The Radical, Unexpected, Incredibly Difficult, Subversive Message of Jesus

This post is written by Mitchell Mallary. You may find him on Twitter @mitchmallary


As some of you may be aware, I am currently pursuing my Masters degree at the Logos Institute of St Andrews under the brilliant guidance of Alan Torrance, N. T. Wright, and Andrew Torrance. They are a dynamic trio to say the least.

Without going into all of the details, my current project has required that I spend a great deal of time interacting with the Gospel of Mark. This Gospel has long stood in the shadows of the more popular books of John and Matthew. Augustine even went so far as to refer to it as an abridged version of Matthew, marginalizing its status and significance for the church for 1500 years.

Recently, however, a scholarly consensus has formed challenging Augustine's quip. Mark, it is now assumed, was in fact the earliest Gospel to have been written; appropriated as a source by both Matthew and Luke alike (hence the similarities between the "Synoptic" Gospels). We need not follow that rabbit trail further, other than to say that Mark's Gospel must be allocated far greater significance than it has often received, and within its pages we find the earliest Gospel account of the radical, unexpected, incredibly difficult, subversive message of Jesus.

As I've been pouring through the secondary literature, I stumbled upon the following quote (Mark as Story, 148) that highlights how the message of Jesus challenges the core cultural values and practices of his day. And as you, my dear reader, ruminate on this passage, may it inspire us to consider how the infinitely-translatable message of Jesus may challenge the cultural values and practices of our day:

The reign of God reverses the direction of purity: instead of withdrawing for fear of defilement, its agents are to spread holiness and wholeness through the holy spirit. Instead of fear of external contact with food and people and places considered to be unclean, followers are now to guard against internal uncleanness in their hearts resulting in actions harmful to others.
The reign of God breaks the patronage cycle: Jesus does not seek followers who are beholden to him; so, instead of seeking honor for healing, Jesus tells suppliants to be quiet and go home.
The rule of God subverts the core value of wealth: instead of wealth seen as a blessing, people are to relinquish their wealth to the poor.
Kinship is reordered: instead of families ordered by patriarchy, the metaphorical kinship relations of the realm of God are structured so that no one serves as father and all are to function as servants to each other.
The core value of honor is redefined: instead of seeking honor in the eyes of others as a mark of status, people are to choose to be least as a means to avoid the destructiveness of competition and to raise others up.
The core definition of power is reconfigured: instead of using authority to dominate for one’s advantage, people are to limit their power and use it to be servants to others.
Even the visceral human drive for survival is challenged: instead of securing life at the expense of others, people are to risk their lives to bring the life-giving words and actions of God’s reign to others.

If the radical, unexpected, incredibly difficult, subversive message of Jesus can bring down all of these barriers that separate people based upon race, status, power, wealth, and honor, how much more can it bring down bigotry, nationalism, xenophobia, economic exploitation, and the evils of mass incarceration.

The only problem is, when Jesus started to dismantle the system, they killed him for it. Is that a price that we--rather, is that a price that I--am willing to pay?