Presentation on theme: "Justice discerning our connectedness (and the shape of scripture) Mark 7: 1-13 (and Genesis 1)"— Presentation transcript:
Justice discerning our connectedness (and the shape of scripture) Mark 7: 1-13 (and Genesis 1)
Structural sin The Contextual Bible Study that I did on Mark 11:27- 13:2 as part of the Trinity Institute in 2011 is one of our oldest Bible studies, forged in the late 1980s. The importance of this CBS is that it recognises the structural or systemic dimensions of domination and resistance. And this recognition was fundamental to the struggle against apartheid. Yet, the churches in South Africa found it difficult to recognise the role that ‘structural sin’ played in apartheid South Africa. Even the Kairos Document (1985), with its clear analysis of the theological challenge facing the churches concerning sinful systems, was unable to bring about substantial theological change.
27 years after the Kairos Document, little has changed. Even the political leaders of our new democracy, all of whom come from the liberation movements, insist that religion should focus on the personal and moral (ie. the spiritual) dimensions of life. “Leave the structural terrain to us”, says Mandela, Mbeki, and now Zuma. The prophetic movement in the churches (and within other faith traditions) in South Africa has been strangely silent, though there are signs of us regaining our voices. Similar signs of a resurgence in prophetic witness can be seen around the world, though quite what the contribution of the Christian Church has been is not that clear. Yet our increasingly globalised world cries out for a fresh recognition of our structural/systemic connectedness.
Economic connectedness: Mark 7:1-13 1. Listen to Mark 7:1-13. What is this text about? 2. Who are the characters in this text and what do we know about them from this text? 3. The text seems to revolve around two different perspectives on religious practice. What are these two perspectives? Try to characterise each of these perspectives, identifying the various elements of each perspective. List the characteristics in two columns.
Input: Part of the background to this text is the attempt by the temple leadership from Jerusalem (v1) to draw the villagers of Galilee (which is where Jesus is based in Mark) into the economic system of the Jerusalem temple. The Jerusalem temple, like all temples in the ancient world, were economic centres. And while they were also religious centres, temple-based religion was often used to legitimate, in the name of God, the extraction of economic resources from ordinary villagers.
The purity laws were used as one of the means of economic extraction, for only the religious system of the temple decreed what was clean and what was unclean. The normal tithes and offerings brought to the temple by villagers were usually declared unclean by the temple hierarchy and so had to be exchanged for clean forms of tithes and offerings. Each and every exchange was controlled by and directly benefitted the temple. 4. What elements of these ‘economic practices’ can you detect in Mark 11:15-19?
Input: In Mark 7 Jesus plays the temple leadership at its own game, challenging “the tradition of the elders” (v5) with a higher tradition, the tradition of Moses (v10). Jesus goes on immediately to expose one of the economic systems that is hidden behind the purity laws, the system of Corban (v11). The word ‘korban’ meant ‘a dedication to God’. The temple encouraged pious Jews ‘to dedicate’ their land and/or its produce to God (via the temple). The point Jesus is making here is that this religious practice often had the effect of diverting economic resources from ageing parents, so negating the commandments of Moses to honour one’s mother and father.
In the time of Jesus, the Jerusalem temple- state and its representatives no longer had direct jurisdiction over Galilee. They therefore could not make overt demands for tithes and offerings, for Galilean taxes now went to Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee. Instead, they tried to get Galilean village farmers ‘to dedicate’ a portion of their land’s produce to the temple. This was an alternative way of deriving revenue from this area. 5. Re-read Mark 7:1-13, and then write a text- message (SMS) or tweet to your church that summarises your understanding of this text.
6. Is ‘structural sin’ part of the theological understanding of our churches? Give an example. 7. Is economic structural sin part of the theological understanding of our churches? Give an example. 8. What are the sinful economic systems that our churches should be speaking out (and acting out) against, as Jesus did? 9. How can we help our churches to recognise that the structural dimensions of life are as theologically important as the personal dimensions?
Environmental connectedness: Genesis 1 We have become increasingly aware of how we are connected to the earth and so to each other. This CBS was one our South African contributions to the “Bible in the Life of the Church” project. 1. Listen to Genesis 1:24-31 being read aloud. What picture comes to your mind as you listen to this text? Share this with your neighbour. 2. What words are used in verses 26 and 28 to describe the relationship between humans and the environment, and what kind of relationship do they seem to imply? Compare how different translations translate these verses.
Input: In the Hebrew language the word usually translated as ‘to rule’ (‘radah’ in Hebrew) and the word usually translated as ‘to subdue’ or ‘to have dominion over’ (‘kabash’ in Hebrew) can have a very harsh meaning. Biblical scholars have reflected on these words (‘radah’ and ‘kabash’), wondering whether they can be understood in a different way. Some biblical scholars have argued that the words need not be understood here in their normal harsh sense. They suggest that because these words are associated with creatures (humans) who are made in the image of God, who is revealed here as creating and caring, these words might be understood to convey the notion of ‘to shepherd’ (‘radah’) and ‘to take possession of/to stand within’ (‘kabash’). The basic idea of this interpretation is that human beings are God’s representatives on earth, being located within the environment (‘standing within it’) and caring for it (‘shepherding it’).
Other biblical scholars point to a similar word in verse 16, ‘mashal’ (‘to rule’). Here it is clear that the idea of ‘ruling’ or ‘governing’, repeated three times, is not meant in a harsh way. The sun and the moon are created “to give light on the earth”. They are made to do good to the earth and not damage (see verses 14-18). The basic idea of this interpretation is that humans beings are ‘to rule’ in the same way as the sun and the moon ‘rule’, as part of the internal system. Other scholars make a similar kind of argument, by placing this narrative in its ancient historical setting. They argue that the ancient Hebrews who wrote Genesis 1 were responding to ancient Babylonian creation stories. In the Babylonian stories of creation ‘the sun’ (‘shamash’) and ‘the moon’ (‘yareah’) were gods. So these biblical scholars suggest that Genesis 1 might be responding to and critiquing the Babylonian understanding. In Genesis 1 “the greater light” (‘the sun’) and “the lesser light” (‘the moon’) (verse 15) are clearly “made” (verse 16) by God, and not themselves ‘gods’. The point here is that human beings are part of the system, with no other intermediaries, and so their only guide as to how ‘to rule’ is God.
Still other scholars argue that the usual association of the phrase “image of God”, so prevalent in this text, is with the rule of kings. Genesis 1:26-27 gives the role of ruling to all human beings, and so is an anti-monarchic polemic, challenging the kinds of ‘dominion’ so common in the ancient world. As one scholar has said, we have a “democratising tendency” here. Another dimension of the ancient context of this text is the harshness of the life for the majority, most of whom were subsistence farmers struggling to survive in the dry and rocky hill country of Israel-Palestine. Most had little access to even the limited technology of the plough, so life had to be wrestled from the harsh landscape. From this perspective the text is a call to persist in this struggle and to make a place for humankind. 3. This text and the background information we have reflected on does not take away the ambiguity of this text. How does this information help you to understand the relationship between humans and the environment in Genesis 1:24-31?
4. What are the most common understandings of the relationship between humans and the environment in your local parish and community? In what ways are these common understandings helpful or harmful? 5. How do we balance theologically the needs of our people in our South African ‘developmental state’ with our responsibilities to and our stewardship of our endangered ecosystems? 6. Write a prayer (on your own or with a partner) that expresses what this Bible study has ‘said’ to you about how God has called us to engage with the environment. Share these prayers in our time of prayer together later. 7. What other practical things could we do to respond to this Bible study so that we are ‘sent’ to engage responsibly with our environment? What other biblical texts are important for our understanding of how God has located us within creation?
Justice for all The economic and the ecological are two powerful reminders of our connectedness What they make clear is that our connectedness is structural/systemic/relational Justice for ‘us’ requires justice for ‘all’
The shape of scripture So much of what we have shared together in these sessions is linked to how we see the ‘shape’ of scripture The South African theologian Albert Nolan often reminded us in the 1980s to pay attention to the shape of scripture, rather than its content Eg. The ministry of Jesus is “to bring good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18) In other words, ‘the gospel’ has a particular shape, it must be “good news for the poor”. The content of this good news may vary from time to time or context to context, but its shape must be retained, it must be good news “for the poor”
How do we as Anglicans understand the shape of scripture? What are the distinctive features of scripture? The different answers we give to this question is part of the problem we face as a Communion; the other part of the problem is not being able to recognise the question. Scripture does not have a self-evident shape; it is theologically constructed.
“The complex interplay possible between scripture, tradition, reason, and experience/context require Anglicans who desire unity across the Communion to vigilantly foreground their own interpretive positions. As our Church resorts more and more to a fifth form of authority, namely legislative authority, and grows more and more impatient for some decisive rallying-point for Anglican identity, our current moment calls for a theologically informed and spiritually sustained patience and a willingness to explicate how we have interpreted scripture when we are called upon by our sisters and brothers within the Anglican Communion to give an account for the hope that is in us, yet with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15- 16).”
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