love. It is faith replaced by grace; perhaps a grace that is filled rationally – and grace implying that the power of God is operating through it – creating new communities and new persons. Lights and lamps and new fabrics and new wineskins and lamp stands.

The parable of the mustard seed again is a culmination, the climax, the entelechy, to use Aristotle’s concept of the fully actualized form – to perhaps refer metaphorically to an empire where countries like large branches allow the birds to come out and nest in its shade.

Verse 4:33 may be part of Jesus’ strategy to have a more dynamic light under the cover of the people who hear the parable but don’t understand it. Again the darkness above it will not prevent the light from breaking through. The darker that darkness the greater will the hidden light shine. This theme could also shed light on his Messianic secret – that he does not want his identity known – and the demons try to derail his purposes by bringing his light to the surface before it can transform, or so that it cannot enlighten the deepest darkness.

In the stilling of the storm, the fully rational, dynamic, and mature, entelechy of human being and Word, Jesus, can control a storm – and that prospect is still outstanding, beyond our time in the future – but the boat and the passengers and the sleeping Jesus are also metaphors replete with meaning for the kingdom: social upheavals and the persons and institutions in danger of going down in the pounding of the waves.

It’s still about trust in the Word. Plato also believed that the society or republic, as in his case, was the person writ large – and he sought the same internal dynamics inside persons as inside kingdoms. That is a very quaint theory today where we know that psychological principles and sociological ones are very different. That kind of a discrepancy may also have torn the Christ out of his kingdom, or emphasized the kingdom without the Christ. What do we make of the difference between how a kingdom acts and how an individual person does?[9] The many metaphors Jesus presents certainly intend to throw light on the tension – and the unity within unities is baffling as we see Christ crucified by the old fabric of society, by the old wineskins, and by a lamp stand[10] that intended to snuff the light out, the light of the world.

But all to no avail, because now the fishers had drawn many more Christ’s into their nets and the earth first produces the stalk, then a head, then full grains in the head (4:26) and all know about the new fabric of society and the new wineskins, and the lamp stand of the shining lamb.

The Gerasene demoniac (5:1-20) is a very interesting story and (I agree with Paul Hollenbach) that it is an oblique reference to the Roman pigs in their legions.[11] Theoretically a legion should have 10,000, but ordinarily they could have had as few as 2,000 soldiers, the number of pigs in the herd. If their possession of the country, in the thought of Antiquity, is viewed as the same principle as the possession of the man, the oblique reference is cogent. Thus the pigs are all tricked, in the desperate demons, to jump off a cliff and die in the sea, and all the people are afraid of the one now possessed by the Lord of life and the country full of the healing Word (logos)[12] although their real fear might be for the Romans.

And it is interesting in the story of the hemorrhaging woman (5:30 ff.) that so many of the crowd touched him, but the individual person involved was not missed. Here he brought the healing art to light. Perhaps, she didn’t want to come into the light, but only wanted to use the light and that had to be corrected – because manipulation and domination was not part of the kingdom. Jesus ruled by loving and gracious service.

In Chapter 6, the people of Nazareth, perhaps influenced by his family negatively, ask where he received his wisdom, his Sophia from. I imagine the word “logos” in Mark is filled with far more content from the Greek philosophers than we think; Hellenism having permeated the whole empire and the Koiné being the Greek that the New Testament is even written in. I doubt that this Gospel in Greek is a translation that came from an original Aramaic. Rome had conquered the empire militarily and legally, but Greek culture had conquered, perhaps philosophically, especially perhaps in the Galilee of the Nations and around the Decapolis, the ten Hellenist cities.

Again, the dynamic must be viewed in a collective as well as personal way. That the people of Nazareth his Patria, would not believe, took away from his power. The unity of the person in the unity of the kingdom is important. The contradiction brought a division in which Jesus was not able “to do a deed of power there” (6:5). The power of grace (trust and God’s action) has to be concentrated in a person and then spread through the people, or the house is divided against itself – the contradictions spread havoc over the rationality of the logos.

Jesus, sending the twelve on a mission, again does not back down neither in the face of his Patria in Nazareth, nor his own blood that considers him to have lost his mind, nor the authorities watching to see if he will break the Sabbath (6:1 ff., 3:21, 31-35, 3:1ff.). Now he does a stronger campaign with the twelve emissaries. I shall call them emissaries, because although they are disciples, they are being sent – technically making them the apostolate – but they had not experienced the resurrection yet. Thus, as emissaries they chase out demons (doubly possessed by unclean Rome as well as their unclean affirmation of the old kingdom, the old fabric of society, the old wineskin, their secret sins in the cover of darkness) and then anoint them with oil (6:13) i.e., make them into christ’s, new logoi, words of God, full of grace and truth.

In the death of John the Baptist (6:14 ff.) the contradictions come so fast and thick it is easy to see how the logos does not have a chance. Breaking the law is also a case of contradiction: John tells Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” The whole party is the antithesis of the abundant life Jesus and John had come to bring.

The feeding of the 5,000 (6:30), can be seen to refer to the abundance of nurture and nourishment coming from the new kingdom because the twelve baskets full refer to the twelve tribes and the new realty in their being fed the bread of heaven, and they themselves, like food, being gathered in the baskets, the new nests, in the strong branches of the mustard bush. I wonder why some groups were of 100 and some of 50? That, too, might have the significance of Jesus’ continuity with Moses’ dividing the people into thousands, hundreds, and fifties (Exodus 18:25), where their number was slightly small for their division into thousands.

It is interesting to compare Jesus’ walking on water (4:5 ff.) with Jesus stilling the storm. Here the disciples are trying to reach Jesus, but strong currents or adverse winds keep them from shore. So he walks out to them, seems to intend to walk past them – and it seems to be because they are so frightened of him that he calms them, which also makes the winds to cease. Perhaps there is another expansion here. Not only is the society or form of country, government, what have you, the person writ large, but the logos also expands into nature and controls nature as well. So there is a unity in a unity, the person in the kingdom, we’ll say, but then nested in a third unity, that of nature, or of the earth. Thus we are speaking about a personal logos centered in the triple realm of person, kingdom, and nature, concentrated in the unity of each.

When eating with defiled hands and the pollution code comes up,[13] Jesus points to the internal person and the immorality and injustice that makes unclean, while external washing cannot be identified with internal morality. So there may be many a contradiction between the internal heart and the external lips.

He points out the internal source of evil and the misunderstanding or confusion of external cleanliness with morality and justice. So it is through the pure heart that the unities of person, community, and nature can be achieved: of course, in the light of the divine Christ, the power of the logos in the person, community, and nature.

The Syrophoenician woman (7:24) shows that the lowest of the low – the low-life – could be referred to as “dogs.” Perhaps that’s why the Cynics identified with dogs a few hundred years earlier and Diogenes of Sinope also championed the natural state of a dog. The Cynics were also itinerant preachers, known by their trademark of a tattered poncho and leather pouch (which Jesus did not allow his disciples to have) (6:8). And Cynics were against organized religion, temples, priests and rituals.

It is obviously a symbolic campaign when Jesus travels to the far North, to Tyre and Sidon (where he cured the deaf man with medicine). It becomes important with the feeding of the 4,000 because Christ is also a light to the nations. The 4,000 could refer to the four corners of the earth and there is a Hebrew tradition of seven nations around Israel, because there are seven breads and seven baskets of the remaining broken pieces gathered up, who are also receiving the bread from heaven to eat and are changing into the logoi, the words of God, become persons, countries, new natures, in terms of the renewal of the natural world as well.

After these miracles of the multiplication of the loaves it is strange then that the disciples had forgotten to take bread along with them in the boat. They had only one loaf.

April 10, 2005

It is hard getting started again with 5 minutes. But the questioning of the disciples (8:17 ff.) seems to make the feedings of the masses into living parables like object lessons of the Kingdom, as it were. Now the opposition comes from the yeast – in a way it is the central ingredient in bread that the Pharisees and Herod’s party represent. The yeast makes the old Kingdom, the old fabric of society grow. They represent those who, cling to the old wineskin, and (verse 21) if they have eyes to see and ears to hear, they will understand that Christ is the King of Israel and the Lord of the Nations. That is what the two feedings with the bread from heaven represent. After these incredible signs, the Pharisees came asking him for a sign. The point, I believe, is their blindness – they could see nothing about what he is about.

And then the story continues with Jesus curing a blind man in Bethsaida (8:22), seemingly still dealing with the same issue. And Jesus continues keeping the messianic secret, perhaps, not to be arrested as a “pretender to the throne” – but Peter then identifies him first from the disciples’ side, rather than from that of the demons – yet Peter flip-flops between taking the Father’s side and that of Satan.

Now the Messiah will be very different from an earthly king – he will be the suffering servant – he will give his life rather than taking lives and the greatest will be the servant of all. And we are not to be ashamed of the ugly suffering up to and upon the cross, because that will be ushering in the Kingdom.

The story is moving into the message about the new wine and new cloth, into the fact that they themselves are becoming engulfed in the ripping up of the old fabric of society; and that Jesus has to be torn up is the process of tearing up the old cloth, bursting the old wineskin of Herod and the Pharisees.

Jesus brings our history to the edge of eternity and it is really easy now-a-days still to save our lives and not risk them for the Christ and the Gospel, yet we move away from the edge of eternity in so doing, and the new cloth of society, the new wine diminishes – usually the wineskin tears and it pours out on the ground.

From Peter confessing Jesus as the Messiah at Caesarea Philippi, the predictions of suffering and death, there follows the divine answer to the question “Who do you say I am?” from the voice of the Father: “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him.”

Thus the new Lord of heaven and earth is declared and after more teaching, Jesus takes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which of course ultimately will not recognize him making him the cornerstone of rejection (Psalm 118:22).

3:45 pm

Now the relationship of the blindness of the Pharisees and Herodians and the healing of a blind man in Bethsaida is easy to see. Not so much the story of the boy with what sounds like an epileptic spirit (9:14 ff.). Faith, prayer, perhaps even fasting, plays a role in this healing and the implication may be for this faithless generation as well (9:19) also (8:12). Why does this generation want a sign? The term probably refers to the old fabric of society and those who cling to it and do not know about the healing power of the new fabric, the new wine. This generation needs faith and trust, so the grace of God can do wonders – but peculiarly it all depends on faith.

Chapter 9:13 “Elijah has come” as a mark, a sign, that the Messiah has come, may not mean John the Baptist. It could just refer to the transfiguration where Elijah appeared with Moses (9:4).

What if 9:1 – “Some of you will not taste death until you see the Kingdom of God come with power” – might refer to the Holy Spirit at Pentecost? If the Kingdom is not eating and drinking, if it is not another Kingdom besides the Kingdoms of the world, but one that comes in Spirit and in truth – then why could Pentecost not have been the experience Jesus was alluding to?

The parables are like metaphors, and Jesus asks even the disciples why they can’t understand the gospel of God’s new reign on earth (8:17 ff.) and now in 9:32, when Jesus speaks of his betrayal, death, and resurrection. Chapter 8:38 also shows how Jesus’ consciousness is at the edge of history and not completely inside of history. “Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation” (attached to the old fabric of society, those of the old wineskin) “the Son of Man will also be ashamed of them before the father and all the angels” or “when Christ comes in the glory of his Father with the Holy angels.”

Now Christ does seen to say that will happen in the lifetime of those around him – but it also can be anticipated and interpreted, if many of Christ’s anointed live at the edge of history where it meets eternity, then it is from that place where the new person in the new fabric of society will come (riding from out of the future on the clouds of heaven). That Son of Man will also bring the redemption of nature as the reign of God reaches into our time, our history, our reality.

With the report of another exorcist (9:30 ff.), Jesus uses the strategic campaign formula, i.e, Caesar’s as opposed to the one Pompey used in the Roman civil wars (40). “Whoever is not against us is for us.” This places all the neutral people in the coming kingdom. I think when the crisis and the danger intensifies a whole lot, it gets changed, “Whoever is not for us is against us.” That puts anyone neutral in the camp opposed to the kingdom of God.

The stumbling blocks mentioned in (9:42 ff.) seem to allude to the radical measures needed to get into the good graces of the Kingdom. “All sacrifice will be salted with fire.” Numbers will be lost on the way in. And the salt dare not lose its seasoning capacity.

It all seems to allude to where the person works and resides: in the old fabric of society or in the new fabric – and needing to become the anointed of the logos, for the Kingdom.

Perhaps chapter 9:4 – the stumbling blocks to getting into the kingdom do not refer to earlier material, but to the material that comes after it. Divorce and hardness of heart, are cut. The little children: unless a person is like a child, the person can’t get into the Kingdom of heaven. Then there is the rich young man who fails. It is hard for the wealthy to get in. Then it goes to the camel going through the eye of the needle (10:25). Peter poses the opposite response, where they have left everything to follow Jesus. They thus also get the promise.

James and John (10:35) have an earthly kingdom in mind. Jesus strikes the chord of a child, a slave, a servant of all – the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (45).

The healing of the blind Bartimaeus, may again refer to the blindness of James and John and all the disciples vying to rule over the rest. Jesus here describes the peculiar kingdom of the Messiah as opposed to how a Roman or Herodian might envision a kingdom:

You know among the Gentiles (nations) those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it shall not be so among you; whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all (42-44).

It occurred to me that Bar-Timaeus may be named after a Platonic dialogue, one of Plato’s latest. Even though it begins about a Platonic conception of the state and speaks of a “feast of reason” like the “multiplication of loaves and the bread of heaven” it then goes into a creation story that is not related with the Gospel of Mark. But it is a very worthwhile question – because the logos is so very pronounced in Mark, the way I thought it only to be in the Gospel of John.

When Jesus enters Jerusalem, the colt, the foal of a donkey all reminds of Zechariah (9:9) and the real claim of the kingdom as the reign of God. Jesus is making the gospel a living reality in the claim of the kingdom of God, the new fabric of society, yet unshrunken by any wash, the new wineskin ready for the new wine, with zest and predicát (as they said in Germany about an expensive quality wine).

Chapter 11:12 – Jesus uses the fig tree and it is as if on the edge of eternity, a real tree become a metaphor for Israel not bearing fruit for the Son of Man. And the curse of the fig tree becomes the cleansing of the temple – and it is as if the curse goes onto the center of the old wineskin, the old fabric of society. And thus after cleansing the temple and finding that the chief priests and scribes were looking for a way to kill him, he sees the fig tree withered. Have faith and you can move mountains; believe and you’ll receive; and very, very importantly, the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer: forgive others when you pray, so that the Father in heaven forgives you your sins.

Jesus’ authority is then questioned – and he parries their question by his own about the authority of John the Baptist and they respond in a political way, one that does not seek the truth but only safeguards their own vulnerable interests; they are playing it safe.

Then comes the parable of the wicked tenants – as much as the metaphor of the cave with Plato, where the one who has been out in the reality – with eyes that see and ears that hear and a heart that understands, comes back to the slaves tied to their posts, tells them about the other world and is killed by them for it. The tenants kill the Son of God as well.

Here in Chapter 12:1-12, Jesus’ prophesy does come true, as well as that of the destruction of the temple 13:2. The Herodians want him to speak against paying taxes, but they cannot trap him.

Jesus comes out strongly for the afterlife, but says married people will be like angels and not be given in marriage.

While waiting for the shoe to drop, after the cleansing of the temple, he teaches the people and then he gives the famous love commandments 12:29 ff. And by 12:35 he says that the Son of David is really also David’s Lord.

Chapter 13, the little apocalypse, seems like he is spreading history out before them and does not predict the end of time. Then in 13:30, he notes that this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place – and then v. 32 – only the Father, not even the angels, know the real day and hour these things will happen. So the end of Israel at the hand of the Romans in 70 C.E. could answer one part, and the complete end would be known only unto God.

It’s obvious that Jesus was invoking the reign of God: Psalm, 114, where “Israel is God’s sanctuary and Jacob God’s dominion” – and no earthly king was permissible because God was to rule. Jesus would not be King of Kings per se, but the suffering servant of God. In riding into Jerusalem as such, he was challenging Israel to be who they really were – going all the way back to the election of the first king, Saul, that seemed a betrayal of God to Samuel (1 Sam. 8:4ff.).

But the High Priest and the authorities handed him over to Roman officials, betraying the essence of the faith. Jesus was anointed the Christ in Bethany in such a human way. Why would he want to be David’s Son, and be the King, if David had called him Lord? The Gospel is that God reigns and all the people should become anointed and the miracles multiply the way Jesus started them.

Jesus was really the new chance that God gave Israel (not to speak of covenant) and the cornerstone was met with unbelief and direct hostility, and then Israel gets rubbed into the ground, and the little apocalypse for them is quite real, and the Christians know it will happen, I believe, and they flee for refuge to Pella.[14]

But the life of Christ is lived so dramatically in opposition to the power and principalities of that day, that all the resistance, and the many contradictions of the old world just struck him with a flowing force, making the light to the Gentiles start to shine and continue until this day to throw a great light on our lives and the way the Gospel can come alive among us.

April 11, 2005

In the fourteenth Chapter of Mark, the old fabric of society is tearing up the new cloth.[15] If the Kingdom is merely the person writ large (Plato), then it is certainly more difficult to “exorcise” the chief priest and governors of the occupying forces possessing the kingdom than the evil demons possessing Legion, the Gerasene demoniac, for example. But Jesus certainly turns the tables on them, and it is they who are being judged by him, and not vice versa.

I wonder if in 14:51-52 it is really the young evangelist Mark himself, who “When they caught hold of him,…left his linen cloth and ran off naked”? It’s a possibility.

Interesting enough, in verses 61 and 62, when the high priest asked Jesus, “Are you the Messiah, the son of the Blessed one?” Jesus answers: “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

The “I am” here is different from Pilate’s asking 15:2 “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answers: “You say so” and the distinction, I believe, is involved with the Roman and ordinary understanding of monarchy and the messianic, religious understanding which has to do with the anointing of the common people and the suffering service that the leaders gave the least of these – where the first are last and the last are first. The messianic vision is so different that the nomenclature of kings and kingdoms really turns out to be a misnomer.

Jesus then seems to descend to becoming the lowest on earth – so he can forgive and include everyone, no matter how low, in the power of his gracious forgiveness. So he is the ransom for Barabbas, a rebel who had committed murder. And when the soldiers mock him and revile him, Isaiah 52:7-53:12, i.e., especially the whole of Isaiah chapter 53, really seems fulfilled. What we have described is the ultimate scapegoat, the victim of presumption on earth, of the old fabric of society guided by its false principle, crushing the life out of its future fabric, or tearing the fabric out of its future life – on the human side, while on the divine side, the lamb, the Passover lamb, is going to its sacrifice on the cross.

When the short ending of Mark is considered, it is obvious that the disciples do not yet understand what happened and what Jesus the Christ was about. But through them Jesus himself sent out the holy and undying message (kerygma) of eternal salvation.

So we try to understand it still today and have not gotten the reversal of faith and grace, which gives us the mind of Christ (Phil 2:5) and the logos has to be there – but certainly the way Origen says, filled with love.

This logos really has to be profoundly different from the Greek logos of philosophy. The latter is so this-worldly, while Jesus plows right through this world making an opening for the appearance and the realization of the next.

The resurrection experiences were the appearances that Jesus was making to his disciples and they see him ride away in the clouds in the ascension, but the Son of Man has not been seen coming back with the clouds of heaven (Mark 14:62).

This vision, however, of the way of life has really been spread out before us in a marvelous way by Jesus. And the way our witness is supposed to usher the changes in that Jesus inaugurated are quite clear. It is the kergyma, the message of eternal salvation, which we have hardly begun to set into motion.

April 12, 2005

In the Timaeus, Socrates speaks about a splendid feast of reason. Why can’t the feeding of the masses also be such a metaphor? Even though and however, if we telescope the time, Jesus’ teachings would feed the masses, and provide an economy of abundance. In Mark 6:30, the story seems very natural, like an event that is described and not like a parable being written – like an allegory almost. Strange the way the numbers all seem to have symbolic significance, however. In the feeding of the 4,000 in 8:1 ff., there are seven breads to start, while in the 5,000, there are five breads and two fish, which again add up to seven. For the new Israel of the Messiah, you have 12 baskets gathered in as remaining, while in the Messiah, Lord of the nations, you have seven baskets of leftovers. If they gathered twelve baskets of leftover bread, or rather after the feeding of the 4,000 and they gathered seven baskets full of broken pieces together, why do they have only one loaf, having forgot to buy bread in verse 16 – only a few verses later (v. 8)?

Perhaps the crucial words again are involved with logos – just eulogesin – “He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the bread.” The word “bless” has logos in it – but eulogesin and the translation “blessed” is good – but perhaps we do have the logos with goodness in it – if we don’t have the logos with love in it. So that does not identify the sharing of the logos as the bread – but the look to heaven and the eulogesin in the breaking and distributing became the multiplication of loaves. Of course breaking brings about fractions, and fractions multiply their elements. So 1/3 times 1=3. In other words, the division of the bread is their multiplication – if somehow the fragments kept growing. I don’t’ know where this is taking me. I wanted to see if a feast of reason with the logos was involved, and I did find the word eulogesin.[16]

April 13, 2005

It is something the way the conception of the Messiah runs all the way through Mark. There is a tension between Kingship in the eyes of the Romans and what it means for them, and accordingly, what it means for the Jews that think like them, and kingship in terms of a religious figure – now not the servant of God, Moses, Ebed Jahwey, but the suffering servant of God, Jesus, now a peculiarly Jewish conception of a King as the Messiah. This one really inaugurates the rule, the sovereignty of God over Israel and the Nations, even the empire – with the opposition between the titles of Caesar and Christ.

All the way back in Chapter 3:22 ff., Jesus is charged with doing his exorcisms by the power of Beelzebul and he speaks of the contradictions or divisions in a house. If it is divided in itself, it cannot stand. The opposite, the Kingdom, the Beloved Community with the economy of abundance, would be completely united. Unities would have to be nesting within unities – whether personal, social, natural, or divine. But interestingly enough, the exorcism of the strong man (verse 27) is really what the kingdom is about. The strong man has to be bound to plunder his territory. This earthly conception of a king as the Messiah has to be overcome in order to understand the religious conception of the Messiah, in whose reign God returns and the very great conversion Jesus was about, takes place in Israel and in the nations of the world, which should have included the Roman Empire.

I believe that the apocalyptic nature of the faith did convert the religion of the empire to Christianity with Constantine (313 C.E.), but its power of actually binding the strongman, Constantine, failed. Naturally, the “strong man” in this verse does not refer to the person, Constantine, per se. To be more precise, we must speak of the earthly conceptions of lordship, violence, domination, and coercion constituting the imperial conceptions and character of earthly rule that often control subjects by their ability to inflict punishments and death. The messianic conversion and its revolutionary historical change that Christ’s Lordship over Israel and the Nations was supposed to spell, did not take place.

Instead, the intransigence of Rome, its entrenchment in an earthly empire, brought the apocalyptic historical changes of the faith to a halt, and Greek philosophy championed knowledge of a historically static sort which allowed the earthly empire to remain intransigent and even allowed the church to restructure itself into the form of the Roman Empire, to save itself during the later general and systematic persecutions.[17] It may be a little like me trying to overcome the will of the strongman controlling my life by learning and learning knowledge – and then discovering that a sheer power of the will always trumped and overruled my knowledge. Thus a sturdiness had to be gained within as opposed to a philosophically respectable level of knowledge, to counter the force of will and the real confidence behind it, with an equal or stronger one.

Perhaps that could resemble the reason the church then took up the structure of the Roman Empire, after it had plumbed the depth of knowledge in the Trinitarian and Christological debates.

The first words of Mark are so clear: the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. The new events, the history changing events, the inauguration of God’s sovereign rule over Israel and the nations, now not in a geographical road between Babylonia back to the restoration of Israel, or previously from Egypt into the Promised Land, but in a transformational mode of overcoming the unjust, inhuman, and false demons possessing the mostly occupied land in Roman possession.[18]

John begins the transformation with water, while Jesus continues it with the fire of the Spirit. Thus the people from the whole Judean countryside repent, confess their sins and get baptized. It is like a this-worldly Pentecost – just I don’t know if 3,000 were added to the number of those repenting.

Jesus is called the Son of God, by the Father’s voice from heaven. Kings and emperors also were considered “Sons of God.” Just consider the Pharaohs: Son of the God “Re,” i.e., “Rameses;” or Son of the God “Toth,” i.e., “Tutmoses”. Moses called himself the servant of God, and God’s name was too holy to place into his throne-name, thus his name was not “Jah-moses.”

But Jesus is the peculiar “Son of God” like a king David who plays a harp, writes Psalms, dances naked before the procession with the arc, etc… and thus Jesus goes into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, struggling with the wild beasts to emerge the Lamb of God, waited upon by angels.

I believe right from the start, saying the Kingdom of God was at hand, meant they had their eyes on the wineskins or the new fabric of society, and the people had to become anointed to be christs, and only then could the Messianic secret be exposed, when it would be too late for the authorities of the human kingdom to prevent it. The reign of God, all the good events that would crop up in the unities nested within unities, could already be at hand.

The miracles are thus the previews of “coming attractions”, because Jesus immediately calls his twelve disciples for the new Israel of God. He sends them out two by two, very much like the Cynics of Greece. The latter do not really know why they are breaking every convention, but the Jews know what God’s sovereignty is and the royal priesthood, chosen race, holy nation, God’s own people (any alien possession exorcized) (In the Greek it really says, “people of God’s possession”) to be called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9).

Certainly changing the wineskin and filling it with old wine is nothing to write home about. Putting new wine into an old wineskin, will burst the wineskin, tear up the fabric of the society. But really the converse took place. The old wineskin tore up the new person, crucified that one, and then kept persecuting and hunting down all who tried to change the old wineskin of the empire, switching their allegiance from the Caesar to Christ.[19]

The power of death can be taken in a universal sense, but taken in a limited political sense, it can refer to the earthly control wielded by earthly power, inflicting torture and death to control people in its jurisdiction. Thus overcoming the power of death, also overcomes earthly power, and sets the children of God free in the reign of God under the sovereignty of God. But God’s sovereignty cannot be understood from the earthly conception of kingship; but has to receive the peculiar, religious conception. First will be last; the greatest will be the servant of all; persons will be healed; hope will become a trust that will not be betrayed. The acts of God will enter a qualitatively higher level of occurrence and intensity. Thus Jesus cries, “My God, why have you abandoned me?”

One of my students wrote that Judaism was this-worldly and insisted on the promise of the land, while Christianity was other-worldly, completely spiritual, and seemingly did not concern itself with the matters of this world. What a mistaken interpretation of Jesus! It really means that there is an Exodus and a promised land flowing with milk and honey for every country. “It is too small a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob” (Jesus’ choosing of the twelve disciples and the crucial one, St. Paul) “and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).

Mark remains with sending out the twelve, two by two, while Luke, the gospel to the Gentile Christians, sees the light needing to go out to all the nations. Thus in Luke 10:1, the Lord appoints 70 others and sent them ahead of him. (two manuscripts even say 72).[20] Note how Moses also chose 70 elders for Israel according to the word of the Lord (Numbers 11:16). Ever and again they are to tell the people that the kingdom of God has come near to you (Luke 10:9). How can anyone spiritualize and take this campaign out of the kind of events that convert people and their whole conception of society into those anticipating the actualization of the reign of God?

It is very much like Prof. Lønning told me at the Luther Jubilee in 1983. The Gospel transforms a society like the church and state like the two wings of a new butterfly. Yet the intransigence of the state and the church’s relation with the state remains problematic. I believe the logos of reason has to be the basis of the state, but it should know about the changing events of history – not that events change during the course of history, but that history is being changed and people are becoming anointed in their anticipation, and the Lamb of God goes before us leading us all as the light of the nations.

The way the arms race has threatened the existence of the human race, and it has been reversed to an extent, so the threat of death and the fear of death used to control people, has to slowly become the power of forgiveness in the reign of the Lamb. Right now rationality has to bring checks and balances to the governments – the executive, legislative, and judicial is quite rational, and democracy gives far more leeway to anointing by the spirit and bringing about the good things amongst us from the city of God. But the Gospel has to have a far more comprehensive vision, which is quite evident in the Gospel of Mark, which our intransigent churches seem to have lost sight of, and how a movement of the Gospel once again has to be set in motion, and not at all as a threat, also not as a threat to Moslems or Eastern faiths.

The envelope of love is universal – except combat, spiritual combat is needed with evil to avoid any violence. The revolution is one of hearts and minds, and taken by surprise, even the strongman of an old nation can be bound, – yet, we have to be patient and watch and be ready, because on this side we can only proclaim this Beloved Community and hope to be used for the miracles of Christ accomplished by the Holy Spirit, yes, hopefully through us and not in spite of us. We cannot inaugurate the kingdom.[21]

April 15, 2005

In looking at the first Isaiah citation of Mark, I want to say “Prepare the way of the Lord” is at once to prepare the highway from captivity in Babylon back to restore Israel. It goes along with the insight that the kingdom is merely the person writ large (Plato). To corroborate the Lord and the people for whom the way is made, I went back to the passage in Isaiah 40:3. There is the famous variance of the interpretation:

A voice crying out (Isaiah) “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

And that is the road in the wilderness, through the desert back for the restoration of Israel. So the road is for the people.

In Mark 1:3, a voice crying out in the wilderness (John the Baptist) “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

If the idea is the togetherness or unity of the Lord with the kingdom, then John crying in the wilderness is preparing the way for the Christ, the Son of God. The Caesars also called themselves Sons of God,[22] Christ is also preparing the people for the non-geographical journey back to the new Israel of God and the new Jerusalem by washing them in the baptism of the forgiveness of sins.

If I double back into Psalm 46, then I could of course identify the river of grace that makes glad the city of God as the river Jordan, in which John baptized all the people of Jerusalem and from around the Judean countryside.

So as the voice from heaven declares the newly baptized Jesus, the Son of God, with whom God is pleased, the people of God’s own possession and their Messiah are already coming toward one another. Jesus chooses the twelve disciples right away and the twelve baskets of broken pieces of bread will be their dominions as the peculiar princes of the twelve new tribes.

The natural Hebrew metaphors have to be read plainly: baskets for provinces of principalities; a boat for a ship of state; cloth for the fabric of society; a wineskin for a system, field, or institution; these are the common pictures that the coming new kingdom of God was being spoken about with. Not to forget the mulberry bush, perhaps with its branches, even standing for the empire. The fig tree framing the cleaning of the temple is definitely standing for the old Israel, the possession of Rome.

Now Jesus embarks on a great new fishing expedition to bring all the people of the old Israel into the new Messianic Israel with its Immanuel Messiah in their midst. James and John the sons of Zebedee are mending their nets in the boat. They will fling the Gospel nets mended in the kingdom, to catch all the people being added to the number of those being saved.

John, the Baptist, having been arrested, Jesus has to go up to Galilee and he preaches with authority, which means as God’s suffering servant. Yet as if the Roman occupation of the country could be ignored, Jesus ministers from the vantage point that all people are to be claimed as God’s possession.

Those who enter have to receive a metanoia, a change of heart and mind by the proclamation. It is an encounter with a revelation of themselves, the proclamation as an experience with the new realities that the Messiah brings. And these realities are profoundly different from those operant in earthly Kingdoms. Jesus’ authority presupposes and enjoys the freedom of the children of God.

Thus immediately after Jesus’ teaching with authority, and the encounter of the people with God’s possession, which is human freedom, the man with the unclean spirit in the synagogue cries out. I should say “acts out.” “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” (Jesus’ rebuke to his mother as well; Ah, in John 2:4, to his mother it may be somewhat softer.) But the unclean spirit may well have been the fear of the Romans, of the Herodians, or the other parties that accommodate the persecution of Israel by the unclean Gentiles. Later, however, Jesus pronounces all foods clean (Mark 7: 19b), in the same way that those who eat them, the Gentiles, will be pronounced clean in Acts 10:15. “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

Thus when the man with the unclean spirit cries out, he is offering resistance to the spiritual conquest of the kingdom that Christ is declaring at hand. That is the thrust of his asking, “Have you come to destroy us?”

If the man gives the Romans and Herod and the Herodians the final say-so, then all will become destroyed when the freedom of abundant life takes hold of the people of God’s possession. But if the minds and hearts of all are captured in the nets of the Gospel’s unities, then the death and destruction are a baptism of the grand spiritual transition and it does not have to come to a bloody execution, retribution, or other Roman punitive reprisal. No bloodshed for a rebellion and no military put down are necessary. No harm is intended even for the oppressors, but they are encountered with the Holy Spirit with an invite to conversion.

Now the crier says “I know you are the Holy One of God” and that certainly contradicts what he had just said “Have you come to destroy us?” That is because the Holy one of God comes to bring life and life abundant. But the unclean spirit does not believe that the kingdom of God as declared can do anything but bring harm. And really, Jesus’ message of love for the enemy, and the idea that Gentiles could be as clean as Jews really introduced a new idea that provided a way, a new opening into the possession of the people by God.

The man of the unclean spirit could only apprehend the old realities of oppression, brutal occupation, resigning oneself to a completely compromised life cut off from fresh springs of the waters of life.

The unclean spirit is on the side of the powers of death. The Holy Spirit is the power of love that carries life through death into the victory. The man who cried out did not at all share those hopes and aspirations. His spirit was filled with fear and was determined to ward off any risks by possibly drawing the attention of the controlling forces of the day. He believed there was no alternative to the old fabric of society, to the old wineskin, and that the old authorities were not about to let it break.

When Jesus rebukes the man it is strange the way he becomes convulsed and then the evil spirit comes out of him. Perhaps the authority of Jews counteracts the authority and all the accumulated fear of it encumbering this man, and the rebuke transfers him from the old dominion into the new one, albeit he may still need the Holy Spirit, as seven devils worse that the first might enter him and leave his plight worse afterward than it ever was before. (Mat 12:43-45).

This section in Matthew, the return of the evil spirit, or unclean spirit more precisely, uses the concept of a house and an evil generation. Again in the light of Plato, a house or dominion is also the person writ large. The possession of Israel by the unclean Roman empire is personally analogous to the possession of this one man in the synagogue, in whom the military occupation of the Romans with its brutally oppressive measures makes psychological layers of fear and anxieties into the whole demeanor of this person, who is bent on survival and wanting only to be a survivor.

Of course, when it comes to the so called strongman, the High Priest, Caiphas, Herod, Pilate, Caesar, and all the others, Jesus does not exorcise them as much as turn the tables on them and judge them in the trials they call for him.

The question arises, what is the distinction between exorcism of an unclean spirit, and baptism, and conversion, and if done in a personal level, can they be done on a societal or collective level? How could Israel occupied by Rome have been converted?

There is a real conversion of a person from a free Lord of Lady to a slave – a servant. I think it is best to go along with Luther: a free sovereign over all, subject to none (in faith) – a dutiful servant of all, subject to everyone (in love). There can be no lording it over others, and such an indication is both personal and social. That the greatest shall be like a child is as well.

But the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and the conversion of the formation of a society, its political, economic and social structure and arrangement is not so easily converted, nor are there adequate indications given even in how to convert it. What constitutes the Kingdom of God? Immediately the “Kingdom” is problematic, because it is not a kingdom like all others. It has to operate with different principles, especially considering its head is the suffering servant of God. The Lamb of God is its representative power – and among the nations, very much a lamb among the wolves, the lions, bears, dragons, and eagles, just to name a few symbols of the nations.

How do they become converted into lambs? Is their political structure a matter of indifference, or does it have to be a democracy, if all the people are also anointed as christs in the priesthood of all believers in this messianic dominion.

In class I’m teaching Jürgen Habermas’ Life-world and the Two Systems and discussing John Rawls’ “Justice as Fairness” and many of these insights would be appropriate for the task of restructuring or conversion, using the religious term.

To continue with Mark: Jesus first did not have to send his disciples out with their fishing nets. All the people flocked to his door at Capernaum in Simon Peter’s house. He healed people and drove out their demons. When such physical healing is hoped for, the masses really respond. It is not appropriate to be cynical about their hope for healing, however. It is the hope, which sustains life.

On National Public Radio Saturday evening, I heard the reading of a story called, “The Way Love Works,” by Mary Ucari Waters. She wrote: “it is important to be first in someone’s life, to be constantly loved by someone. Such love will change you even physically and sustain you for the rest of your life.”

The kind of love that Jesus shared physically changed people and also drove out all the fears and abject hatreds

that possessed these oppressed and desperate people.

Dr. Peter Krey April 20, 2005

I have 85 more handwritten pages continuing the reading of the gospels in the light of the prophets, dated June 14th 2005 through March 20th 2006.


[1] Gerhard Ebeling, Lutherstudium Band III: Begriffsuntersuchung, Textinterpretationen, und Wirkungsgeschichtliches, (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebich), 1985).

[2] Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson, ed. Union with Christ: the New Finnish Interpretation of Luther, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998).

[3]Erich Auerbach, Mimesis, (Garden City, New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1957), p. 17-18.

[4] Erich Auerbach, Mimesis, p. 38.

[5] Bondage of the Will, J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston, trans., (Grand Rapids, Michigan: James Clarke and Co., Ltd., and Fleming H. Revell, 1957, 1998), p. 91-92, LW 33:52, WA 18:626.25-27,31-32.

[6]Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization: the Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe, (New York: Dell Publishing, 1997).

[7] David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in the Theology of Mission, Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1991), p. 149.

[8] Ibid.

[9] I think of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society: a Study in Ethics and Politics.

[10] Luther interpreted the lampstands in the holy temple to represent different kinds of reason. See my post on “Luther’s Metaphor of the Temple” in his Magnificat for the spirit, soul, and body of a person. Reason can turn on its source as a false ultimate.

[11] Paul Hollenbach,”Jesus, Demoniacs, and Public Authorities: a Socio-Historical Study,” The Journal of the American Academy of Religion, XLIX/4:567-585.

[12] I wonder how being filled or possessed by the Holy Spirit might be helpful in discerning those possessed by false spirits?

[13] Fernando Belo, A Materialist Reading of the Gospel of Mark, (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1981).

[14] Evidence that this city of the Decapolis in the Transjordan was used by the Christians as a refuge in the Jewish Revolt 66-70 C.E. is still inconclusive, according to Paul J. Achtemeier, Bible Dictionary, (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1989), p. 825.

[15] I’m trying to deal with the word Zerreissprobe even nonviolence really threatens the old order, as if it will “tear it up”.

[16] See my sermon called “Wonder Bread” posted August 3rd 2008 that I preached for Immanuel Lutheran Church of Alameda, CA.

[17] The persecutions under Emperor Decius during Origen’s day 249-251 C.E. and then those under Galerius and Diolcetian 303- 313, but having been stopped in 306 C.E in the Western Empire.

[18] Exorcism can be thought of as expelling the false “gods” or daemons of local regions. There is a sense in which an area was thereby conquered spiritually. Such a god was a national or regional city patron. These “gods” or daemons were fierce enough to protect those they possessed or not. The spirit of Christ vanquished them all. These are thoughts that occurred to me while reading Ramsay MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire A.D. 100-400, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), p. 86ff.

[19] Since Pliny of Rome, a test for Roman citizenship constituted a ritual that offered a sacrifice to Caesar, who was now considered divine. Because Christians refused, they could be weeded out.

[20] Thruckmorton, ed., Gospel Parallels (Thomas Nelson, 1967), page 102.

[21] D. J. Bosch, Transforming Mission, p 149.

[22] A Chiasm Study of Mark on the Internet by Michael A. Turton, “The Historical Study of the Gospel of Mark”, 2004. See http://users2.ev1.net/~turton/GMark/GMark_chiasmjpg.html

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Written by peterkrey

August 7, 2008 at 12:35 am

Posted in 1, Biblical Commentary

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