Christology The Performer and the Performance

Framing the calling of the first four disciples (1.16—20) are accounts of the cosmological importance of Jesus's work — the unresolved conflict with Satan in the wilderness and the casting out of the unclean spirit from the man in the synagogue at Capernaum. Framing the ordaining (epoiesen) of the Twelve (3.13—19) are accounts again of the cosmological importance of Jesus's work — the unclean spirits reveal that he is the Son of God and the accusation by the Jerusalem scribes that he is the agent of Beelzebub (which issues into the parable of binding the strong man). Personal histories are

25 Austin Farrer has observed that 'the control of the Spirit is visible and evident; it issues in precisely that shaping and patterning, that unfolding of symbol and doctrine, which the Gospel exhibits' (A Study in Mark, p. 9). My thesis would agree with this — what I am suggesting, and requiring, is an appreciation of the operation of the Trinity in Mark's Gospel. Not that there is an explicit doctrine of the Trinity in the Gospel, but there needs to be some awareness of the interrelationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit for the association between Christology and mimesis to be coherent. Certainly Mark insists upon the singleness of God (10.18; 12.29, 32), Jesus as God's representative (and therefore dependent on the Father) and the Holy Spirit as mediating the power by which Jesus's representativeness can be substantiated. The baptism scene, as Walter Kasper observes, 'has a clear Trinitarian structure' (The God of Jesus Christ, London: SCM, 1984, p. 245). There is no analysis of the Trinity in Mark's Gospel because no analysis is possible. The key relationship in such an analysis is the relationship between Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ and the Godhead. That is, the Christological relationship. And it is the impossibility of completely understanding that relationship which is the burden of Mark's Gospel.

26 See Wolfgang Iser's influential concluding chapter — 'The Reading Process: A Phenomenologi-cal Approach' — in his book The Implied Reader (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974). He takes up the concept of 'concretising' from the work of Roman Ingarden. Ricreur, in volume I of Time and Narrative, relates this reader—response approach to the Aristotelian categories of mimesis and muthos. 'Mimesis ... as an activity, the mimetic activity, does not reach its intended term through the dynamism of the poetic text alone' (p. 46). In 'concretising' the textual performance, then, the reader completes the mimetic operation within the text. The narrative's mimetic activity is a net within which the reader is caught. See Terence R. Wright's 'Margaret Atwood and St Mark: The Shape of the Gaps' in Robert Detweiler and William G. Doty eds., The Daemonic Imagination: Biblical Text and Sacred Story (Atlanta, Ga.: Scholar's Press, 1990) for an analysis of what the implied reader in Mark's Gospel is expected to supply in the account of the healing of the demoniac.

translated into a cosmological story being worked out in the kingdom of the in-between: the in-between the polarity of good and evil, God and Satan, order and chaos, being inside and being outside. It is this process of translation which is important; this process of transfiguration which is related to the initial call for metanoia — the movement into an alternative epistemology. It is a translation associated with imitating the teacher, the performer.

The disciples' commission is the extension of Jesus's own mission: they too are given authority 'to cast out demons'. And ekballein echoes throughout the latter part of chapter 3, as it does throughout the latter part of chapter 1 and in chapter 9 — two other chapters important for the calling and commissioning of the disciples. But Jesus Christ is not just the teacher/ performer, in commissioning others he is also the author (poieo)21 of a continuing performance. He both acts and directs the action; he is both a representative (as the Father's agent, as God's performer) and author of the representational. There is created, then, in this story, through this story, a chain of substitutions — from the Father to the Son, from the Son to the Twelve, from the Twelve to the Church. Christ comes to initiate this chain and, as Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe has observed, 'the "essence" of mimesis [is] precisely about vicariousness, carried to the limit ... endless and groundless — something like an infinity of substitution and circulation ...: the very lapse "itself" of essence'.28 Without any beginning and without any end, there is only substitution, there is only the chain of representation. This chain is the mimesis and the poiesis; this chain is the nature of narrative; this chain, in Mark's narrative, is Christological.

For Christology, like narration and mimesis, concerns representation in two interrelated forms. First, it is about constitutional representation — the standing-in of an official substitute for the actual presence of another. In this case, Jesus enacts a double constitutional role, the first properly ascribed to God the Father by the Jewish authorities and the unclean spirits. Jesus acts not in his own name, but in the name of God. In this connection see 1.24 and the double genitive of the title Holy (Person) of God; and 2.7 where God is the sole forgiver of sins. Jesus, in this sense, is the outward and mediating sign of a God and an author who cannot be represented; just as the Gospel (as text) is the mediating and substituting chain of signifiers for the absent Jesus Christ — the one who is ascended. But he also represents us — humankind — before the Father. If the first constitutional act is the basis for

27 The Word in this Gospel bears something of the power and creativity of the classical notion of poiesis, which Aristotle associates directly with mimesis in Poetics. For an examination of this association see Ricreur, Time and Narrative, vol. I, pp. 45—51.

28 Typography, p. 116.

our understanding of the incarnation, the second constitutional act is the basis for our understanding of atonement. Secondly, Christology is about literary representation — the employment of language to represent the nature of that constitutional representation, to enquire into its character. Jesus's life is the performance within which the salvation promised by God is made effective for all; just as the narration ofJesus's life, work and teaching is the performance (re-enacted by each reader/listener) by which the salvation effected by God in Christ is made available to all. Both these forms of representation are associated through the doctrine of incarnation. Each is the Word made flesh, though the discursive representational activity only receives its power and creative authority on the basis of the prior incarnation of God. There is an analogical relation between these two forms of representation.

Characters are transformed in the text (just as readers/listeners are by the text) through assuming their new identity as representatives, as paradigms. Simon becomes Peter, James and John become Boanerges, and the restitution of sight to a blind Jew on the road to Jerusalem becomes parabolic of epistemological change. The same occurs within the language performing the representation. Words are transfigured and given new, more ambivalent meanings. The encounter with the scribes from Jerusalem and the subsequent clarification of Jesus's mission to bind Satan, concludes with Jesus's natural family 'standing outside' (with the added irony of them sending [aposteilan] for him). But Jesus turns to those he had appointed 'that he might send them out' (3.14) and informs them that they are his mother and brothers. 'Whoever does [poiese] the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother' (3.35). Words become dislodged from their conventional settings — and we are now at the crux of Mark's Christology: Jesus the teacher, Jesus the performer, Jesus the teller of parables and a parable himself.

When signifiers become detached from, and assume more importance than, identifiable signifieds, or when signifiers hang only loosely related to a signified, only two responses are possible. One is to have faith which believes the two are related in some hidden way; a faith which participates in the crisis of meaning that Jesus Christ has come to heal. (We see this in the way the Syro-Phoenician woman enters into the kind of discourse Jesus is employing. She does not seek to understand the new symbolic relations being drawn between 'children', 'bread', 'dogs' and their conventional meanings. She does not attempt to interpret or resolve the enigma at all. She takes up the mode of thinking and speaking (and perceiving the world) that Jesus performs.) The other possible response is to dismiss the detaching that is being done, the poiesis, as madness. (We see this in attempts to claim Jesus is possessed and the observation by his friends (the irony!) that 'he is beside himself' (3.21).) The parabolic teaching (haggadah) stands directly opposed to the Pharisiac literalism (of what Lacan would call 'the discourse of knowledge') of their halacha. Items and actions and roles commonly understood by a community — lamps and wine-skins, seed and grapes, crop growing and vineyard management, physicans and bridegrooms — become dislodged from conventional contexts, their meaning set afloat on the tides of storytelling. They become part of a performance that draws disciples and readers into their suggestive depths. It is not so much a way of life that Jesus is teaching — we cannot reduce the parables to a simply ethical or halachic content. Jesus teaches a way of thinking and perceiving, a meta-noia, a way of reading and understanding (or living without possession of total understanding). The parables follow and foster conflict.

The parables are forms of testing, or temptation, that draw the reader/ listener away from the towns and cities of familiarity and into the wilderness, the storms at sea, the place in-between and under-defined. The question that surfaces — for us as readers, for Mark who sews his traditions together, for those disciples listening to the teacher — Jesus perceives in his spirit and pronounces (while refraining from answering): 'How are you going to understand all the parables?' (4.13). For in a world of floating signi-fiers, where meaning is only potential and where the lesson of the fig tree must be learnt in order to be saved, a hermeneutic must be found to stabilise the vertigo of semiosis. Jesus as historical person destabilises, deconstitutes the familiar world — this is the character and effect of his performance. As the Christ, the performer, he will bring salvation from this effect. It is his authority as the Son of God that controls the raging storms, the dark thrashing of the sea of chaos which the parables issue into (4.36—41). Christ sent from God as God's representation, rescues readers from the turmoil of endless interpretation. He is salvation because he is the hermeneutic. He performs, for us who participate in the jostling crowds and the fevers of possible meaning, an act of healing which is an act ofjudgement.29 Reading/ listening/interpreting becomes a form of ongoing exorcism; it performs an increasingly realised, but never finalised, eschatology. The one who reads is being and will be saved.

The performer is inseparable from the performance, the person from the

29 For Karl Barth, Jesus Christ is 'the judge judged in our place', but he recognises also that this judgement is not simply negative: to make a judgement is to bring order and understanding. For Barth the essence of the sin for which Christ came to atone is the human belief in the freedom of judgement — that unaided by the grace of God, we can read aright and understand the situations that confront us truly. See Die Kirkliche Dogmatik, IV. 1 (Zurich/Zollikon: Evangelischer Verlag, 1953), pp. 231-311; Church Dogmatics, IV. 1, tr. G.W. Bromiley (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956), pp. 211-83.

work done. The telling of the parable is inseparable from the telling of that telling. And Jesus Christ as the representation of God is inseparable from the narrative's representation that makes that representation possible. The power of the parabolic cannot be contained, it overflows the teaching ofJesus and informs the whole of the Gospel of Mark. For the power of the parabolic is the drive towards death and resurrection — the death and the resurrection of one's understanding, one's understanding of oneself and the events of the world. And so the storm at the end of chapter 4 is not only a prefiguration of Christ's entrance into death and exit into the post-apocalyptic calm. It is a prefiguration also of baptism — our entrance into death and exit into the parabolic realm, the realm of the liminal, where noeo is transformed (meta) into metanoia. Serious readers must take up the cross that operates within the


It is a cross that operates within the Christology also — and not simply in terms of the historical crucifixion of Christ. The historical is always emblematic in a world where the parabolic is the order of the true. The question emerges "Who then is this ...?' (4.41) — outos being yet another indefinite demonstrative pronoun. The question is a response by both the disciples and the readers/listeners to the parables and to an engagement in the performance of Christ as the ruler of creation. The question articulates the crisis at the heart of Christology in Mark: who is this man, this Christ? This is a crisis without textual resolution. The nature of Christ receives no unambivalent definition. Any Christology issues only in and through the economy of response, with representation providing the basis for engagement. The crisis is promoted by two means: first, the Christological titles; secondly, Mark's 'scandalous' presentation of Jesus. Again, what is foregrounded in both means is Christology as an enigma to be drawn into, worked at, but never mastered.

The titles and allusions to identity are always ambivalent. Hence there are papers and books on the meaning of the 'Son of Man' and whether Jesus did or did not intend to allude to himself as the I AM in 6.50, 13.6 and 14.62. There are shifting Christological perspectives throughout the narrative — Jesus the Son of Man, the Son of God, the theios aner, the Son of David, the king, the apocalyptic teacher and the Messiah. There is no single overarching focus for these perspectives. There is no single unambivalent presentation ofJesus Christ. Ambivalence is essentially what Mark is aiming

30 This is a theme that could well relate to the historical Sitz im Leben proposed by Martin Hengel in his Studies in the Gospel of Mark (London: SCM, 1985). The Gospel 'was written in a time of severe affliction in Rome after the persecution of Nero and before the destruction of Jerusalem, probably during ad 69' (p. 30).

for, because it fosters the crisis of representation which the coming of Christ, God's representation, engenders. The mystery of Christ's nature cannot ever be resolved and so theological investigations into this nature (beyond the bare markers set out in the Nicean and Chalcedonian creeds) are exercises in speculation, in imagination. One Christological model is qualified by another, as T.J. Weeden's thesis — that Hellenistic Christology is at odds with 'Mark's own suffering Christology presented in his theologia cruris'31 — demonstrates. One Christological model is contextualised, modified, even ironised by another: see the way the suffering Son of Man is played out in parallel with the clearer presentation of the Son of God in the Passion narrative, and the way the Messianic and Royal Christologies are both foregrounded and undermined in the closing chapters.32 But each model, crystallising in a title, stands. Jesus Christ is the focus for them all. He promoted them and the narrative now keeps them in play. The Christology is not explained nor defined, and, in this sense, Mark's narrator shows that he is not the master of his material; that there is no human position possible whereby one could understand, explain and define the representative nature ofJesus Christ.

In the same way, Mark's representation of Jesus Christ is graphic and sharp-edged, but often puzzling because it disrupts and scandalises our expectations. Jesus is passionately and emotionally human — feeling anger and hunger and grief. Yet he is also in possession of prophetic insight and supernatural abilities. Mark continually surprises us by the actions and reactions of this character. Jesus is never the man we expect. His behaviour is not predictable. We are not given a character the logic of whose motivation and reasoning is made evident. There is no stated reason (although commentators are forever trying to supply one) why Jesus tells one man to say nothing about his healing (1.44) and another to go and proclaim it (5.19).There is no stated reason why Jesus asked the blind man, 'Can you see anything?' (8.23), as if he doubted his own ability to heal. There is no evident explanation why

31 'The Heresy that Necessitated Mark's Gospel' in W. Telford ed., The Interpretation of Mark's Gospel (London: SPCK, 1985).

32 My argument here challenges that of Jack Dean Kingsbury in his book The Christology of Mark (Philadelphia, Penn.: Fortress Press, 1983). He defined two main Christological lines in Mark: the first is a confessional and secret identity (encompassing the titles of Davidic Kingship, the Messiah and the Son of God); the second is a public identity (encompassing the title of Son of Man). These two Christologies 'do not infringe upon, or undermine' each other (p. 175), they are complimentary. The reading I am proposing suggests there is more irony, tension and ambivalence in the use and treatment of these titles. Nevertheless Kingsbury recognises the concern in Mark to engage the reader/auditor and the relationship of that concern to Christology: 'hearing aright the gospel-story of the divinely wrought destiny of Jesus ... is indispensable for understanding aright his identity' (p. 174). Unfortunately he does not pursue this in any depth.

Jesus should be so abrupt and rude to the Syro-Phoenician woman; or why he should turn so viciously on what is at worst a naïve remark by Peter (8.33); or why he should be so tolerant to someone driving out demons in his name when he is not a follower (9.39). There is no evident explanation why Jesus should curse the fig tree for something it was unable to do. Again, commentators are not slow at putting forward an explanation for all these irregularities, but that is the point — the irregularities foster and encourage comment, engagement in an economy of response. They make the character of Jesus hard to grasp because his actions and reactions do not adapt easily to our conventions (and the conventional readings and portraits we have created of him). Just when we think we are getting somewhere, understanding the identity of this Christ, we are continually confronted with an enigma, narrative aporia and seeming inconsistency.33

Christology, which is attempting to fathom the nature and work of Christ as the representation of God, is and remains a riddle in Mark. It is a riddle that is part of and encourages the crisis of representation, the character of mimesis, evident throughout the Gospel and pre-eminent in the parables. The power of the parabolic, that gave authority to the teaching of Christ, continually spills over into the Gospel as a whole and the parable of Jesus Christ that Mark is narrating. So the parables and the narrative events have a curious way of impacting upon each other — the man among the Gadarene swine is prefigured in Jesus's parable of the strong man who needs to be bound. Parable-telling and the chronicling of events are both forms of storytelling and representation. The stories told and enacted, like Christ the performer and the work of Christ as the performance, cannot be made distinct. Each echoes the other. In such a mirroring maze of imitation, it is the intimate relationship between the way ofJesus Christ and the way of Mark's Gospel and the way in which the readers/listeners/followers must listen and to which they must conform (or be conformed) that legitimises the authorship and canonises the text. The genitives are always double-sided.

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