Empowerment of the Disempowered – A.M. Arul Raja

Empowerment of the Disempowered:
Some Glimpses into Jesus’ Life and Mission

por A. Maria Arul Raja

1. Power Discourse in Jesus’ Praxis

The contemporary chaos created by the profit-triggered culture of unbridled consumerism and violent developmentalism has to be encountered with an alternative vision and committed mission at the global level. The growing culture of hatred towards the people counted to be migrants and untouchables is to be replaced with the compassionate embrace of such marginalized people across various countries. When these disempowered people are further crushed down with multiple systemic evils, we need to identify alternate visions of their empowerment. This exploration into subaltern empowerment could be fruitful through a close re-reading of the power discourse transpired in the life and mission of Jesus. Perhaps, this could inspire the marginalized people for effectively envisioning a new world order free from every trace of discriminatory hierarchy.

This article seeks to identify some glimpses into the features of the politically sensitized theology set afloat by Jesus in the public space of his time i.e., the first century Palestinian soil of the Mediterranean world colonized by the Romans. Through the praxis of Jesus of Nazareth as transpired through the gospels one could surmise that he had been valiantly struggling against dehumanizing power-mongers in view of ushering in a new order of equals. Here we seek to spell out the following paradigms of the power discourse of Jesus. 

  • Defiance of Socio-cultural Hegemony 
  • Exploration into Religio-cultural Assertion
  • Encountering Politico-cultural Violence

2. Defiance of Socio-cultural Hegemony

Jesus seemed to have realized his mission as that of overcoming the evil powers which ruled the world to reinstate the ownership of the life-affirming divine.[1] The mighty deeds performed by Jesus in the Synoptic gospels are the interventions of delivering the suffering members of the ochlos from the clutches of evil powers (Mk 1:21-28; 40-45; 2:1-12; 5:1-42). Jesus’ interventions labelled as miracles are the stories of healing from psycho-somatic disabilities, emancipation from psycho-spiritual possession, or liberation from religio-cultural prejudices. These actions are indicative of beginning of the new era of the oncoming God’s reign through binding the Strong Man (the Evil One). The strongman and his army of evil spirits are noted with the use of “us” (Mk 1:24) and “Legion” and “many” (Mk 5:9).

The evocative powers of the parables, narrations, and stories of Jesus seemed to have at once created optimistic vibrations amidst the marginalized and infuriated resistance among the socio-cultural elite (Mt 21:28-32; Mk 2:1-12; 12:1-12; Lk 18:9-14). When his own native authorities were bent on terminating his life with the allegation of transgression of law even at the beginning of his mission (Mk 3:6), Jesus continued his acts of solidarity with the marginalized (Mk 2: 18-28). This trend of penalizing him also continued in his last days, but the authorities were afraid of doing so in the broad day light due to the massive support to Jesus from the simple folk (Mk 11:32; 12:12; 14:2). When questioned about his origin of his authority for doing all people-centred empowerment activities, his immediate and spontaneous reference to the baptism of John the Baptist (Mk 11:30) directly or indirectly alludes to his authority of being missioned as the Son of God (Mk 1:11)[2]

It is with this charismatic authority, he went ahead with the proclamation of the good news of the eruption of the reign of God through healing the sick and driving away the evils. The same authority for healing and exorcism was vested with his disciples (Mk 3:14-15). In the controversy stories both in Galilea (Mk 2:1-3:6) and Jerusalem (Mk 11:27-12:37), and also in the stories of criticism of the Temple (Mk 11:15-17, 27; 12:41-44; 13:1-3; 14:58; 15:29, 38), the political matrix of Jesus seems to converge on this orientation: ‘Never become a slave and never enslave others’.

Interestingly, the self-designation of Markan Jesus as the son of Man has the following triple layers of implications:

  • The power to courageously go beyond the traditions for protecting and promoting the welfare of the marginalized for upholding their human dignity is deployed by the Son of Man (Mk 2:10, 28).
  • The power to valiantly encounter the violent consequences of such violations of the traditions is of such ‘violations’ is manifest in his mission (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34).
  • The power to be elevated by the divine glory after defeating the anti-human and anti-life forces (Mk 9:9; 14:62).

Here one could have some glimpses into the sequential order of the power dynamics operative in the life and mission of Jesus. Accordingly, his power as the Son of Man seems to have attained the divine glory as the result of his courageous encounter with suffering imposed by the ruling elite for his committed solidarity with the suffering masses of people. And obviously Jesus never hesitated to denounce those obsessed with power-accumulation in the following manner:

  • Those seeking to lord it over others were counted as gentiles by him (Mk 10:42).
  • Those preaching others with authoritative eloquence in public realm while never practicing the same in private realm are dismissed as the accursed ones (Mt 23:1-12).
  • Those self-pontificating puritans setting a convenient yardstick for themselves while setting another one for the same act were condemned (Mt 23:13-36).
  • The native feudal power-brokers indiscriminately surrendering the hard-earned resources by the sweat of the labour class people at the feet of the alien colonial powers (symbolized by vultures seeking corpses – Mt 24:27-28) just for maintaining their own power positions like Herod (symbolized by foxes- Lk 13:32) were denounced.

This is how the prevailing culture of socio-cultural hegemony of the ruling elite was defied by the counter-cultural praxis undertaken by Jesus in solidarity with the large majority of the common folk excluded as sinners by the power-accumulators.

[1] D. Karr, God with Us. A Bold Understanding of Suffering, Jesus Christ and Forgiveness, Chennai: The Christian Literature Society, 2018, 69-86.

[2] A. M. A. Raja, ‘The Authority of Jesus: A Dalit Reading of Mk 11:27- 33’, Jeevadhara 25 (1995), 123-138.

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