Thursday, 2 July 2015

Mark: Poverty, Service, Struggle

If you take a strip of, say, paper and stick the ends together with a single twist you end up with a Moebius strip - see picture.

One odd property of a Moebius strip is that if you start from the top and follow the same side all the way around the loop, instead of ending up back where you started you are on the other side: upside-down and back-to-front. One could say that a Moebius strip is a parable of the Kingdom.

In Mark's Gospel, on the way to Jerusalem, Jesus tells them that the wealthy, for whom all doors are opened in normal experience, face a challenge akin to threading a needle with a camel. Power and status come from service and humility, not from coercion and wheeler-dealing. Religious authorities are called to account for abusing and exploiting the faithful. The giving of the poor is valued more than the beneficence of the rich. The values Mark describes in this week's chapters are really nothing like our normal world.

The promise is that one day everywhere will live by these upside-down values, when God's Kingdom comes. In the meantime it is up to those who follow Jesus to do what they can to demonstrate these priorities to a waiting world. Those with power and status may hate them, but there will be others who are just waiting to hear that things can and will be different, that there really is a better way to live.

So it was with Jesus, and so it is for those who truly follow him today.

But Mark had another point. Mark was writing for people who had suffered terrible persecution in Rome. They had lost family members and friends, homes and livelihoods to Nero's spite. Their world had turned upside down; Mark is telling them to hold on, to stick with Jesus because his kingdom was easier to get into from an upside-down state.

When you have sufficient wealth and social status and influence, it is hard not to feel secure in that - to put your trust in those things. When you have lost them you realise how fallible they are and, maybe, are ready to seek something or someone more reliable to trust your life to.

In his discussion with Peter about riches, camels and needles, Jesus says this:
"Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life."
In the context of the persecuted Christians of Rome, as well as those in Galilee and Judea caught up in Vespasian's brutal suppression of a Jewish rebellion, this is about the church.

The church community is to be family for those who have lost family, provide homes to those who have lost homes, and give purpose and meaning to those who have lost their livelihoods.

In other words, the church - then and now - is called to act as the heart and hands and feet and voice of Jesus, and to look after those who have suffered for him.

In this, Mark's message is good news for rich and poor alike. The poor because they will find help amongst God's people, the rich because they can use their wealth, status and influence for good, to help those in need. If they can do this in humility and service then they may indeed find their camels travelling smoothly through that needle.

With God all things are possible.

1 comment:

  1. To comment on my own post: if you are in or around Caversham this weekend, why not pop over to St Margaret's Church in Mapledurham on Sunday at 11am. I am taking the first half of the service there and would appreciate any support going. See for more info.