Last night, around 30 of us spent two hours reflecting together on the theme of freedom in Mark, particularly how the actions and teaching of Jesus would have been received by the crowd who appear on a regular basis in the Gospel, the ‘common people’ whose daily lives were blighted by problems of Roman occupation, debt, and the ‘purity code’ which was so vigorously policed by the Sadducees and Pharisees.
At the end of the evening, we talked about the issues which impact people in our local community in Billesley, the ways in which people here are ‘trapped’ because of family problems or financial problems and the lack of opportunity. And then we asked ourselves the question: how would Jesus have responded?
Among the various comments people made, I was particularly struck by the observation that, throughout Mark’s Gospel, Jesus doesn’t appear to be tackling ‘underlying’ problems. He heals people, feeds people, teaches people, but there’s little evidence that he wants to attempt a root and branch reform of structures in 1st century Palestine. Instead, he is usually reacting to the cases of need which present themselves to him. I’m not sure that analysis covers the whole story – for example, at the beginning of Mark we read of Jesus attacking the ‘tradition of the elders,’ using provocative language, and of course there’s also his cleansing of the Temple. However, this is definitely a question we need to consider.
Mark only provides a brief summary of Jesus’ temptation, but perhaps it’s in the longer accounts of Matthew and Luke that we find an insight into the reason for Jesus’ lack of a big programme. He faces three different temptations, each of which threaten to distort the agenda of his ministry. He resists the idea of turning stones into bread, because his mission is not just about feeding people’s empty stomachs. He rejects the notion of a circus-style leap off the Temple pinnacle, because he knows the crowds need more than a ‘showman Messiah.’ He turns down the offer of political power because the Kingdom’s rule cannot come about through earthly structures.
In his introduction to his wonderful book The Jesus Way, Eugene Peterson writes: ‘The ways Jesus goes about loving and saving the world are personal: nothing disembodied, nothing abstract, nothing impersonal. Incarnate, flesh and blood, relational, particular, local. The ways employed in much of our Western culture are conspicuously impersonal: programmes, organisations, techniques, general guidelines, information detached from place.’
So here’s the question: how do tackle injustice but do this in a personal way? All answers gratefully received.