Jesus and Power

At our Weekly Manna gathering at the University of St. Thomas School of Law earlier today, our speaker was Rev. Christian Ruch, Rector of the Church of the Cross in Hopkins.

Christian selected for his presentation the episode involving Jesus and his disciples recorded in Mark 8:14-21.  Jesus and his disciples are on a boat and he warns them to “Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”  The disciples, who had forgotten to bring bread and had only one loaf with them “concluded among themselves that it was because they had not bread.”

Jesus’ frustration with is disciples is palpable.

“Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear? And do you not remember,when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many wicker baskets full of fragments you picked up?” They answered him, “Twelve.”“When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many full baskets of fragments did you pick up?” They answered [him], “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

Christian led a good discussion of the passage, in which several points emerged.  First, even taken at the literal level at which the disciples understand Jesus, they miss the mark. This episode occurs fairly soon after Jesus has fed the multitudes with a few loaves of bread.  Did they forget what they saw?  Did they really think they had to worry whether they would starve because they had forgotten bread?

Second, we are used to seeing the Pharisees paired with the Saducees.  Here, Jesus pairs the Pharisees with Herod.  Both, Christian suggested, had power and influence and feared losing that power and influence.  They may have started out with good intentions, but each was so focused on keeping their own influence that they failed to recognize Christ.  Perhaps, Christian suggested, Jesus felt the need to warn his disciples – who would be given the power of the Holy Spirit – to be wary of the temptation that affected the Pharisees and Herod.

As Christian was talking about the pairing another point struck me.  The Pharisees and Herod together represent the power of the religious authorities and the power of the state.  Jesus did not occupy a position of power in either realm.  Instead he taught the first would be last and that his disciples were to serve rather than be served.  The “power” of Jesus, and of his disciples, come only from God, not from any human institution.

Certainly the message of Christ is counter-cultural to our governmental institutions.  At times it may even be counter-cultural to our religious institutions.


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