There’s a unity to this chapter that I’ve not noticed before. It contains 4 stories, all of which are about a question and an answer. The question, always posed by the “religious people” is this: Who do you think you are? Or, alternatively: What makes you think that you have the authority to do X?
Jesus’ answer: I am the Son of Man, the forgiver of sins and the lord of the sabbath. And I am the bridegroom, the…er…what exactly is that supposed to mean. There’s some cultural-historical piece that I’m missing here about the bridegroom. Here’s what one of the commentators suggests: Bridegroom = wedding. Wedding = celebration. Celebration = eat food (which rules out fasting). So, we should see Jesus as the marker of a time of celebration or something. Meh. Doesn’t exactly clench the exegetical issue, but its good enough for now.
Springing onward, we can see that the the who-do-you-think-you-are-question is one that arises in the context of a subversive someone challenging the conventions of the collective. The question, then, for me, as someone who desires to follow in the footsteps of that Subversive Sage, is this: how should I respond to the response of those whose wisdom is subverted?
(Side note: I’ve not been thinking very much about the subversive nature of the gospel. That’s kind of lame and I should get back on that. It seems like a productive way to find and escape those secret numinously noxious fumes that is the conventional air I breathe.)
Jesus’ response to the question in these instances is based in an appeal to his authority. Authority as a basic category of justification it seems is fast becoming a strange notion in 2012. Authority, these days, seems to be justified in virtue of some other basic reason. The government has authority only insofar as it represents that interests of its citizens well enough. Parents have authority only insofar as their demands respect fundamental moral claims and insofar as they (roughly) act in the interest of their kid. “Because I said so,” in other words, is becoming a less acceptable justification than before…or at least that’s how it seems.
There’s another notion of authority, however, that might be seen as kind of a short-hand for more basic reasons of justification. A person might have authority in virtue of their benevolence, knowledge, and assumed responsibility for some group of people.
Jesus responds to the pissed-off collective by invoking both forms of authority throughout the gospel of Mark. Here, we see brute authority. I am the Son of Man. Therefore, I am justified in doing X. This form of justification for action kind of makes me uncomfortable, and I think I know why its off-putting too.
It is because this form of justification is precisely what was going on with Abraham and Isaac. Abraham’s “authority” to kill his son was not derived from any other except that he was called to act in that way by the Authorizer.
On my more Kierkegaardian days, I’m okish with this view of authority (as ok as I can be given that it leads to the absurd conclusion that Abraham was a good guy for trying to off his son), which means that I should be ok with Jesus’ appeal to brute authority in these texts. Interesting discovery.
However, as I’ve already mentioned, Jesus does not exclusively appeal to this brute authority in his responses to the religious folk. Sometimes he appeals to what we might loosely call “reason” and “tradition-scripture.” Woah…I think there might be an epistemology implicit in the interaction of Jesus with the pharisees, an epistemology that I’ve just outlined.
I’ve been thinking about how epistemology is really important for Christians and for their ability to dialogue with one another. If an epistemology could be derived from looking at Jesus, that would be sweet…although there’s going to have to be some Christological issues that get worked out before that’ll happen.
I bet you Barth probably addresses all of this. I need to read that junk…