And Daniel Kirk Said This Too!

From Arise, CBE’s newsletter:

On Jesus’ Choosing Twelve Men

J. R. Daniel Kirk (PhD), New Testament professor at Fuller Seminary Northern California, is an author, and he blogs daily at Storied Theology (http://jrdkirk.com). He will be speaking in April at the CBE Houston Conference, “A New Creation. A New Tradition: Reclaiming the Biblical Tradition of Man and Woman, One in Christ.”

In last week’s Arise, I responded to John Piper’s description of Christianity as a “masculine” religion.

Today’s issue has to do with the significance of Jesus’ choosing of twelve men to be his disciples. This is one of several issues I take up in Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul?. The story within which this selection of the twelve is embedded leads us to draw a very different point from Piper’s.

Jesus chooses twelve men. These twelve Jesus specially commissions. Jesus came preaching, casting out demons, and healing. The disciples are sent to preach, heal, and cast out demons.

Jesus comes proclaiming and inaugurating the reign of God, and these men are sent out to participate in that coming. When Jesus feeds the 5,000, he hands the bread to them. They are the chosen. They are the insiders.

In contrast (let’s stick to Mark’s Gospel here), the women in the story are marginal. There are small handfuls of nameless women. They touch Jesus’ robe, they ask for healing for their daughters, they throw a few coins in a box in the temple, they anoint Jesus’ head with oil.

So while the women are coming in and going out, acting on faith and finding praise for their faith, it’s the boys who are getting it done!

Getting it done, that is, right up until the great, transitional moment in the story.

“Who do you say that I am?” asks Jesus. “You are the Christ.” Ok, so far so good. Then, Jesus begins to tell them what this title entails: “The Messiah must be rejected, suffer, and die. Then he’ll be raised.”

Peter rebukes Jesus. Jesus rebukes him back: “Get behind me Satan.”

What happens then? Move on to chapter 9, and the disciples who had been empowered to exorcise are unable to cast out a demon. The disciples who had been given the charge to proclaim cannot overcome the mute-making spirit.

Later in that same chapter Jesus again predicts his death. The disciples’ reaction? They walk along debating with each other about who is going to be greatest in God’s coming kingdom.

We begin to see what they don’t get about Jesus’ ministry: the cross turns the economy of the world on its head. They have a standard of greatness that entails a certain kind of leadership and power, but Jesus wants to transform their ideas. He wants them to see greatness in the cross and in the child.

As if Mark, or Jesus, thought we might miss the point, we get the whole thing a third time.

Jesus predicts his death, and this time the subsequent response of the disciples is James’ and John’s request to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand. Again, Jesus has to combat not merely the request, but the wrongheaded assumption about what greatness in the kingdom of God looks like:

“Jesus called them over and said, ‘You know that the ones who are considered the rulers by the Gentiles show off their authority over them and their high-ranking officials order them around. But that’s not the way it will be with you. Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant. Whoever wants to be first among you will be the slave of all, for the Human One didn’t come to be served but rather to serve and to give his life to liberate many people’ (Mark 10:42-44, CEB).”

In the story, the disciples do not understand what is entailed in leading the people of God. They think it is about greatness and power rather than service and death.

The twelve were committed to Jesus, and happy with him–but only as one who came with power. They lacked faith to participate in his way of death. They did not have eyes to see that the ministry of Jesus turned the economy of the world on its head.

Shall we return to the women now?

How are we to assess these women who, in the narrative world, are outsiders, on the margins?

Unlike the disciples who are rebuked for being of little faith, Jesus commends the nameless, bleeding woman for her belief: “Daughter, go in peace, your faith has made you well.”

Moreover, there is one episode where Jesus ties a human inseparably to the gospel story. It is the episode of the woman who pours oil over Jesus’ head. This looks to be a royal anointing! But when Jesus defends her he says, “Leave her alone, she has prepared my body beforehand for burial.”

The act of anointing prepares Jesus for burial: Messiahship and death are held together, and here is the only person in the whole story to get it. This is why “wherever the gospel is preached what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

What does it mean to live at the margins, to be unnamed? How does this compare with being the twelve, the guys, the insiders?

According to the economy of the world, with its measures of greatness, to be the twelve is to be exemplary, in the place to lead, to exclude others from leadership, to stand close to Jesus and guard the gates of who else can draw near.

And to the extent that we look to Jesus’ selection of them, and the apparent marginalization of the women, as paradigmatic for male leadership in the church, we show ourselves to be people whose minds have not yet been transformed by the very story to which we are appealing.

It is only by agreeing with the disciples’ way of assessing the world that we can see their “insider status” as a true insider status, to be replicated by other men in church history.

Jesus offers another way: You guys don’t get it! It’s the rulers of the Gentiles who lord authority over people. It shall not be so among you.

There is another way. It is the way of the cross.

There is another way. It is the way of the “marginalized” in the world’s eyes lying closest to Jesus in faith and understanding.

Are we really supposed to hold up as our model the “Satan” who denied the gospel of the crucified Christ, and claim that Peter is paradigmatic of the place of men as insiders and faithful leaders in the church?

Or should we not seek out the one who did the good deed for Jesus, holding together Messiah and death from her place at the margins? Should we not seek out the one who sought out Jesus merely to touch the fringe of his garment and learn from her what it means to walk in faith?

The irony of appealing to the boys as insiders is that in so doing we show ourselves to be adopting the boys’ understanding of power, privilege, and leadership in the kingdom.

And this view is roundly rebuked by Jesus in words of dissuasion and the work of the cross.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://www.everything.org Jeff Cook

    Great Thoughts.

  • John W Frye

    very thought-provoking and humbling

  • EricW

    I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing Dr. Kirk in Houston. I guess that’s another book I need to buy and read. (I need to re-read Payne’s book, since he’ll be speaking, too.)

  • Dana Ames

    Yes, very good thoughts.

    My only concern is that, because of this insight, people might get the idea that the women were somehow “better” than the men on some level. Our thinking does tend to get skewed like that – that’s part of why we have had the problem to start with.

    Dana

  • http://jrdkirk.com J. R. Daniel Kirk

    Dana, that’s a real danger. As an overall assessment of Mark’s Gospel, we can’t simply take these two sets of characters. Its value is in taking those who are perhaps the most “inside,” the closest to Jesus, and contrasting them with the apparently most marginal, least regarded by the narrator and other characters.

    But there are other characters as well, including named women who fail, blind Bartimeus who sees and names, celebrates and follows.

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    Thank you, Daniel, for your challenge to all of us not to imagine ourselves among the insiders, in whatever divisions we naturally make amongst ourselves. ISTM that Saul/Paul’s story repeatedly reaffirms that we need to guard against this habit of self-consoling by our natural group.

    First, he is the Pharisee “insider” who is blinded into becoming an outsider. Then, he remained an outsider among the Christians, until he was brought inside by first, Ananias, then Barnabas. He consistently refused to make a new “insiders” club dividing himself off from ostensibly strong/weak, offering grace & welcome to all sorts of folk whom the Spirit calls. His attitude as a Spirit-led, self-emptying continual-outsider, from my POV, is exemplified in 1 Cor. 9 (+ Romans 14-15:13, 2 Cor. 5:16. etc.).

    Thanks, Scot, for bringing Daniel’s writing to your readers’ attention!

  • Alice

    My weary soul needed this insight today more than anyone could know. Thanks, Scot, for posting it. And for keeping a steady, strong hand on the tiller of this volatile topic. Oh, how we need reasoned, wise, kingdom-hearted thinking in this arena … and oh, how we seem to lack it at times. Thank you, Dr. Kirk, for helping us see what we are often too blind to see … the Kingdom at work in the margins and in the marginalized.

  • Dana Ames

    Daniel,

    Yes indeed. I am coming to appreciate, through your work and that of others, the structural and narrative aspects that have been transmitted in the bible. They are there for a reason, not least of which is to soften our hardened hearts.

    Thanks.

    Dana

  • JohnM

    And yet in spite of all, these twelve men were the ones Jesus chose.

  • http://communityofjesus.wordpress.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    Great stuff. So very thought provoking. I look forward to reading your book, Daniel. (facebook friend, so I guess I can get away with calling him, Daniel. ha)

  • P.

    Given the position of women in society, it simply wasn’t possible for Jesus to choose any women. What he did do for women (speaking with them, teaching them, etc.) was radical as it was. People tend to forget how different the culture back then was from our own.

  • Susan N.

    P. (#11) – your point is well-taken, imvho. One of the starkest examples in the Gospels, it seems to me, is Jesus sitting down with the Woman at the Well. If I remember correctly, Jesus’ disciples were more than a little put out with him for breaking the rules. I have read one POV on that encounter which posits the Woman at the Well as the first evangelist, since she ran back to her neighborhood and shared the good news that Jesus had given her!

    Also thinking about that poor outcast, the demon-possessed (Legion) man in the country of Gerasenes’ (Mark, Luke) / Gadarenes (Matthew). After his restorative encounter with Jesus, the man begged to be allowed to leave with Jesus. Jesus told him to go back and share his story with the people of his home town. Unlikely evangelist (marginalized), or exactly the kind of person Jesus uses best? I love that about Him. Don’t you, P.?

  • Michael J. Teston

    For years it has been clear to me that the “women” got it and got it early on. the “12″ were the only “men” who even showed and interest. After a third mission trip to Haiti, I am in total agreement with the comment, “What does it mean to live at the margins, to be unnamed? How does this compare with being the twelve, the guys, the insiders?” those indeed are the questions we need to ask and are impressed upon me as I walk through the rubble and the people who reflect the image of God in Haiti. I have grown to feel at home among such people only to come back to a people whose celebrity worship (that includes so called celebrity Christians) is embarrassing and a people who always want to be in charge and have their way, like Peter. Who will not embrace suffering. I came home wanting simply to evaporate into the margins and the marginal free at last to live. I am exhausted by the likes of the 12.

  • Fish

    If Jesus had chosen women disciples, they would have been stoned to death pretty quickly. I see no correlation between a practical decision of the best way to spread the gospel and an eternal condemning of women to secondary status.

  • Henry

    Fish,

    Deborah was not stoned to death. Neither was Miriam or Junia or Priscilla or the many other women egalitarians showcase. You can’t have it both ways.

  • Henry

    In addition,

    if you truly believe that line of reasoning, then you should support male-only preachers in modern day patriarchal societies, just like Jesus did in his time.


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