What does a post-colonial theology of the church look like? A Big and important question, but here is one place to start. The first verse of the first (oldest) gospel about JC.
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God Mark 1:1
This passage is the beginning Mark’s gospel and an important place to begin to search for a reservoir of ecclesial identity in our age of identity crisis and identity fabrication. In these few verses we see how Mark identifies Jesus and the foundation for Jesus’ own self-understanding. As the church of Jesus Christ it is only logical that the identity search of those ‘in Christ’ be informed by the identity given to Jesus himself by his first story teller. Setting this opening to the book in its first century context and in particular in its imperial context will help us identify the how expansive an outlook Mark had for the God Movement present in Jesus.
Mark does not begin his gospel as a traditional Hellenistic biography, by noting the character to which the author is concerned, but instead claims that this story is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. This simple phrase is a loaded one, for it first claims that the text one is about to read or hear is simply the start and does not contain the complete good news; or better yet, the good news is more than a text that can be read and digested and more than story that can be heard and remembered, the good news of Jesus Christ is about more than one person’s life or a past happening, but something that has had its beginning and is still present. The good news is not just an event or a singular happening, it is a life determining reality that moves from this storyed beginning to an end yet unknown.
Good news is not a benign term in Mark’s historical context. The good news was proclaimed when there was a military victory and was expanded to mean “the good news of peace and prosperity” following a military victory. We also know that good news (also translated good tidings or gospel) was used in the emperor cult and was associated with the “empire’s benefits such as an emperor’s birth, military conquest, or accession to power.” One famous example is the Priene inscription which originated within a decade of Jesus’ birth that declares the emperor Augustus to be the “savior” and “concludes with the line ‘the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning for the world of good tidings that came by reason of him.” Seeing that Rome pronounced “divine sanction for its empire, claiming that the gods had chosen Rome to manifest the gods’ sovereignty, presence, agency, and blessings on earth,” Mark’s counter claim about the beginning of the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ is made quite radical. In this context the following claims that Jesus is the ‘Christ,’ the anointed king of Israel, and ‘Son of God’ take on an even greater meaning. Rome had already anointed a king for Israel and already had a ‘son of God’ in resident. Caesar, the Herods, and the structures they represent had a gospel and Mark set the one beginning in Jesus over against it. Regardless of the other interpretive categories at work, Mark’s title for his narrative deliberately parodies the political propaganda of the reigning empire.
If this is how Mark starts his gospel it is no wonder that it ends with Salome, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James fleeing the empty tomb after being seized by terror and amazement; “and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” When read in a first century context this fear makes perfect sense, because there was already a good news in circulation, an anointed one on the throne, and a son of God ruling the established order. If the empty tomb of the crucified, but resurrected Jesus means the good news of Jesus Christ, kingdom-proclaimer, Son of God, did not die on a cross, then this story is not through and is just beginning. If the expansive claim of Mark is true, one should be fearful because the good news of Jesus is not so good for those on the take from the current arrangement under the Roman domination system. One who benefits from the imperial power structure is much more inclined to protect the world as it is. The peace of Rome is kept on the backs of the poor and the blood of resisters. Cross-building coercion is scary even if the tomb of the cross-bearer is empty.