Power-Inverting Kingdom, take 2

On Friday I said a few words about the twelve disciples. How normative is Jesus’ selection of twelve men to be his ministry-extenders while on earth? This is a question that cannot be answered in a way that is abstracted from the narrative. The story of their failure, of their rejection of the gospel of the crucified messiah, undermines the claims to their normativity.

We have to remember that we’re reading stories. In stories, characters develop. Events in the narrative shape them. They respond. We all know that the twelve includes the betrayer Judas, but we also need to look closely at the other eleven and their betrayal of Jesus.

As I mentioned Friday, the turning point in the story is a turning point for the twelve: Yes, Jesus is the Christ (Peter’s confession in ch. 8), but this Christ is a suffering Christ–a claim for which Peter rebukes Jesus in a Satanic denial of the road ahead.

From this point on, the disciples lose their kingdom-extending role. Their failure plays out in several subsequent scenes.

After the second passion prediction, Jesus confronts the disciples about what they were arguing about on the road. They are shamed. They had been arguing about which is greatest.

Jesus inverts their assessment of the world: to be great is to be least and servant of all.

Then, Jesus takes hold of one of the least, the most powerless members of society, and shows the disciples what it means to be agents of the kingdom: “Welcome the child in my name.”

Of course, this has nothing whatsoever to do with who can minister in Christ’s name, right? I mean, this is just about patting little kids on the head, right?

Well, that’s what John thought: “Teacher, we saw someone throwing demons out in your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.”

Clearly, welcoming kids is one thing, taking up the master’s name and performing unauthorized ministry, ministry not delineated by the Twelve is something else!

Or maybe not.

Jesus said, “Don’t stop him. No one who does powerful acts in my name can quickly turn around and curse me. Whoever isn’t against us is for us” (Mark 9:39-40, CEB).

So I ask again: does the narrative of Mark uphold the idea that the twelve delineate the parameters for faithful ministry in the church?

And again the unfolding story itself pushes me in a different direction.

To the extent that we use the disciples as paradigmatic figures for excluding people from ministry we are embodying their own failed understanding of ministry in and for and under the Reign of God in Christ.

The gospel of the cross overturns such understandings of insider standing, power, and status. It rebukes our natural tendency to affirm as eligible leaders only those who are like the original insiders.

When we use the Twelve as a weapon for fending off women from church leadership we align ourselves with the misapprehending disciples rather than the gospel proclaiming Christ.

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