Honouring the gods in the classical Mediterranean realm and on its fringes

Jesus' radical call and the “challenge of dislocation”

This image of Jesus as a marginal leader, as an “out of place” figure is fully consistent with the way Mark introduces him at the beginning of his text in which Jesus, with Nazareth behind him, meets John the Baptist[1]. Jesus is introduced as a fully grown man, who has left the place of his birth to live a unique religious experience, taking in on the way, like many before him, the rite of immersion proposed by John. With this portrait of Jesus, the Evangelist leaves little doubt as to what could be at stake for those who would decide to be his disciples. Taken unawares by the call emanating from this total stranger, the four first disciples (and all the others after them) find themselves directly placed in an extraordinary situation. As they did not live on the margin, like, say sick people or beggars might, but were active members of their families, with some access to resources, they were used to leave in the stability guaranteed by the household environment. It is precisely that stability that Jesus shatters when he asks them to follow him.

James Tissot, Jésus en voyage, 1886-1896. Brooklyn Museum, New York. Disponible sur : www.brooklynmuseum.orgInformationsInformations[2]

In other words, Mark depicts a radical call which throws the disciple's life into total upheaval. To be sure, Jesus, when calling Simon and Andrew then James and John, did not break the family tie between brothers – though he may have been thinking of re-using it as the basis for another form of solidarity. That takes nothing from the rupture between the apostles and their family, made emphatically clear by their leaving their work, and especially their father, the very icon of the family and everything it stood for in the ancient world. To the stability of the house environment, Jesus opposes the instability of a life on the move typically sharing in his itinerant lifestyle and taking up the ill-defined task of “fishing for people”. In order to carry out such a task, the disciples cannot stay put, they must move around from one place to the next. This necessity is clearly stated by the Evangelist be it in reference to Jesus, or to the disciples. Having called his first companions and preached and cured the sick in the synagogue[3] at Capernaum, Jesus states in no uncertain terms that they must “go somewhere else” (Mk 1:38)

Later, albeit less explicitly, the same necessity can be found in the words used by Jesus to send the Twelve on their mission: « Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town » (Mk 6:10). Just like Jesus the Twelve[4] cannot stay permanently in a place but they can remain[5] just as long as required. It is this condition of continuous journeying and repositioning that Halvor Moxnes rightly calls “the challenge of dislocation”. After leaving his home and his original setting, Jesus' disciple finds himself in a sort of limbo[6], characterised by constant mobility and the absence of a specific locus: Jesus invites his chosen disciples to follow him and to become “fishers of men” but this does not correspond to a new place where to go, either from a social point of view (a new community) or from a material one (a new home). In this “non-place”, the disciple is held up in a half-way position between his home place which he has now left behind and a new place that is not yet.

Seen through the prism of the anthropological model of rites of passage, this position could be perceived as the second stage of a process in three phases: a) separation, the subject is removed from his home place; b) liminality[7], the subject is in a state of transit held up between what s/he was before and what s/he is about to become; c) reaggregation, the “passage” is completed and subjects find themselves reinstated in the society, with a new status and a new role. From this angle and with no prospect of a new integration, the dislocation Jesus asked of the disciples implies a state of permanent liminality. But things don't quite turn out that way in Mark's story. It is possible to observe in our text the existence of a potential sleight of hand liable to de-radicalise Jesus' appeal: it is not by chance that in two instances, Mark alludes to the return home of a disciple. No longer an irreversible fact, the temporary abandonment of the family takes on a different value, not just for the disciple who has decided to live his home to follow Jesus but also for the family who had lost one of its members.

  1. John the Baptist

    Charismatic preacher active in Palestine at the time of Jesus. John was renowned for his religious message but even more for his rite of immersion in the waters of the Jordan; hence his byname of Baptist, who baptises (literally who immerses from the Greek verb baptizō = to immerse). His earlier life is shrouded in mystery: the story of his birth as retold in the Gospel of Luke is a legend. Christian sources sought to present John the Baptist as Jesus' forerunner. The historic existence of the man is confirmed by the historian Flavius Josephus who mentions him in his Antiquities of the Jews (XVIII, 5, 2). It is very likely that John died in the early thirties executed on order of Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Perea.

  2. Caption: James Tissot (French, 1836-1902). Jesus Traveling (Jésus en voyage), 1886-1896. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, Image: 5 7/8 x 10 3/16 in. (14.9 x 25.9 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by public subscription, 00.159.152 Image: overall, 00.159.152_PS2.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2008 disponible sur : http://www.brooklynmuseum.org

  3. Synagogue

    From the Greek synagogē, meaning "assembly" (adapted from the Hebrew beyt knesset, meaning “house of assembly”). There were debates on the status of the synagogues in the “Land of Israel” in Jesus' days. However, thanks to a 1st century inscription coming from a Jerusalem synagogue (the Theodotus inscription) researchers today are more and more convinced that synagogues as infrastructures already existed in Palestine before the seventies. It is also known that they were “multi-purpose” buildings where, besides prayer and Torah classes, many activities unconnected to religious practice also took place (e.g. the sheltering of pilgrims and travellers).

  4. The Twelve

    Also known as the twelve apostles, specifically chosen by Jesus they formed an inner circle of disciples with distinct status and tasks. The number twelve is clearly symbolic and reflects the twelve tribes of Israel. The term “apostle” is drawn from the Greek apostolos meaning literally “sent, representative” (from the verb apostellō = to send).

  5. Remain

    Inserted between the two verbs of movement: eiserchomai (= to go in) and exerchomai (= to go out), the word menō (= to remain) makes clear that the stay may last for a time but remains temporary.

  6. Limbo

    From the latin limbus = margin, fringe. From the 18th century, the word emerges in Christian theology to refer to two places in the hearafter: 1) a dwelling place (or state) for the souls of the just who, although purified from sin have been excluded from heaven until the triumphal return of Christ took them there (limbus patrum = the limbo of the patriarchs); 2) the dwelling place (or state) of unbaptized children (or others) who died unsullied by serious personal sin and are excluded from the beatific vision on account of the original sin alone (limbus infantium ou limbus puerorum = the children's limbo). By extension in ordinary speech, this word is often used figuratively to describe an uncertain, ill-defined condition or an in-between blurred state.

  7. Liminality

    The term drawn from the Latin word limen refers to the threshold of the entrance door. Introduced for the first time by the French ethnologist Arnold Van Gennep (Ludwigsburg, 1873 - Bourg-la-Reine, 1957) and later developed by the Scottish anthropologist Victor Turner (Glasgow, 1920 - 1983), the concept of liminality is used in anthropology to describe the situation of ambiguity and disorientation which intervenes in the intermediary phase of a ritual (particularly in rites of passage) when the participants, having lost their former, pre-ritual status, have not yet reached the new status specified by the ritual: “they are on the threshold”, that is in a state of expectancy.

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