05 March 2019

Once Again on Right-handed vs Left-handed Power: Mark 4 and the Stilling of the Storm

[[Dear Sister, in two of your recent posts you are saying that the kind of Messiah Jesus becomes depends on how he discerns the will of God, am I right? And that means that the kind of disciples he calls us to be depends on the kind of Messiah he will be and we will accept. If Mark is saying Jesus wants his disciples to accept a Messiah who needs to suffer and die to do the will of God why does he still the storm at the end of Chapter 4? I read the chapter and that seems to conflict with the rest of it. By the way, thanks for sharing more of that prayer experience. Has it caused you to conclude that God did not want you to be well or that He wanted you to be sick? I think that could be very difficult to hear!]]

Great questions! Thank you! As I read the piece about stilling the storm I hear it in two or three ways: First, it serves as a kind of second bookend pairing the one in the section preceding the chapter of the seed parables with the statements about Jesus as the strong man who will destroy the kingdom of Satan, or being recognized as one who speaks/teaches with a hitherto unknown authority (exousia, power). That first section (Mark 1-3) is full of healings and exorcisms --- right-handed acts of power. Jesus is affirmed as "Son of God" ---and "beloved Son" which means he is a hearer of the Word; in Judaism he would have been understood to embody the foundational Shema: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is One. . ." and thus, be the human being uniquely empowered by the creative Word of God. All of this is followed by parables which point away from a Kingdom of God as commonly understood --- a Kingdom establishing Israel as preeminent amongst the kingdoms of this world with a militaristic Messiah. But Jesus is still the "Strong Man", the One who represents and reveals (makes known and real in space and time) the Creator God. If he embraces a Messiahship that is worked out in weakness, suffering, and even in death, it must be seen as a choice rooted in his discernment of the will of God and a paradoxical act of power.

Secondly, I think in stilling the storm Jesus essentially says to his disciples, "Remember who I am! Remember whom you are asking whether I care if you perish!!" We can think of it as an enacted parable perhaps, a way of saying, "Will you follow me in my understanding of the will and mission of God or not?" The right-handed use of power serves to ease the disciples' fear, to assure them of Jesus' identity, and remind them that he does indeed participate in the power of God in ways they have never seen before. It underscores that Jesus is compassionate and can work wonders (in the NT, what we call miracles are called works of power) that only God would be expected to do.

Finally and above all, I think this enacted parable asks the disciples yet again if they will trust Jesus and follow him --- even if his choices take them along a path to violent death.  Mark writes his story this way to address his community who are being persecuted and are in some real danger of death. Similar questions are put to them when they wonder if God cares that they are in danger of perishing: can you trust the Crucified Messiah is really the "Strong Man", the embodiment of the Wisdom and Word of God?

And as he addresses them so does he address us: Can you trust that the way Jesus brings redemption is the left-handed way of power that will include suffering, that reveals itself in weakness but that accompanies us in every moment and mood of our existence thus transforming our lives with God's presence? Can you trust the paradox of the Cross, that eternal life and the reconciliation of the whole cosmos comes through scandalous (offensive) death revealing that ultimately no one and nothing is abandoned by the God whose Love is stronger than  death? Do you believe not just in the death of Jesus but in his resurrection? Do you believe the Messiah who reveals that when all the props are kicked out God accompanies us in an ultimately meaningful way? Can you trust that when patience seems impossible and perseverance may feel meaningless, when the notion of a God whose power is made perfect in weakness seems ridiculous and your own discipleship feels like foolishness in the face of the world's power that the Crucified Messiah is truly Emmanuel, God-With-Us?  Can you believe that he makes known and real in human history a God who can be absolutely trusted to be with and for you even to the depths of sin and death and that this God will bring new life forth from these even as he reconciles the whole of creation to (Him)self?

On God Willing Illness:

No, I never concluded that God wanted me to be ill. I don't believe God ever wills illness. However, I did conclude that in some way God knew that my illness could serve his will and my own discipleship because it called me to a discipleship allowing God's faithful accompaniment and my own growth in trust.  I had no idea how that could be or what shape that would take in in my own life or the life of others but my own sense of God's power experienced in that prayer eased my concern and helped me be open in spite of difficulties. What I do know, however, was that during this prayer I was entirely safe in God's hands. I think my director knew that as well. In any case one thing I took from this prayer experience was a sense of fundamental security in spite of illness or anything else. In time illness led me to consider eremitical life where I might never have done so otherwise and over time it has allowed me to do inner work I would never have been able to commit to otherwise. I have always been fascinated by paradox and the theology of Paul; chronic illness has provided a context for really understanding these more deeply and for learning to trust God in every situation.

While I cannot say this is a form of discipleship I would have chosen, especially when I was younger, nor one that I find all that easy to be faithful to sometimes, I am grateful to be called to it. I too have wanted God to act with right-handed power in my life, or to reveal things in ways that short-circuited long periods of waiting and patience (or impatience!!). But the Gospel of Mark inspires me and the parables of the seeds especially remind me that God's power is certain; thus I trust the way Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it: [[Not everything that happens is the will of God, but inevitably, nothing that happens does so outside the will of God!]] The Apostle Paul affirmed a God who could bring life out of death, good out of evil, and meaning out of absurdity. Mark also knew that well and the story (the enacted parable) of the stilling of the storm reminded his disciples just who it was sleeping peacefully in the midst of chaos even as it called them to faith in a sometimes-shocking God.