Friday, May 26, 2006

Mk 10:42, "those who are regarded as rulers"

This is a vexing phrase. It is composed of the present participle of dokeo (to think, to seem, or to give an impression) and the infinitive "to rule"--so, "those who give the appearance of ruling." But because it does not translate well into English, the NIV has rendered dokeo as a passive. That is, the populous considers them rulers, which may well be the case. But Jesus' emphasis is not on their successful presentation of themselves as rulers, but on their self-promotion as rulers. Now, if we examine this from within the literary world of Mark's gospel, we find two figures that fit the bill of secular rulers: Pilate and Herod. Herod's rule is characterized by a drunken party in which he is foiled into executing John the Baptist by a bodacious promise made to a promiscuous pubescent step-daughter in the presence of his cronies in an attempt to present himself as a ruler. As for Pilate, he was coerced into executing Jesus by his clamouring constituents. They acted out of envy; he acted out of sheer political self-preservation. Both rulers gave the appearance of ruling but were, in fact, ruled by those considerably beneath them. Or shall we say they were were ruled by their desire to give the impression that they were rulers? This, in fact, is the genetic structure of earthly political power.


Blogger Jacob Paul Breeze said...

Very interesting, not least considering he's speaking to the 2 (and the 12) who, its clear by this point in St. Mark's gospel, are beginning to consider themselves leaders in the Messianic Age.

This is all the more appealing considering St. Mark's gospel's architecture. The point at which Jesus comes in His glory is not in pomp and circumstance, but when the titulus was affixed above His head. Indeed, James and John did not know what they were asking. When Jesus was crowned King, 2 brigands (lestai) were crucified next to Him. This is not the place for a full exposition, but these were no mere thieves. A brigand was a violent revolutionary, trying to bring the Kingdom of God by force. How multi-dimensional this becomes.

Perhaps St. Mark is inviting us to begin at our crucifixion as we consider ourselves as leaders for the sake of the world...

May 26, 2006 at 4:48 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...


"Or shall we say they were were ruled by their desire to give the impression that they were rulers? This, in fact, is the genetic structure of earthly political power."

That's a pretty categorical claim, Mr. Moore. Surely you can't mean that all earthly political leaders are ruled by their desire to give the impression that they are rulers. Isn't such a desire an evil, when contrasted with the desire (seen in Jesus) to give the impression that YHWH alone is ruler? And if such a desire is an evil, what does that say about the nature of earthly politics? How can earthly politics be both evil and established by God simultaneously?

Perhaps government isn't evil, but neutral, and yet you claim that the idolatrous desire to appear on top of things is the very structure of political power on earth. Or is it that men are evil (in this sense of wanting to appear to be rule-worthy) but government itself (the structure) is neutral? But what is a "government itself"? Is there such a thing? Governments clearly are made up of men. So what's the point of making the distinction between "government" and "governors"?

Was Cyrus ruled by the desire to give the impression that he was a ruler? And if so, in what sense is Cyrus God's servant? Certainly not in the same sense that Jesus was God's servant.

On the day Jesus died he spoke to Pilate, one of these "rulers," and he told Pilate that he came to testify to the truth. Jesus said that he was born to be king-- that that's the truth. (That's a pretty categorical claim, Mr. Moore.) And then Pilate showed everyone where the real power lie.

Do you really mean to say, Mr. Moore, that the only good king is a dead king? But a dead king is no king at all!


May 27, 2006 at 1:22 AM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...


For the rest of you, Mark and I talked about this face to face and came to an agreement. This is an elaboration of our agreement in my own terms.

There are two extremes we want to avoid:

On the one hand, we don't want to attribute "goodness" to government in general. That God establishes governments does not mean they are good; it certainly does not mean Christians should give their allegiance to them. The government is still a part of the old world order, but in the Risen Christ the Church is uniquely a part of New Creation. Moreover, we remember in I Samuel that Israel's decision to take a king was depicted as an outright rejection of YHWH. Salvation history through the line of David to Jesus can then be seen as God's way of giving Israel a king and himself simultaneously. Jesus is the King Israel asked for; he is one with the Father. The point is that earthly governments are always going to be evil but Christians need not despair of that because they are citizens of another kingdom.

On the other hand that doesn't mean we want to try to abolish earthly government. That all earhtly government is evil, depicted in Scripture as man's rejection of the rulership of God, does not mean that Christians do not submit to government. In fact, Christians can submit to government precisely because it is evil. Jesus' voluntary march down Golgotha enables the Church's submission in this regard. Just as Jesus submitted to the evil of the Roman empire, the Church can submit to the evil of all earthly kingdoms. We can do this not in the hope that these kingdoms will "turn out good in the end," but because we remember Easter. Christians know that radical subordination (but not outright obedience) to evil is possible because our God is the God of the resurrection. In the end, YHWH will determine who is righteous and who is true. He will do this by raising his own people up into the resurrection life of the Son of God.

Of course, the fact that earthly goverment is inherently evil does not mean it cannot be or do good, but the Church is in the world precisely to remind the world that the good it does is not the kind of good the Church is here to do, for the good of the world is oriented toward the world, but the good of the Church toward God. To be a part of the polis capable of worshipping God is what it means to "be saved."

So while the Church by its witness should be calling the world to justice, love, peace, hope, and faith, Christians are not invested in whether or not the world heeds this call. Christians need not be so invested because Christians, by virtue of their location in the Church, are already in Christ.

The point of all this, in a John 3:30 sense, is that it is not principally the individual Christian that is the agent of self-abegation but only insomuch as he or she is an extension of the Church. The Church is God's agent of self-abnegation in the world, and it accomplishes this by its radical commitment to love and justice coupled with its radical Easter-faith in the power of powerlessness. Church names the only political entity capable of absolute theism. The voice of the martyrs testifies.


June 2, 2006 at 11:10 AM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...


Again, this is put in my own terms. The way I have put this may not necessarily be the way Mark Moore would put it, and he may in fact disagree with me on some points.


June 2, 2006 at 11:12 AM  

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