Gospel Power Plays
Richard Beck of Experimental Theology reads Jesus’s statement “Call no man on earth father” as an attack upon patriarchal power structures and upon power plays in general:
So the issue isn’t really about gender, about if God has a “masculine” or “feminine” feel. The issue is about the use of power within the Kingdom. The discussion about gender is really just a cover for a powerplay, about who is in charge and who gets to call the shots. And as we’ve seen, Jesus is absolutely hostile to this sort of thing. When this sort of thing is going on in the Kingdom Jesus will be bringing the sword. There should be no peace in this instance, only conflict with the power structure.
Jesus completely undermines the powerplay. Power in the Kingdom is not “lording over” people, with some giving orders and others obeying orders. That’s the way the world works. And if you see that sort of stuff going on in a church you’re witnessing heresy. Christians don’t give orders to Christians. The Christian way is the cross. The greatest amongst us are the servants. The preeminent amongst us are the ones washing feet. We seek to serve rather than be served. That’s how power looks in the Kingdom of God.
Substantially, I agree with this reading, but I’m wondering how far I can take it. For all my love of “weakness of God” theologies (e.g. Ilia Delio and John Caputo), I cannot escape the associations of “God” with power and religion with its exercise. Religion has historically wielded the power of priests and princes, and this is not a history that can be overcome, even if secularism wins the future. Starting at the most fundamental level, the transmission of Jesus’s words necessitates the play of power. Who records? Who interprets? Who translates? Who speaks? Who publishes? Whose voice is revered? These are questions of power.
The words of Jesus (assuming they are his words) have come to me by way of power structures, of some kind or another. Try as I might, I cannot image a path from Jesus’s lips to my eyes and ears that would not, at some level, require the exercise of power, of priest-types if not princes. Consequently, I don’t think I can interpret Jesus as renouncing the way of worldly power absolutely and altogether. Instead, I read his subversive statement as a critique of power, especially the power of those who claim to speak in his name, a critique that should shake the foundation of every exercise and structure of power and illuminate their weaknesses, flaws, and ultimate doom.