Saturday, 6 October 2012

Turning it all over

One of the most reassuring and difficult messages of the basilea theou is the constant levelling that it brings. The notion that euangelion should be translated as "good news" is only good insofar as chemotherapy is good news. It hurts but is meant to end up with a good result. For me it's more natural to call it the message1. That's my own preference, though, and even thinking about this translation is a reminder that if Jesus' message is for me alone it's not good news, but if it's for everybody it's very good news.

We see glimpses of this in Mark 10. Even just looking at vv2-16 is enough to see an example. In the first part Jesus deals with the Pharisees' question of divorce. At first glance we could see this as little more than a response to an ethical question, or as Jesus' final pronouncement about marriage and divorce. But notice his response, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you." In other words, "If you had softer hearts you wouldn't need this commandment." I like to think that softer hearts would eliminate the need for divorce altogether, never mind just limiting it to the Mosaic commandment2.

After the vignette on divorce Mark includes a story about Jesus and children. Again we can take this to be about how even adults should be like children with regard to the basilea theou but in light of the divorce debate we can see even more than this. Jesus has castigated his audience for having hard hearts, but just in case the reader thinks that only other people have hard hearts Mark points out that even the disciples are prone to this. They turn people away "sternly" for what? For daring to bring children to Jesus. The disciples show that there is still hardness even in their own hearts, unwilling to admit people who are lower on the social ladder.

These are just a couple of examples of how Jesus turns the established order over. The established order permits divorce rather than insisting on soft hearts. The established order includes a social hierarchy in which women and children are lower than men. Jesus' message opposes this kind of thinking. That's good news for people oppressed by the established order, and woeful news for the rest.

For those of us in the privileged world we need to pay attention to this carefully. Jesus' message of the basilea theou is a warning to us about accepting the benefits of that order at the cost of others. Jesus has come to turn that over for the sake of the common good.

1. I wish Peterson's translation was better. It's so full of ideological translation choices that I can barely read anything in it without my stomach turning. Sorry Eugene, I guess you didn't publish it with me in mind.
2. See Matthew 22:40. Love comes from a soft heart and is more than all laws can prescribe and proscribe.
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