A new conversation

7 June 2015
Second Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 5B (RCL)
1 Samuel 8:4-20; 11:14-15
Psalm 138
2 Corinthians 4:13 — 5:1
Mark 3:20-35

R. G. Collingwood has said that since the nineteenth century, the primary function of the nation has become the waging of war. One could argue that this has always been true. When the Israelites ask Samuel for a king, they are asking to be like other nations. Samuel warns them that the king will impose levies on them for the waging of war, among other things. After the long history of the judges, Israel wants a standing ability to defend itself, rather than relying on the periodic, charismatic nature of the judges. The desire to be “like other nations” is the desire to have our (ever-increasing) share of the pie.

Samuel points everything the king will demand, and still the people want a king. We, living in the wealthiest nation the earth has ever known, can easily suggest that other nations should not desire what we have, and all the trouble that comes with it, but we wouldn’t give up what we have. The situation in South Sudan right now can be linked exactly to this desire to be like other nations and have the ability to wage war. That ability creates the sense of nationhood, and depends on it. The nation must be able to persuade people to die for it, or it would simply not cohere, it would have no reality. Reading about South Sudan, and the rampant tribalism, one finds commentators saying there is no compensating sense of national identity. How does a people construct an identity not based on something one would give one’s life for?

The religious authorities, and even his family, consider Jesus to have lost his mind at best, and at worst to be in league with Satan. Jesus is proposing a new identity not based on nationhood, or even family, but instead on doing the will of God, a concept not given any further definition in this reading. Doing the will of God has something to do with casting out demons, freeing people from oppression. He is preaching sedition. Casting out Satan by Satan is the equivalent of assuming a government would set up a loss in war, or a bombing of its own resources for some strange end. Plenty of conspiracy theorists say essentially this, but Rome would not need to stoop to such schemes in the provinces.

Jesus speaks of binding the strong man. To take Rome’s goods (or Satan’s), one must first bind Rome. But if one has nothing that Rome would want to steal pretty much guarantees that Rome won’t bother binding one. Simply opting out of the system of Rome’s values is much more seditious than trying to take Rome’s goods: Rome is mistaken in what it values. Even Jesus’ family gets in on the act of thinking he is crazy, but he opts out of that system as well. Those in the conversation with him about the will of God are family to him.

This slight, momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory. That glory is a different currency than Rome recognizes. To change the political discourse, we have to shift our attention away from what afflicts us, the scarcity mentality that nationhood breeds, and toward the glory of the conversation about the will of God.

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