Good News from Mark
If you’ve ever seen the logo of the National Council of Churches or the World Council of Churches, you seen a boat on rocky waves, the boat’s mast is also a cross. The boat that is safe harbor (so to speak) even in midst of a threatening storm is an image that has long inspired and comforted Christians. That image comes from the story of Jesus’ calming of the storm in Mark 4.35-41. Jesus didn’t just calm the storm—he shouted it down—“Knock it off!” is the sense the Greek gives us (he “muzzled” the storm in the Greek). Jesus has, at this point in Mark’s Gospel, used teaching, preaching, healing, and exorcism to confront the religious authorities of his day. He has engaged in a kind of combat mythology in which he has claimed and demonstrated power (authority) that is posed against the power and authority of the scribes and Pharisees.
But when he crosses the Sea of Galilee (Mark 5.1-20) he moves that discourse of confrontational power to a new location, which is in part, a new world. There, he enters a Gentile-inflected territory, filled with swine, for example (swine being, for Jews, the symbol of paganism par excellence). The Roman Empire has colonized this region, and the pork agribusiness is used to feed the Roman army’s garrisons. Jesus is met by a demon-possessed man who has been so out of control, beyond the management of others, that chains were said to be insufficient. The man is not simply possessed by a demon, but by a “Legion” of them, indeed he identifies himself as “Legion”—the Roman army’s division of 6000 foot soldiers. Jesus does not condemn the demon-possessed, but rather he sends the demons into swine, as they requested, and 2000 of them rush into the sea to their destruction. Jesus is, of course, attacking the economic-political structure of Roman imperialism. But that is not all.
Jesus is moving from a campaign of repudiation to a program of reconstruction. It is powerful and necessary to diagnose problematics and reveal our sinful practices and structures. But it is not enough. We also need a constructive program of healing, wholeness, peace, justice, and love. Gandhi called in Satyagraha. Martin Luther King, Jr., used the thematic of the “Beloved Community.” Jesus referred to his program of rebirth and reconstruction as the “kingdom (rule, reign) of God.” This new community and social order manifest as embodying God’s power, exists in confrontation with religious power and political power—as the west side and the east side of the Sea of Galilee symbolizes.
The demon-possessed man is a shocking incarnation of pathology. But what we sometimes see, yet most often do not see, is that pathological communities, traditions, societies, cultures, economics, and politics create pathological persons. This was true in Jesus’ day, on both sides of the Sea of Galilee, and it is true in our day, and in our society. Jesus was not then in support of economic forms that made the rich richer and the poor poorer, and he was not then in support of political forms that colonized and dominated others. And guess what? He is not in favor of them now either, even if we are so very comfortable with such forms ourselves.
When Jesus transitions his mission from one community to another, crossing the Sea of Galilee to do so, demonstrating his power over nature sends a signal: I am more powerful than anything which gives you fear and threatens your life. The Sea of Galilee is a surface of transition and of triumph. Those living on the east side of the water, seeing the destruction of 2000 pigs and the threat to the economic and political structure of the region, ask Jesus to leave. William Placher writes, “We modern readers are fooling ourselves if we think that we, by contrast, would have liked having Jesus around. We do not understand Mark’s picture of him unless we recognize that he is terrifying.”
Thanks for reading,