I’ve been pacing my way through Robert Farrar Capon’s commentary on Jesus’ parables, Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment. In the beginning part of the commentary, he makes a keen observation about the 4 gospels. The narrative of feeding the 4,000 appears in each gospel, which is unique, for much of the synoptic material (Matthew, Mark, Luke) does not make it into John. However, this story of feeding the 4,000 appears in all.
Capon feels that the feeding of the 4000 story is a pivot in the ministry of Jesus. Before, Jesus’ ministry is driven by miracles, the method of Jesus ushering in the kingdom of God. An appropriate way of seeing the kingdom come on earth, the literal brokenness being miraculously fixed by the power of God. After the feeding of the 4000, though, miracles only happen sparingly.
Capon says that there is a right handed power, that which is visible, measurable, and makes headlines. Jesus’ popularity because of the miracles is overwhelming, and Capon comments that somehow Jesus knew that after the feeding of the 4000, nothing would stop the massive crowd to demand Jesus march right into Jerusalem and take the kingdom away from the Romans by force.
Somehow, Capon notes, Jesus did not see this as sufficient to fix the brokenness in world in general, and Israel in particular.
So, Jesus adjusts to “left-handed power” a phrase from Luther. Left-handed power is more creative, imaginative, slower, weaker (it seems), and less measurable. Jesus seems to know this is the route towards transformation. More miracles and confronting Rome with fire against their fire will not change the world. It isn’t courageous to recapitulate that which has already torn the world apart.
In our day, perhaps the fault-line is with consumption. Consumption is tearing our world apart; it is tearing us apart. Consumerism is literally tearing individuals apart. Companies are literally looking at us in parts. From the shoes that we buy, the food we eat, to the bracket that we are placed in economically. It appears as if one does not even exist unless they are able to spend and borrow.
Isn’t it interesting how ministry can also be evaluated in the same hemisphere? It takes the form with different labels but it plays the same. In contextualizing the gospel in the consumer culture, we’ve hatched consumption-oriented disciples. An observation: we are in a bad place if someone’s most “Christian moment” this year was when they stood in a long line to buy a chicken sandwich.
It takes no courage to make the ekklesia a better thing in which to invest. It takes no courage to brand believers and call them disciples. The world rumbles along on its own tracks unless we can convince people that they are more than their consuming power. The idea of self, resources, the way we treat others, etc., all has to be reshaped because of an empty tomb. An empty tomb, you can’t get much more left-handed than that.
Imagine a people that are shaped by other measurements, impulses, paradigms than consumption, marketing, trading, investments, interest rates, etc.
That sounds like good news to me.