The power(lessness) of the empire

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 9B (RCL)
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
Psalm 48
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

I’m always suspicious when the designers of a lectionary leave verses out of a reading. In 2 Samuel 5:6-8, David has his soldiers go up the water channel of Jerusalem and attack the lame and the blind (the Jebusites had thought their stronghold so defensible that even the lame and the blind could keep David out). Not a very attractive picture of the new King. There is a strong anti-monarchical strand of tradition included in the books of Samuel; the people reject God as their king when they ask for Saul as king. I wonder if David was too revered for the author of that strand of tradition to come right out against David as a bad king, but we get little tidbits like this to remind us how wicked monarchy is in general. The kings are supposed to protect the lame and blind, and here is David attacking them (admittedly the lame and the blind of the enemy).

In the passage from Mark’s Gospel, Jesus, having discovered his own powerlessness in his home town, begins to send out the twelve with power over demons. It is the beginning of an ongoing process — he doesn’t send them out just once, but begins to send them out. He does not tell them what to preach; only gives them power over unclean spirits. And then gives them a set of negative instructions; take no purse, no coin, no extra shirt. They do get to carry a staff. The requirements for being a disciple of Jesus are even more stringent that for being a cynic. Cynics could carry the stick, for warding off blows and dogs, but also could carry a pouch for keeping the next day’s food they had begged. Jesus’ disciples can only beg food for this day. They are totally dependent on the hospitality of those who will take them in.

We are told the disciples proclaim that people should repent. Jesus didn’t tell them to say that. They cast out demons and healed the sick. These are all the signs of the Kingdom. Jesus begins his proclamation, “Repent. The Kingdom is at hand,” and then casts out a demon. Then Peter’s mother-in-law feeds him. The Kingdom is precisely exorcism in exchange for hospitality. If demon-possession is a social dislocation experienced personally (oppression, e.g.), then somehow the act of giving hopsitality overcomes it. If Roman oppression had rended people marginal, then giving hospitality to these raggedy disciples empowered folks. This, says Jesus, is what the true empire looks like. The Cynics claimed to be living in the kingdom, because no emperor had power over them, but it was a very lonely kingdom, outside the social structures. Jesus’ disciples were building a new social structure that rescued people from isolation. But the heralds of that new empire had to accept their own powerlessness in order to proclaim the power of that new empire. They couldn’t even beg food for the next day, but only bread for today. How unlike David.

I wonder what demons need exorcising these days. Certainly, in this current economic climate, a loss of buying power might be experienced personally and even somatically (tight shoulders worrying about paying the bills). I know folks who feel like the world has changed so rapidly, that they can’t keep up with it, and get grumpy. But, what Mark suggests is counterintuive. We want to fix the problem, pay the bills, get folks into jobs. Mark has Jesus tell us to stay in their houses and accept their hospitality.

Paul suggest that power is brought to completion in weakness. Maybe we have to accept our need of others, even those who apparently have nothing to offer, in order to accomplish anything. Paul could boast of his own revelations and insights, but suggests that the Corinthians only look at what gets done through him. What are we doing?

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