We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Ideal Christian Life Re-examined - Mark 2:1 (xxii)

Lion of St. Mark, Piazza San Marco, Venice
This posting is the 22nd in a series (originally written in 1998) looking at the Gospel of Mark from the perspective of a historian. The first posting in this series is (here).

The idea that Jesus may have owned a home (see posting 21) and used it as a base for conducting his ministry is striking. It gives us an entirely different model for living the Christian life from that of Luke and Matthew, where Jesus is a classic wandering itinerant teacher and healer. The Jesus of Mark is a model much more reasonable and obtainable for the overwhelming majority of Christians who lead lives according to the ways of their society. The idea that Jesus had a home could also put the manner in which his earliest disciples just walked off to follow him in perspective (Mark 1:14-20). He called them to be his companions when he was on the road, not to leave their homes and families permanently.

New Testament historians point out that the early church included a class of wandering evangelists who dedicated their whole lives to their task. They were homeless. And their form of Christian ministry, as reflected in Matthew and Luke, became an important model for other Christians. There was, evidently, a certain amount of tension between the itinerants and the rest of the earlier church because the itinerants took themselves to be the "true followers' of Jesus. I'd like to offer the possibility that the author of Mark stood outside the itinerant tradition and used sources that reflected something more closely akin to the actual way in which Jesus worked. This is speculation. Only two things commend it: first, Mark points to it. Second, it's the way evangelists in Thailand conducted themselves, in conditions in the 19th century not entirely unlike those in which Jesus lived.

A couple of further thoughts. If Jesus had a house, he had to have an income of some sort for upkeep. Undoubtedly it was a small house and probably didn't cost much to maintain. (Utilities were really, really cheap in 1st century Galilee). Still, Jesus had to be involved in the everyday economic and social life of a neighborhood and a community. So, where did his income come from? It's also worth reflecting that a home-owning Jesus was more fully incarnate in his world than the no hole, no nest, and no home Jesus (Luke 9:58). It's fun to play with the idea that Jesus the Christ, the Fully God Second Person of the Trinity, owned a home. Finally, Mark changes our view of what it means to live a Christ-like life. If Jesus was a home owner, we are more (not less) challenged to live the Christian life within the every day structures of society. And living such a life can be an ideal Christian life, such as it can never be if we accept the homeless Jesus as our ideal.