Today’s blog, in the wake of the Jihadist murders in Algeria, provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news.
PRO GUN PROTESTS UN USA
Unity in the Body of Christ
4I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,5one Lord, one faith, one baptism,6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.8Therefore it is said,
‘When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.’
9(When it says, ‘He ascended’, what does it mean but that he had also descended* into the lower parts of the earth?10He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)11The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.14We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,16from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
Throughout this letter the writer, a disciple of Paul, writing in his name, has pointed to the emergence of multinational, multi-ethnic Christian communities as the culmination of God’s plan to unite human beings in one family. Here he writes about the unity and diversity of that community. There is one spirit of love, one body one baptism, one faith, one God and father of all. This unity fosters the virtues of humility, gentleness, patience, peace and love. But the community is not monolithic. Jesus, who shares the life of God, gives gifts to his assembly (ekklesia, usually translated “church”). These are not, as might be expected, human qualities, but rather, human beings: Jesus summons apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers and gives them to his assembly so that it may flourish as one body of which he is the head.
This assembly is not, in the mind of the author, a religious institution but rather the prototype of a new humanity. The description of the body, with the virtues and gifts that sustain it, is a “political” vision, designed to challenge the way in which human community is organised and ruled. Baptism, for example, is not be seen as a religious ceremony but as the birthright of every human being to be recognised as a child of God in the family of God’s children. It is utterly opposed to all superiority of race, nation, class and sex.
Of course this vision does not tell us how to solve the problem posed by religious thugs with guns, such as the Algerian terrorists. But it offers a long-term strategy, the same strategy that enabled the first Christian communities to withstand the might of Roman thugs and to sustain their way of life, namely, learning the virtues, customs and convictions needed to maintain unity and live in peace.
A Multitude at the Lakeside
7 Jesus departed with his disciples to the lake, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him;8hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon.9He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him;10for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him.11Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, ‘You are the Son of God!’12But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.
Jesus Appoints the Twelve
13 He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him.14And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles,* to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message,15and to have authority to cast out demons.16So he appointed the twelve:* Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter);17James son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder);18and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean,19and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
Mark shows Jesus’ anoouncement of God’s rule amongst people as attracting a huge following, a crowd. He is not satisfied with this response recognising that he may be taken for a religious celebrity or popualar messiah. He knows that any true community of disciples must be structured. It is for this reason that he “ascends the mountain” (behaves like Moses) but rather than giving instruction as in Matthew’s sermon on the mount, he appoints leaders who are symbols of the twelve tribes of the “new Israel” that he hopes to create.
They have two functions
1. Announcing the message that God has come to defeat evil in Jesus
2. Healing people and delivering them from the power of evil.
As in Jesus’ own ministry the second of these is a necessary witness to the first.
Here we can see, according to Mark, the beginnings of the kind of “assembly” described in the letter to the Ephesians; and we can note the centrality of the battle against evil and the means by which it is to be fought: in Jesus’ way,b y healing people and freeing them from evil spirits.
(Maybe by providing good medical care and guiding people away from a love of guns?)