Tuesday, August 21, 2012
The Bible and Economics
Today, I'm looking at the Gospel of Mark, Chapters 3 - 6.
You can see others in this series in the "Bible and Economics" link below (on the left).
As I noted in the last time I posted on this series (from Mark 1 and 2), there seems to me to be an undercurrent of Mark speaking to economic issues in ways that may not be as overt as some of the more direct passages (ie, "Woe to you who are rich..."), but I think it's worth looking at and considering how these words would have been heard by its first century audience.
For your consideration...
Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.
He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.
Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
~Mark 3: 1-6
This is part of a series of action-oriented stories of Jesus healing the poor sick folk around him and his first dealings with the religious authorities. Here we see, early in Jesus' ministry according to Mark, that the Pharisees were already plotting to kill him, and watching his every word, looking for some justification for prosecuting Jesus.
One question that arises, to me, is, Why are the pharisees so offended by Jesus' doing of good deeds? Why is his ministry to the poor and ill and his healing the sick so dangerous that they think they need to kill him? And not only that, but what was Jesus preaching and teaching that could unite groups (Pharisees and Herodians) who would normally be enemies?
Yet another point we see here is Jesus' use of questions to confront the religious authorities - questions that tend to go unanswered. "Is it WRONG to do good on the Sabbath?" Jesus asks them.
Well, obviously, of course it's always good to do good, even on the Sabbath. That's just common sense. But the religious authorities of Jesus' day (much like some religious authorities today) had much at stake in their claims of having the "right" interpretations of Scripture and Jesus' question called into question their interpretation (which said NO work could be done on the Sabbath - they held to a unreasonably literal interpretation of that ancient rule) and so, unable to answer the question rationally without pointing out the fallacy of their literal interpretation they chose to remain silent.
This (and Jesus' obvious anger at their hypocrisy) was calling into question their authority - both for the religious elite (the Pharisees) and the political elite (the Herodians) and that threatened them so much that they resorted to claims of heresy, of blasphemy - going so far as to call Jesus' work "of the devil" in the next chapter - and they felt they had to kill him to rid themselves of this threat to their power and beliefs.
But is there also an economic question here? Healing in Jesus' day (as it is today) was a money-making enterprise for most (Jesus, on the other hand, downplayed the healing aspect of what he was doing, repeatedly telling people NOT to spread the word of their healing at Jesus' hands and saying "YOUR faith has healed you..." rather than promoting his miracle-making chops).
I think a reasonable question to ask is: Whose bank account was Jesus cutting into by these healings? If we followed the money trail, would some of it wind up at the door of the Pharisees and Herodians?
I don't know, but it seems like a good question and at least a possibility.
Another economic angle here with the many healings we find in the first several chapters of Mark is that those who were sick were also more likely to be the poor, so this would certainly fit in with Jesus' proclamation that he had come to bring "Good news to the poor, Healing for the sick..." There are many stories of other healings in the first five chapters of Mark, but I'm going to jump on up to Mark 6, where Jesus sends out the Twelve to preach and heal...
Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.
These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.
And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
Here, we have the example of Jesus - the God who had no place to lay his head, who lived simply, sharing a communal life with his band of followers. And when Jesus sends them out to do a bit of preaching, he sends them out, likewise, with little/no money or resources, but to rely upon community kindness for their needs.
Interestingly, we can see this simple community in contrast with the extravagant political community of King Herod, in the rest of chapter 6. This was Herod Antipas, I'm told, who was a Jewish leader with deep ties to the Roman occupiers, the ones the Herodians were loyal to...
On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.
The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom...”
~Mark 6: 21-23
You may remember that this is the story where John the Baptist goes on to lose his head, when the dancing daughter asks for that as her "prize..."
Quite a different "kingdom" from the one that Jesus showed by example and by teaching...