"Say To This Mountain": Mark's Story of Discipleship by Ched Myers
Ched Myers explodes open the hidden dimensions of the gospel of Mark to reveal a Kingdom mandate to pursue radical societal transformation. Mark, often the overlooked gospel contains a piercing and insightful Kingdom exploration and critique on heaven’s response to systemic injustice and oppression. For justice reformers, Myer approach to the text is both instructive and essential.
The Mountain of the Lord is a picture of the justice and transformation of the Lord being expressed on the earth. But when justice is expressed it necessarily exposes injustice. For us to pursue the authentic transformation of the Kingdom, it requires us to adopt an unswerving commitment to a kingdom worldview on injustice and oppression.
While Mountains in scripture are systems and organisations that God intends for us to heal and lead, in Mark’s view Mountains can also be structures of oppression that must be confronted and (by faith) moved. Transformation doesn’t always come through promotion in the mountains of this world, sometimes like Martin Luther King Jr we are called to directly confront the mountains of oppression.
This brief, practical and very readable exploration on the Kingdom response to injustice will profoundly shape your worldview.
“Say to this mountain” is an abridged version of Ched Myers monumental commentary on Mark, “Binding The Strongman”. For readers of this blog, it may have a tone akin to liberal theology, but Myer’s approach to the text is both revelatory and reverent.
1. Mark’s gospel is also a parable of Jesus’ ministry to reverse the structures of oppression and exclusion in society and launch a heavenly Kingdom of equality, empowerment and liberation.
2. Radical discipleship in the kingdom requires us to recognise oppressive systems and structures in society (“the mountains) that need to be transformed (that is, “moved”). This is a journey that begins by dealing with our own tendency to unquestioningly benefit from systems of oppression.
3. Mark’s gospel stories of healing, deliverance and teaching can be unpacked as micro-parables of societal transformation. Issues such as the purity code, the debt code, taxation, trading in the temple that Jesus confronted are analogous to modern patterns of exclusion and domination.
4. The Kingdom calls us to a path out of desiring power and the accumulation of wealth into a path of empowering others and ending systemic poverty.
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5. The path of radical transformation is necessarily the path of the cross, at once both costly yet radically fulfilling.
The great prophet Isaiah promised that one day God would “destroy on this mountain the net that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations” (Isaiah 25:7). According to Mark, that day dawned with Jesus of Nazareth. Repudiating both the Judean ruling class and the Roman imperial system of his time, Mark's Jesus envisioned social reconstruction from the bottom up. His practice of inclusiveness and equality questioned all forms of political and personal domination. This Jesus called for a revolution of means as well as ends, enjoining his followers to embrace nonviolence and to risk its consequences. Above all, he offered the contradiction of the cross—life given, not taken—as the only power that can remove the “veil” over the nations.
“We now turn to a pair of healings that engender hostility from the local authorities (1:45-2:12)… The cultural system of late Second Temple Judaism was concerned with determining impurity or sin… The social maps of the Second Temple Judean state consisted of two mutually reinforcing codes: purity and debt. The purity code, adjudicated by priests, established what was clean and unclean in order to maintain group and class boundaries… In ancient Israel, the leper represented the archetypal social outcast whose banishment was due to impurity… Jesus simply touches the leper and declares him clean. According to the purity code, Jesus should have contracted the impurity; instead, Mark tells us that the declaration was effective (1:42). The purity code has been subverted by Jesus’ willingness to have social contact with the leper (see 14:3). But the aftermath is the key to the story, as Jesus “snorts with indignation” and dispatches the man to the priests (1:43). The mood implied here is one of protest, not cooperation. The man's task is to help confront the system that keeps him marginalized (1:44). He is instructed to submit to the Mosaic ritual in order to “witness against them,” a technical phrase in Mark for confronting one's opponents (see 6:11, 13:9).”
Palestine in the first century was not exceptional in having a purity code that maintained stringent social boundaries and strata. The United States today is no less characterized by “purity codes,” although our society fails to acknowledge them as such. They are the structures and belief systems that create “insiders” and “outsiders”; grant some people access to health care, education, housing, and food while others go without; and allow some to suffer while others prosper.
All groups establish boundaries to determine who is in and who is out. Boundaries can be a good thing, such as when they help protect weaker people from domination by stronger people. But while this “defensive” function is usually cited as justification for boundaries, more often the actual relations of power are the opposite: Boundaries function to separate the strong from the weak, protecting privilege and maintaining inequality. It is such boundaries that Jesus consistently challenges, as he does now with the purity strategy of the kosher diet (7:14). Jesus contends that the social boundaries constructed by the purity code are powerless to protect the integrity of the community.
Mark's portrait of Jesus as a boundary crosser ought to disturb us, given our world of explicit and implicit apartheid, vast economic disparity, and institutionalized enmity. The imperatives to cross the stormy seas of racism, to give priority to those who are poor, and to rediscover human solidarity are urgent today.
Mark's story about Jesus entering the Temple, the center of Jewish society, and overturning the tables there might be interpreted in our own time as an invitation to transform the systems and structures that create wealth and poverty within our society or our world. The mountain Jesus called “movable by faith” is a fitting metaphor for the global economy, which is increasingly intransigent despite the fact that it is not working for the majority of the world's inhabitants. An interesting contemporary example of “mountain moving” is the worldwide effort to transform international financial institutions, especially the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), primary guardians of the global economy.
“The women looked again and found that the stone had been rolled away” (16:4). We too are invited to look again and see that a way has been opened up—a way that carries us toward life. A way was opened for the women to prepare the body of Jesus and to follow the risen one to Galilee. A way has been opened for us as well to bind the wounds of our world. In a place of death, a new beginning is offered. As in Peter's case, our failed discipleship can be redeemed by grace. Death and resurrection, brokenness and healing, marginalization and empowerment, sin and reconciliation, injustice and transformation all shape the very pattern of the Christian life.
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