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Politics of Scripture

The Politics of Complacency—Mark 6:1-13 (Amy Allen)

In this week’s reading from Mark’s gospel Jesus challenges the complacency that so commonly comes with privilege. The ease of privilege within the status quo can inure us to the claims of truth or justice that might unsettle it or that might trouble its assurance of its purchase upon reality. Yet such claims lie at the very heart of the Kingdom of God.

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

In typical Markan prose this week’s pericope runs speedily through two separate events in Jesus’ life֫—preaching in Nazareth and sending out his apostles to proclaim the coming Kingdom. In the first, we encounter the Nazarenes’ resistance to Jesus’ preaching, followed by Jesus’ summation that “prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown.” In the second, he sends his apostles out with authority over unclean spirits, instructing them “to take nothing for their journey except a staff.”

While there are numerous themes that can be pulled out from either of these texts, a common thread that runs through each—particularly in light of the political events in the United States in the past weeks—is that of Jesus’ resistance to complacency.

In the first scene, Jesus’ friends, family, and neighbors are astounded by his deeds of power—they recognize his power and wisdom, but do not recognize that he is from God. They are blinded by familiarity. They can see Jesus only in terms of what they think they know about him—that he is Mary and Joseph’s son—and not in terms of the unique gifts that God is bringing to them through him.

In contrast, in the second scene, Jesus instructs the twelve to take nothing with them into the villages except their staffs. He doesn’t want the people who receive them to do so because of what they think they know about them—their special clothes, or money, or other worldly items. He wants the villages that they visit to recognize in their deeds of power the hand and power of God. Indeed, “a prophet is not without honor…”

In both instances, what is at stake is human complacency, maybe even human arrogance. That tendency we have, when nothing is immediately compelling us otherwise, to assume that we know what is going on. Or when we presume that we can recognize true power, true wisdom, and where it comes from.

In America, white people are more likely to hire other white people than they are equally qualified black people for the same jobs because of such assumptions. Assumptions that often run deeper in us than most people of us are even aware. Certain family arrangements are looked upon as normative while others must fight for equal treatment because of similar assumptions.

In most cases, it’s not because the people who make such assumptions are evil. I don’t believe this was true of the Nazarenes. Rather, it is simply because we’ve become complacent. Because we’ve chosen to trust assumptions rather than do the hard work of looking for the work of God in our world. Among our neighbors. In our lives.

This complacency, particularly on the part of white middle class heterosexuals like myself, has too often led to hurt in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ. These texts will be read in worship two and a half weeks after nine brothers and sisters in Christ were murdered in Charleston, a little more than a week after two landmark Supreme Court decisions for justice respectively in the lives of homosexual brothers and sisters and brothers and sisters among the poor. In a time and place inundated with information, this means that these events will already have faded from the headlines. After respective moments of horror and celebration, those of us not directly affected by these events may be beginning to move on with their lives. That is the privilege of complacency.

And it is the privilege that this text challenges us to reject. To leave behind our assumptions and our protections and to go out into the world—our world—with the power and compassion of God. To seek justice, equality, and care for all of God’s children, because in that is the coming of the Kingdom of God.

One thought on “The Politics of Complacency—Mark 6:1-13 (Amy Allen)

  1. “To seek justice, equality, and care for all of God’s children, because in that is the coming of the Kingdom of God.”
    How about applying this to Catholic Education?
    “A preferential option for the poor” should be maintained in everything we do as a Church.
    Here is a good place to start: our Catholic schools. If we find that we cannot afford to
    keep our schools open to the poor, the Church should be ready to use its resources for something else which can be kept open to the poor. We cannot allow our Church to become a church primarily for the middle-class and rich while throwing a bone to the poor. The priority should be given to the poor even if we have to let the middle-class and rich fend for themselves.
    Practically speaking, the Catholic schools must give up general education in those countries where the State is providing it. The resources of the Church could then be focused on Confraternity of Christian Doctrine and other programs which can be kept open to the poor. These resources could then be used to help society become more human in solidarity with the poor. Remember, the Church managed without Catholic schools for centuries. It can get along without them today. The essential factor from the Christian point of view is to cultivate enough Faith to act in the Gospel Tradition, namely, THE POOR GET PRIORITY. The rich and middle-class are welcome too. BUT THE POOR COME FIRST.

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