No class warfare here: Mark’s Jesus as equal opportunity savior

Keying off a comment from Marc on my last post, I looked at Peter’s response and Jesus’ response to him in the immediately following verses in a slightly different light.

Here are the verses immediately following those I quoted in my other post.

Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Mark 10.28-31 NRSV

One interesting thing I missed in my original post was that before the scenario in question in this same chapter Jesus affirmed the Kingdom of God as belonging to “such as these” children, and then here he uncharacteristically and therefore pointedly calls his disciples “children” so as to assure them that they were not subject to his remarks. This makes it even more unlikely that the disciples were afraid of not getting in on the kingdom — only that, as Marc suggested, the kingdom wasn’t looking like such a sunny prospect as they imagined. If their worry was over their own reward, it would make sense that Jesus would reassure Peter that no one who sacrificed now would lose their reward in the future.

Another interesting thing I’ve just noticed is that Jesus is careful throughout this passage not to exclude the rich. Indeed, compared to Matthew and Luke he seems amazingly even-handed:

1) He was interested in (indeed, “loved”, v. 21) the rich young man despite his wealth.

2) He denies that it is impossible for the rich to be a part of the kingdom, because “for God all things are possible.”

3) He says that “many who are first will be last,” but that the last will more generally be first. Note also that Mark shows the wealthy Joseph of Arimathea faithfully “waiting for the Kingdom of God” [Mk 15.43].

The author of Mark was apparently careful to articulate that Jesus did not bifurcate the “greatest” and “least” down strictly socio-economic lines. Here Jesus seems to be stressing that although there is a strong correlation between the “great” in social status and “great” in pride, the kingdom order is not strictly an inversion of social status, but of attitude. The recurring emphasis almost strikes me as a corrective to what may have been a class warfare trend among the lower classes; it seems not unlikely that Mark was trying to widen the appeal of Christianity beyond the lower classes in which it originated.

Some will no doubt find it tempting  to write off Mark’s nuanced teaching as a wholly innovative accommodation to an affluent audience. Before doing that, we’d need to fully motivate this accommodation. Even the possibility of an appeal for patronage or respite from political or social pressures must be balanced against the central teachings of Jesus, and I don’t find it particularly likely that someone taken with Jesus enough to perpetuate his movement would compromise such a fundamental teaching in order to secure favor for a watered down message. Besides, if campaigning for the support of the elite was the author’s raison d’écrire, it seems he really blew it in key areas, especially when it came to the “little apocalypse” (provided it is original to Mark), which if Allison, Stark, and others are correct was a promise to defeat Rome would have been a preposterous inclusion. Moreover, that this leveling irrespective of social status was a somewhat core teaching of the Jesus Movement is affirmed by other New Testament writers who also believed that Jesus taught that God exalts the proud and gives grace to the humble but who cannot be described as hostile to the wealthy.

There seems to be an adequate reason to think that the author of Mark shows Jesus teaching such an egalitarian socio-economic order: he believed that Jesus taught it. In fact, starting with Jesus’ announcement in Mark 9.35, it seems that Mark is seeking to view all angles of Jesus’ teaching. Neither the rich nor the poor are demonized, because the author understood a focus on class or status to be missing Jesus’ point.

This does not mean that the kingdom come that Jesus proclaimed was not envisaged as having concrete social/economical/political dimensions; indeed, Jesus is reassuring Peter and the others that there would be tangible, social/economical/political rewards for the faithful, and by implication the opposite for the unfaithful. What it does mean is that faithfulness would not be evaluated by social, economical, or political dimensions, but by humility before God.

Tagged with:
Recent Posts: