Growing up I was surrounded by comic books. The superheroes of Marvell and DC comics invited me into a world of intrigue, battling the evil forces and finding incredible ways to ensure that the right would win. Back then I failed to understand the underlying message about what the right was and where it came from.
It was essentially white, western and empire. Life, truth and heroes were white, male, western and predominantly physical. There was little room for women in these stories! People of other nationalities and race, were the baddies or, at best, companions of the good guys.
The comic book genre tells stories quickly, without extraneous detail and stays true to the agenda of the writer. There is little chance of the message being lost on the reader who is scanning the fast-paced frames of dialogue and action.
Mark is the comic book style writer of the Gospel writers. John spells out the detail of his Gospel, referencing the Jewish mystics and developing a thesis of who Jesus is and how we encounter him. Matthew and Luke have particular audiences and needs to address. Matthew deals with why the ‘church’ slowly moved away from the synagogue, having lost the battle for the Jewish religious mind.
Mark focuses on telling us who Jesus is and what his relationship is with the Divine, why he fits the bill as the Messiah, God’s Anointed. He links together specially selected stories or pericopes to make his biography of Jesus plain and understandable. His pen pictures are bare of detail. He adds little other than what is necessary. He writes in bullet points more suited for a TED talk or a short presentation, not in academic prose.
Todays story fits at the end of a section we could entitle – “A Conflict of Perspective”. In this section Jesus runs into conflict with the scribes and religious leaders over his healing of the sick, casting out of demons, and food and Sabbath ethics. His views and practice places him at odds with tradition with a power and authority hitherto not seen. He is the Messiah because he is so different, authoritative and free to be human, he could not be anyone else.
Mark’s thesis is either not obvious or so obvious it has to be refuted because the implications mean dismantling long held traditions, ideas and ways of practicing faith. It will dismantle the economy and political power revolving around the synagogue cult and leave them marooned, without the solid tradition they relied upon. Protecting what they already have they pronounce Jesus is of the devil, “he has an unclean spirit.” Jesus punches holes in that argument with logic their rational minds cannot defend against. “If I am of the devil how come I am casting out fellow demons? That doesn’t make sense.” And it doesn’t and they know it.
To try and prove their point they involve Jesus’ family, who I am sure, were confused and concerned for their son and brother. The crowds, the unending workload, the incessant interruptions and the obvious antagonistic authorities were enough to make them concerned. They came to take him away and give him some space but became involved in the rhetoric of the deniers.
Jesus responds with another pronouncement sure to set him apart as a rabble-rouser and troublemaker. He steps all over the traditional family ethic extending family to include all who lives and does as he does. It is no longer about family, tribes and a special people. All who take up his call for freedom, love and life are included in the kingdom of God.
Today we are faced with an avalanche of conflict challenging tradition and ideology. Climate change, same sex relationship recognition, refugees and boat people, child abuse, reconciliation and recognition of first peoples in the constitution, aged care and more. The need to address these is being espoused by voices and people who we would not necessarily include as speaking on behalf of God. Yet the Spirit of God is at work, using those who are willing to continue Jesus’ mission of freedom, love and life.
The recognition of love and fidelity instead of the restrictions presently placed on untraditional relationships is one example of the Spirit at work. Recently read of a same-sex couple who were father and son but are now husband and husband. Sounds odd, but to get recognition for their multi-decade relationship in terms of estate planning one had to adopt the other as the state didn’t recognise same sex couples. Now it’s possible. So it should be.
In the last week or so we had the controversy caused by former Australian of the Year Adam Goodes’ war dance celebration after scoring a goal. It was deemed too confronting and challenging to both the footy fans present and to our nation. At the same time aboriginal communities are being closed down and peoples income quarantined with little protest. The Guardian newspaper reports on 3 remote communities in WA which are close together and only the 2 aboriginal communities are being considered to be closed down. On Q&A one participant said the treatment of indigenous people is no different to the teasing someone with red hair gets! Really?
I have a question. Why are we so ready to accept same-sex marriages, and we are unable to embrace cultures different to us in faith and skin colour? Is it because same-sex marriage is an affluent, predominately white question in sync with our consumer culture of entitlement? Wednesday’s Age has an article that suggests legalization of same sex marriage is worth $1.2billion stimulus to the economy. Should that be a consideration?
Now, before people throw things at me, I support the move for recognition and equality, and it must occur sooner than later. But it must be driven by our desire for mission of freedom, love and life. In other words to overturn injustice not, for example, for economic benefits.
There are other issues to deal with, issues we have denied and ignored, such as indigenous reconciliation and recognition in this country for over 200 years; the treatment of refugees; the treatment of the elderly; and the abandonment of the victims of child abuse.
A few years ago I stood next to a young aboriginal boy in a Brisbane police station accused of a crime he did not commit. A couple of years earlier he was found filling up a tub with bleach and sitting in it. He no longer wanted to be black; he wanted to be like everyone else, white. At the same time, in Mt Isa, aboriginal young people were committing suicide by simply tying something around their necks to a fence and sitting down, waiting to die.
Our society’s response to quarantine income, take children from their families at a greater rate than ever, incarcerate Aboriginals at 11 times that of non-indigenous people and close down remote communities, suggests colour and race still hinders the mission of Jesus for freedom, love and life in this country.
Thomas Merton suggests the way of Christ (nonviolent action which took him to the Cross) ‘is the most exacting of all forms of struggle,….because it excludes mere transient self-interest from it’s considerations….the one who practices (the way of Christ – nonviolent action) must commit themselves not to the defense of his/her own interest or even those of a particular group: he/she must commit themselves to the defence of objective truth and right and above all, of humanity’
Mark’s comic ends this episode with Jesus widening the net on inclusion with – “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Are we, and is our church, local and universal, listening to the movement of the Spirit and responding in such a way that we can claim to be walking in the way of Christ? Or do we still have some work to do?
John Dear, in his excellent book ‘Thomas Merton, Peacemaker’ suggests our work should look like this:
Shout very loud about God’s will, God’s truth, God’s justice. State facts quietly and tell the truth quietly and patiently. Don’t be discouraged. Don’t get too frustrated. …. Lay the groundwork for a deep change of heart. Give an example of sanity, independence, integrity, good sense, as well as Christian love and wisdom.
 Between 2003 and 2013, the Aboriginal rate of incarceration has soared 11 times faster than the non-Aboriginal rate. Prison rates for Aboriginal women have increased by a third between 2002 and 2007, and the number of Aboriginal men by one-fifth , while police custodial rates remain as high as before.
 Thomas Merton, Blessed are the meek’