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The Politics of Prayer – Br. James Koester

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Br. James Koester

Hebrews 12: 1 – 4
Psalm 22: 22 – 30
Mark 5: 21 – 43

It’s been quite a week. It’s been quite a week and, no doubt there is more to come. We have seen protests, demonstrations, and acts of witness, support and solidarity. We have seen millions in this country and around the world on the streets, in airports, in front of hotels all voicing their concern, their objections, and their resistance. It’s been quite a week, and there promises to be more to come. It seems that there is a new normal taking root, not just in this country, but around the world. My hunch, and it’s only a hunch, is that what we have seen in the past week, is what the next four years will be like, so we had all better get used to it.

For us a Christians as we watch the news, read the newspapers, talk with our friends and neighbours the questions at times like these is always: “should the Church be involved? Should the Church ever be involved?” There are those among us who would argue that the Church should stay out of politics; that the Church should never take a stand on this issue or that; that the Church must limit itself to the spiritual realm and leave the temporal realm alone. There are those who would argue that Jesus was not political; that he came to establish a heavenly kingdom and not an earthly one; that he opposed the mixing of the things of God with the things of Caesar, and so should we.

But the problem, at least as I see it, with that attitude, is that the gospels are political. You cannot read Scripture without being immersed in the political world. The very first thing my professor said in my first year political science class at university is that politics is about power and influence, the use and abuse of power, and that everything we do is an exercise, for good or ill, of power. If that is true, and 40 some years of pondering it would indicate to me that it is, then the Church is very much a political entity. The moment the Church proclaims: blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness[1] or love your neighbour[2], or what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God[3] as we heard on Sunday, then the Church plants herself in the world of politics because hunger, righteousness, love, neighbourliness, justice, kindness and humility are all about the exercise of power and influence and thus are political acts.

With that in mind, the gospel appointed for today is an extremely political text, because both the larger story, that of Jairus and the healing of his sick daughter, as well as the story within the story, that of the woman with the hemorrhages, are stories about people using their influence in order to have Jesus exercise his power.

One, Jairus, is himself an influential man for his is one of the leaders of the synagogue.[4] The other is someone of little influence, a sick woman.[5] In her desire to get well she breaks down long established barriers between the genders in order to touch a man to whom she is not related. That act alone, breaking down walls between genders, is an incredibly political act. Both in their need approach Jesus, one publically and when [Jairus] saw [Jesus], fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, that she may be made well and live,”[6]the other, as it were, privately, she had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”[7] Both were looking for Jesus to exercise his power over disease and death. Both were rewarded, first the woman:“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease,”[8] and then Jairus: for Jesus took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.[9] In both cases Jesus’ exercise of power, and Mark is quite clear that Jesus was immediately aware that power had gone forth from him[10] when the woman touched him, is, if politics is about the use of power, a political act.

For the Christian both of these stories are stories about prayer, because in both cases the individuals went to Jesus in their need. It is also a teaching about who Jesus is, at least for Mark and the Markan community. Before these two healing stories we see Jesus teaching about the kingdom of God, [11] calming the storm,[12] and casting out demons.[13] Immediately following the healing of Jairus’ daughter we see that he has confounded his hometown crowd. Mark tells us that Jesus left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary* and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence* at him.[14]

Slowly but surely Mark is painting a picture of Jesus as someone empowered by God to further God’s work of redemption by healing and restoring creation, including humanity, to its rightful dignity where disorder, demons, disease and death are defeated. By restoring the dignity of life to a little girl, Jesus demonstrates his power over death. By restoring the dignity of health to a sick woman, Jesus demonstrates his power over disease. By restoring the dignity of wholeness to a man possessed, Jesus demonstrates his power over demons. By restoring the dignity of order to the wind and the waves, Jesus demonstrates his power over disorder and chaos. And soon Jesus’ exercise of power over disorder, demons, disease and death will threaten the political power of the establishment, who use chaos and threats to maintain their own power. Soon, as we know, they will have no choice but to remove Jesus in order to maintain their power.

As Christians, when we use prayer as one of the ways to restore dignity to the least, the last, and the lost; when we use prayer to restore the dignity of order over disorder, the dignity of wholeness over demons, the dignity of health over disease, the dignity of life over death we are engaged in a political activity, for we seek to further God’s work of redemption by offering our love in inter­cessory prayer and action, to be used by God for [the] healing and transformation[15] of creation, as we ask God to use God’s divine power in this work of redemption. By its nature, then, prayer for others, and ourselves, is political because we are asking God to intervene with power in a particular situation.

We are also engaged in a political act whenever we seek to live out our baptismal vocation. In the Baptismal Covenant we are asked: Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?[16] In a life dedicated to respecting and restoring dignity to others, we cannot help but be political, for human dignity is inseparable from adequate food, shelter, clean water, medical care, education, respect regardless of gender, orientation, race, religion or country of origin. And all of these are about the use, or abuse, of power.

So where does that leave us?

It leaves us where many people find themselves today: here on our knees before God begging Jesus to come and heal our world and this nation. It also leaves us on the streets with signs and whistles and pink hats demanding that all people, and indeed all creation, be treated with the dignity with which and for which we were first created.

Don’t let anyone tell you that prayer is not a political act, or that the Church has no place in the politics of the nation. Prayer is perhaps the most political act of all, and the Church nothing less than God’s body politic.

[1] Matthew 5: 6

[2] Matthew 22: 39

[3] Micah 6: 8

[4] Mark 5: 22

[5] Mark 5: 25

[6] Mark 5: 22 – 23

[7] Mark 5: 27 – 28

[8] Mark 5: 34

[9] Mark 5: 40 – 43

[10] Mark 5: 30

[11] Mark 4: 1ff

[12] Mark 4: 34ff

[13] Mark 5: 1ff

[14] Mark 6: 1 – 3

[15]SSJE Rule of Life; The Mystery of Intercession, Chapter 24, page 49

[16]Book of Common Prayer, 1979, page 305

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1 Comment

  1. Jennifer on February 12, 2017 at 16:32

    Thank you.

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