Sunday, 30 October 2016

Undermining the patriarchy


Three of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) record Jesus' witty phrase that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. In each case the listeners are amazed but Jesus refuses to water it down. One can surmise that the hearers assumed that the rich and powerful always get priority. But are they amazed that Jesus turns the priorities upside down? Or amazed that he would speak so subversively in public?

Who knows?

But whatever the reason, Peter recognises the great reversal implied by Jesus and says to him "We have left everything to follow you!"

Now the next bit is a fascinating example of the importance of what is not said. Jesus' reply to Peter is recounted in most detail by Mark, who writes:
‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields – along with persecutions – and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30)

The core message here is that throwing your lot in with Jesus will disrupt the normal family alliances, but will replace them with a new community in which there is abundant safety and resources, and above all, company. Oh, and hardships.

But Gerhard Lohfink highlights something I have never seen before. Of all the things you might leave behind there is one missing from the list of things you might gain. There are no fathers in the new community! The patriarchy is left behind!

It is a subtle reminder of the Jesus' earlier observation about rich people: don’t assume that if you are rich, powerful and male then there will be a seat of honour for you in God's kingdom. You might not get in at all. If you do get in there will be no place for your male, controlling, dominating, privileged status.

Of course, I'm not like that … well, not much :(

At the risk of watering this point down, but in order to be thorough, there is something else to add about fathers. The omission of fathers from the new community of course does not mean that fathers are excluded, just that they will need to leave their fatherhood at the door. Jesus says that more explicitly elsewhere: "Do not call anyone on earth 'father', for you have one Father, and he is in heaven" (Matthew 23:9). That must never be assumed to mean that there is one dominate alpha male father in heaven and as a consequence no-one else should dare compete for the role of "father". As I have written elsewhere, Jesus has a very different idea of how the title "father" should be applied to God.

(This post is inspired by Gerhard Lohfink's observation in Jesus of Nazareth, p. 237.)

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