December 23, 2006

secrets and exorcisms/david

So with this passage we run aground on two issues.

First we meet with what scholarly commentators on Mark call the Messianic Secret. Jesus, as depicted in Mark deliberately conceals who he is, that is to say, goes forth performing all manner of miracles, and yet deliberately forbids disciples (and exorcised demons) from publishing his status as the Christ. There are a number of attempts by scholars to explain this behaviour and generally the historical critical scholars attribute this to Mark's narrative strategies and not to Jesus himself.

If they are right, then we have a Messiah, whose divinity was hidden not only from the people he came to reach but possibly also from himself. I find this theologically interesting. If Jesus was/is the Christ but didn't know it until very late in his ministry (if ever) then he becomes a powerful role model of acting on our leadings and best judgments even in the absence of certainty or complete knowledge. It also explains Gethsemane. Because if Jesus knew in an absolute omniscient sense that he was divinity incarnate, destined to be resurrected and glorified, then the whole passion narrative, from sweating blood in Gethsemane to his cry of pain on the cross -- makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever.

And so I hold to a doctrine of incarnation that makes Jesus fully divine, but in becoming fully human, he emptied himself of the royal perogatives, including knowledge of his own divinity.

The second issue that messes with our (post) modern minds is exorcism. Can't help but see exorcism through the lens of Hollywood horror flicks with their pea soup and SFX.

If we see exorcism as narrative strategy then Jesus is mucking about exercising the very authority he's denying. If my Jesus, unaware of his divinity, that makes exorcism a social and religious practice -- something that we could expect ourselves a his disciples to be called upon to do as well.

So how to understand this? For me the notion that these folks just didn't get mental illness, and that exorcism is just another kind of physical healing -- but of brain events instead of body maladies -- doesn't work for me. I think these healings are seen as different in kind and degree to healing dropsy or blindness.

My way in is the powers and principalities theology taught by Berkhof, Stringfellow and Wink (among others). John Dominic Crossan also goes there to an extent. Exorcism then becomes a kind of emotional healing for those whose symptoms are caused by internalizing the social and political oppression in their society. It is both healing and psycho-drama and a witness to the established order that its rule is about to come to an end.

That model appeals to me. Partly as I have worked in a few workplaces that could use a good exorcist in that sense. Indeed. I know a few churches that could use a good exorcist. But that takes us back to Revelation. And we're reading Mark.


At 1:57 p.m., Blogger forrest said...

Many "scholarly commentators" have made an unnecessary problem for themselves because, as Christians, they were working from a Christian concept of "Christ" rather than a Jewish concept of "Messiah."

Jesus has not translated himself into pagan Greek here; he knows perfectly well that he is the Messiah and that it's going to be necessary for him to proclaim the fact to his own people. He's also aware that not everybody needs to know. The Romans and their clients will not be happy to hear it, and will undoubtedly make life difficult for him just on suspicion.

So Jesus is leading an open double life here; he can say things that every Jew present recognizes as subversive of Roman and priestly "authority" without explicitly declaring himself a rebel (which would have given the authorities immediate grounds for action.) Since his own political authority can not be anything innate in himself, but must be recognized by his people before it can be fully effective, Jesus has more reasons than simple prudence for not saying either too much or too little for the occasion.

"Divinity" is no part of the Jewish concept of "Messiah." As a prophet, Jesus is able to speak "for" God--and that implies considerable fuzzy overlap between the mind of the man Jesus and the Mind of God. Later Christian doctrine adds its own conclusions as to his condition; but I have no idea whether he ever in his historical life talked like the character "Jesus" in John.

There is not so much a "whole passion narrative" as a narrative patchwork we imagine from our encounter with four separate concepts of what happened, what it meant, what it meant to Jesus. The four gospels are not "different eyewitness accounts;" they are constructions partially arrived at by searching "the Scriptures" (the Hebrew Bible) and applying anything that struck the searcher as "prophecy fulfilled," "what must have really happened."

I'm not familiar with your Berkhof (someone to look up, then!) but yes, there's a significant difference in the way this story treats having a physical impairment and "having a demon." Internalizing the beliefs of one's oppressors may have something to do with it; that would make for obvious discords between "my beliefs and attitudes" vs "what everyone else openly believes," hence a destructive confusion of identity. But is possession by a hostile belief-system equivalent to possession by a foreign angel or "daemon"?

Aha! What drives out these foreign spirits? They recognize the Messiah!

How can a man's mind remain captive to heathen rulers when the Messiah is right here to liberate him? This changes everything! The goyim are not overpowering God's people and invalidating God--Instead, God is at work offering hope and a chance to drive them out. "Not peace, but a sword!" (Not meaning a weapon for hurting people, not bringing warfare where there had been "peace", but offering a means to carry on the struggle that was crushing everyone.)

What about the "evil spirits" that oppress the authorities? Why couldn't Jesus exorcise them?--Why should an earthly ruler recognize the Messiah?--How could they?

At 3:54 p.m., Blogger david said...

I agree that some of us when we read scripture have some work to do reconciling the Christian notion of Incarnation with the documents in question. This does not make the practice in and of itself illegitimate just because the divinity of the Christ is not a particularly Jewish concept.

I find it curious that it is I, who is asserting a traditional Christian metaphysic here, who is casting doubts on the ability to reconstruct the history standing behind Mark. I simply do not trust it as history. This si not to sya tahte elments aren't rooted in actual events, only that I don't really think we can identify which ones. Whatever wisdom I can gather from Mark, I must gatehr while living in this essential ambiguity: I cannot know the historical facts that gave rise to this document.

At 11:45 p.m., Blogger forrest said...

I agree that the underlying history is a real puzzle, and that knowing it is not necessary to understanding what Jesus was teaching.

But I do, so far as I am able, want to know what Jesus was teaching rather than what some later follower put in his mouth.

The meaning, even of something pretty well-established and straightforward, still keeps on developing. Because the God he was talking about is still as described.

Even the "new wine in old bags" one just got a tad more meaningful. We've been taking it all our lives as refering to religions, their customs and organizational structure. But what about our personal conceptional structures? If you try to fit a new idea into an old outlook, which is going to have to change?

At 7:07 a.m., Blogger david said...

We ONLY have what later followers put into Jesus' mouth. We ONLY have Paul's Jesus, Mark's Jesus, Luke's Jesus, etc etc etc.

We can, using reason and scholarship unpack what is going on in these texts to see what Jesus was and did that stands behind Paul, and Mark and Luke -- but then THAT Jesus is OUR reconstruction of what Jesus PROBABLY said/did. THAT Jesus is Forrest's Jesus or David's Jesus or Larry's Jesus or Crystal's Jesus.

At 7:18 a.m., Blogger david said...

Another thought occurs to me. I accept the statement found in Timothy (a muuch later and almost certainly NOT Pauline document) that all scripture is inspired -- even though at the time only what we call the OT was considered "scripture". If all scripture is/was inspired then the original events depicted are amrked by God's agency, the passing of stories along by oral trasnmission was inspired, the writing of them, the redaction of them and the 2000+ years of reading and interpretation. I cannot locate God's agency in just one of those stages.

At 9:19 a.m., Blogger forrest said...

All we know is what God puts on our plate right now, true. Our revelation wasn't all zapped together fully-ripened at one moment, but grew in the course of many people's insights, into something that had to speak to every age it passed through--or it would have been laid on the shelf (as it increasingly has been, these last few hundred years.

The best answer to a 2-3 year old's questions is not necessarily the truest (although we want to be as truthful to him as we can) but what leads him best in the direction of truth.

Historical, smistorical; we can't have proof of everything, but something really happened.

God knows what that was!--but God literally does know what that was.

I don't necessarily have the best seat in the house (though closer to the events was probably a harder place to see from.) But I can put together the picture I'm given, praying for more relevant pieces and the guidance to assemble them properly. What I get will (of course) be my picture, but it will not be an I-can't-know-so-I'll-slop-this-together-however-I-like effort.

"Inspiration" is not infallibility. Ask any artist. It is sacred. But as you know, one sometimes needs to check one's facts and wording.

At 1:19 p.m., Blogger david said...

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Which is why I'm wary of attempts at historical reconstruction. Not that i don't do it myself sometimes when occasion seems to warrant. But I start with the text; in the end that's all I have.


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