#ShutTheHellUp... To convey a visceral Gospel, we must sometimes use visceral language.
(This is a week old repost. If you want to stay current visit Medium.com/fuckthisshit to stay caught up with the Advent calendar.)
Unsettled. Mark 1:2–3.
Mark’s Gospel starts with a bang. Its words pierce the first-century skies of Palestine. We rarely read — or hear — it that way, however. It’s been shut up for so long, hidden beneath layers of pious sentimentality, sanitized by what my friend and #ShutTheHellUp co-conspirator Tuhina Verma Raschecalls “purityranny.”
From the Saint John’s Bible (1998), the first handwritten Bible since the Middle Ages.
Mark is a story that refuses to back down. The shortest, oldest, and arguably most visceral of all the biblical narratives of Jesus, Mark says #ShutTheHellUp in many ways throughout its sixteen chapters — to the demons that plague God’s people; to the disciples who never seem to get it; to the powers and principalities who think they have a good handle on this uppity rabbi from Nazareth.
And to be honest, the Gospel of Mark doesn’t give a damn if we’re unsettled or not.
It’s sometimes difficult to get a good handle on biblical stories when we don’t encounter them in the way they were meant to be experienced. Our ancestors in the faith — when many of the stories of the Second Testament were first recorded — lived and breathed and worked and loved and died in a primarily oral culture.
And so when we read them today, often silently, alone, outside of community, from a book, we often miss the point entirely.
The former executive director of the Network of Biblical Storytellers, International, Dennis Dewey, says that when we tell Bible stories, our job is not to “bring the Bible to life.” Since, as people of the Book, we’re supposed to already believe in a living Word —
Our job is not to kill it.
I invite you to hear the story in this way, getting out of the way of its life-giving identity, learned by heart. No tricks, no gimmicks. This isn’t a midrash, either. Biblical storytellers aren’t making this up. These words come from our original script of scripture, passed down through the generations.
We’re so used to hearing these verses that we may miss the utter offensiveness of the first fourteen words.
It’s unsettling, this stunning proclamation to begin Mark’s Gospel.
This echo of Genesis is intentional. This is a creation story, y’all. The beginning of this story, though, doesn’t herald the beginning of the cosmos, but the beginning of a new world order. Everything is about to change.
…of the good news…
This word is also translated as “gospel,” and in today’s 21st-century we forget to divorce it from our overly Christian context. When Mark’s Gospel first appeared on the scene, the gospel was one thing, and one thing only: Pax Romana. It was the “peace through strength” propaganda of the Roman Empire. According to one contemporary historian, Rome “made a wilderness and called it peace.”
Caesar Augustus, the Roman emperor at the time of Jesus, was specifically called the “son of god,” the great “savior” of the whole earth, bringing “peace” to Rome. The announcement of this was heralded as “good news.”∞
Mark’s Gospel takes these words and unapologetically, unabashedly, unsettlingly turns them on their head.
Roman currency at the time of Augustus — the back of the coin names his God-like heritage, calling him “Divine Julius”
When Rome, in all its military might, conquered a people, whom they called barbarians (the word “barbarian” comes from ancient Greek, and simply means, “not Greek”), they would often erect a monument to honor it. This death and destruction was good news to those who lived under Rome! And they better believe it, and celebrate it, and be grateful for it, and fucking pledge allegiance to it — or else. (Sound familiar?)
…of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God.
According to Mark’s stunning opener, Jesus’ title (not his last name) is Christ. In other words, Jesus is Lord — the most ancient of all Christian proclamations. And in first-century Rome, that meant something subversive, something punishable by death — Caesar was not Lord.
These aren’t just nice adjectives for a carpenter’s son. These are radical, inappropriate words. To use the very words reserved for Caesar in order to describe Jesus was nothing less than treason.
The Gospel of Mark — truly, a good amount of the biblical narrative itself — unsettles the Powers That Be. This is intentional. And it’s dangerous.
It’s unsettling when the powerful and mighty hear this. Fifteen chapters after Mark’s provocative beginning, they string Jesus up on a tree, executing him for the whole world to see.
And it’s not just unsettling way back then.
We see the effects today when the powerful and mighty are unsettled: Poor people are blamed for their poverty. Trans people are murdered for their courage. Unarmed black people are shot for their insolence. Women are silenced for their honesty. People of color are demonized for their identity. People working for justice are shamed for their audacity.
And. That isn’t the end of the story.
The Gospel of Mark opens with a bang. Everything is about to change. A new world order is on the horizon. Now only if we could #ShutTheHellUp and listen for it.
∞ For a deep dive on this subject of Rome during the time of Jesus, read Kurt Willems’ thoroughly researched article.
About The Author
Today’s featured contributor is Tamika Jancewicz — a mother, womanist, and partner — is a spiritual empath and advocate for social justice and womyn empowerment. She is currently studying to obtain her MDiv at United Lutheran Seminary, while she spends her last two years as Vicar of Christ Lutheran Church in DC. She is a womanist theologian, who believes in the sacredness of the stories we choose to share. And she especially believes in the beautiful transformative power of biblical storytelling.
#ShutTheHellUp is a organized by Tuhine Verma Rasche and Jason Chestnut. They rely on a collective of authors to grapple with messages of the Advent season. Find out more at Medium.com/FuckThisShit