BEING BANNED IN JESUS’ NAME

Mercy Not Sacrifice!
May 31, 2024
PRACTISING PATIENCE!
June 13, 2024
Mercy Not Sacrifice!
May 31, 2024
PRACTISING PATIENCE!
June 13, 2024

Today we are hearing about more and more books being banned in Australia and the US.  It raises interesting questions about why and how books are banned.  In Australia it has been about pornography and sexual dialogue, LGBTQI+ stories, the incitement of violence, witchcraft, blasphemy, euthanasia, birth control, abortion, and political bias.  In examining some of the reasons for banning books, it has been argued the bible should be banned as it deals with all these issues.  The content of books continues to be taken seriously. In previous times, people entering Australia would have their luggage checked to see what they were bringing in. 

George Orwell’s 1984 continues to be one of the most banned books in recent history.  It stands alongside the recent Harry Potter series, Batman, Alice Walker’s Colour Purple; Gender Queer: a Memoir; George; To Kill a Mocking Bird; The Handmaid’s Tale; and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, to name a few. The lists offer us an insight into how we perceive our world, what it says about our fears, who we are and frequently, how much we deceive ourselves.

I’ve been thinking about this because it’s almost impossible nowadays to restrict people’s access to books, films and images with social media breaking down national boundaries.  Still, all countries continue to control access to the various forms of print and visual media limiting what their citizens can read or see including Australia.   

Why am I wondering about this?  It’s because I’ve been imagining Mark’s early Christian companions listening to this story about Jesus’ response to his family when they came looking for him, and the crowd watching when they came to find and possibly try to restrain him. We hear Jesus obviously not inviting them to join him and instead, asking rhetorically:

Who are my mother and my brothers?’  And looking at those who sat around him, he said: ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother. (Mark 8:33-35)

The Jesus we hear speaking in this text has just dramatically defined the church, the body of Christ, and laid out how comprehensively inclusive and welcoming is God for all people irrespective of their families.   He says: ‘whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother’!

Imagine Mark’s community sitting around this text in the same way those mentioned in the passage, sat around Jesus.  They look into each other’s faces as they hear the Lord’s words and you can imagine the confusion, surprise, horror, sadness and expectation.  Its worth remembering at this point what Paul wrote to the Galatians:

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

Debates over the definition of family are alive and robustly defended and rejected today!   In one of the commentaries, the writer noticed the outrage and offence taken at a children’s book written by Leslea Newman called ‘Heather has Two Mommies’, first published in 1989.  It was trying to tell a story of acceptance and inclusion, and instead it was seen as undermining the ‘traditional’ family. 

For all of us, I hope we’re a long way past such fears and rejection, with the wide range of family structures and members which are now so normal we don’t ‘see’ the issues anymore. And yet, the book bans prove me wrong.  This comment by Jesus in Mark’s gospel, therefore, should have had the traditionalists reaching for their bans once again. This reaction to Jesus’ inclusive and welcoming affection and compassionate, clear approval, is held within the larger story about Jesus’ family and the implications in the conversation between his earthly family and those listening and watching.

Have you also noticed Jesus did not mention his earthly ‘father’ in his family?  Jesus is dining with his new family members, when his original family come outside to remonstrate with him, because given the large crowds pressing around him so closely, they couldn’t even eat. 

When Jesus preached in Nazareth, his neighbours sneered at him, asking who he was to come and tell them what God was doing.  They named him as ‘the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses, Judas and Simon with his sisters.’   It is likely Joseph was dead, but there is an implied slur against Mary and the legitimacy of Jesus’ birth.  Her honour and of Joseph are being scrutinised by their gossipy questioning. 

We also recognise Jesus has left his family, the oldest son who, in undertaking his ministry was now going against social, cultural and religious expectations about how he should provide for his parents and family.  The story raises questions about how they felt about him, his ministry and what he was doing, creating yet another scandal which was now affecting them.  Its not easy being dragged into a bigger story of a prophet and Messiah in your family, when you haven’t been asked your opinion.

And yet, we are told the decision to follow Jesus will do all this and more for all of us.  The traditional ways of thinking and behaving about social expectations, culture and all our relationships are no longer relevant.  Jesus is clear his new brothers and sisters are those who bring God’s reign closer, by feeding the hungry, giving sight to the blind, setting free the oppressed and working for peace – those who do this work are his brothers and sisters. 

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus continually extends the boundaries of his spiritual family to a variety of dispossessed people, individuals left behind because of their disabilities, through mental health illnesses, because of racial, economic, gendered judgements designed to exclude and kill the ‘other’; and also because of poverty entrenched through this world’s systems of privilege, wealth, power and exclusion.

God’s gaze is loving, but Jesus is unpeaceful and he lived in unpeaceful times. He disturbs the peace of our precious status quo.  I hope you’re asking yourself questions about the way you live, think and pray about your relationship with God and your neighbours. The Lord be with you.

Bibliography

Jarvis, C.A., Johnson, E.E. [Gen. Eds]. 2014.  Feasting on the Gospels.  Mark. Westminster John Knox Press.  Louisville, Kentucky, USA.

Lucy Morris
Lucy Morris
Anglican Priest, International Speaker, Published Author, Social Justice Advocate and Activist.

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