By Henry Green
In Mark 10, James and John ask Jesus for the positions of authority when he establishes his kingdom. The others learn of this and “became indignant” toward James and John for making such a request.
In the Mark passage, all of the disciples seem to misunderstand their role and the role of Jesus. So, Jesus calls them together to instruct them about the kingdom. He says: “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you” (Mark 10:42b-43a, NIV).
In other words, the kingdom of God is not about authority and control, it is about empowerment and freedom. Jesus goes on, in Mark 10:45, to spell this out with clarity, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (NIV). To contrast a religion of control with one of faith of freedom is the message of Jesus in Mark 10.
This contrast between control and freedom is a theme in the book Animal Farm, by George Orwell. In this story, the animals revolt against the farmer, and for a time there is harmony. The harmony does not last, however, and a battle among the animals ensues for control of the farm.
The pigs win and quickly change the seven rules of equality for all the animals to one rule that establishes authoritarian control for the pigs. The rule read, “All the animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than the others.”
Orwell believed that any form of exploitation should be met with resistance and replaced with a more equitable model. We have an example of this in the New Testament from the early church. “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need” (Acts 2:44ff, NIV).
Before Animal Farm was published in 1945, Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle, published in 1906. Sinclair describes, in graphic detail, the unsanitary conditions of the meat-packing industry and the public health problems they caused. He outlined the poverty of those who worked in that industry and connected their needs to the needs of everyone in the community.
Sinclair’s book was revolutionary and changed the business model of the meat-packing industry through new regulations to protect consumers, provide better conditions for workers, and produce more jobs. The result was a healthier population and more productive communities.
Did the new laws cost business and government more to implement? Yes. Did these restrictions offer cleaner, safer and healthier work environments? Absolutely, they did. Did these common-sense boundaries save lives by offering a safer product? You bet they did.
Orwell and Sinclair were right to claim that all are equal, all are worthy of respect and dignity, and no arrogant group of the self-appointed elite have the right to claim ownership of the whole Farm.
Today, many people live in a fog of misunderstanding created by the purveyors of fear. They forget the words of President Roosevelt in 1932, in the depth of the Great Depression, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” They forget the numerous times Jesus said, “Fear not…”
As people of faith, we have choices to make as we face the future. Do we follow the path of greed from an authoritarian narrative of fear and control? Or, do we follow the challenging path of service through an unselfish narrative of faith and freedom? For me it is simple, but never easy. I choose faith and freedom.