The Primates or the Mikros?
The Rev. Michael W. Hopkins
Proper 21B: Mark 9:38-50
October 1, 2006
Recently the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, sent a letter to those in the Anglican Communion who exercise leadership in the member churches and call themselves “primates,” in which he said the following:
In our uncertainties and explorations in the Communion, my prayers are not only for those who, like ourselves, have the responsibility of leadership in our Provinces, but most especially for all those ordinary people of God, in the Episcopal Church and elsewhere, who are puzzled, wearied, or disoriented by our present controversies. So many say they simply do not want to take up an extreme or divisive position and want to be faithful to Scripture and the common life. They want to preserve an Anglican identity that they treasure and love passionately but face continuing uncertainty about its future.
I could not help but remember his words as I read today’s Gospel passage in which Jesus loses his temper with the disciples. They are upset that someone outside their group is “casting out demons in [Jesus’] name.” Jesus testily replies,
Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will be no means lose the reward. If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.
I suspect that Dr. Williams would equate those he called the “ordinary people of God” with “the little ones who believe in me” of the gospel passage and the “stumbling block” being placed in front of them “the extreme and divisive position,” which we can only assume is the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in the life of the church. It would be better then, using Jesus’ logic, for the majority of the Episcopal Church to have a great millstone hung around its neck and be cast into the sea. Certainly several of the so-called “primates” are ready and willing to do so, having already made the measurements.
Of course, there is another reading of this passage and the current situation in the Anglican Communion, and one which I believe is personally more in line with the text itself.
Jesus speaks in the text of “the mikros,” “the little ones,” who believe in him. The word is used in the Bible (and was frequently used in the world out of which the Bible came) in two different ways. It can literally refer to those who are small. Zacchaeus the tax collector, from Luke’s Gospel, for instance, is described as mikros, short in stature so that he had to climb up a tree to see Jesus in the midst of a crowd.
But the other use of mikros is to describe those “of no account,” “insignificant,” “weak,” or even “defective.” Clearly that is the use intended here. In particular, Jesus uses the word mikros to refer to the one who had been casting out demons in his name, but whom the disciples had stopped because he wasn’t part of the group. Clearly mikros for Jesus also meant “outsider.”
In any case, none of these things necessarily means “the ordinary people of God,” unless one assumes that they are all weak, insignificant and marginal, which, I suppose is a possible view from someone who allows himself to be called a “primate.”
No, “the ordinary people of God” in the story are the disciples, who are already part of the group, threatened only by the inclusion of others and their jealousy that something is happening outside that should be happening inside. Earlier in chapter nine the disciples themselves, you see, had tried to cast out a demon and had failed. Imagine their frustration when just a few days later they come upon someone they don’t even know, not part of the inner circle, who was doing it well. One can almost imagine them saying, “we are just trying to be faithful to Scripture and the common life,” and these outsiders are saying that they are your followers too!
Now it may seem obvious that my point is that in this situation lgbt folks are the mikros and those who are called “primates” out to be worrying about having their necks measured for millstones (I don’t blame the “ordinary people of God” here because they are a creation of Dr. Williams to justify himself). I am making that point.
More importantly, however, my point is how dangerously close we are as a church—be it Episcopal/Anglican or Roman Catholic—to acting completely antithetical to the Gospel we are called to proclaim in word and deed. Those of us who live in “high church” traditions have always lived in this danger, mind you, and frequently succumbed to it. The Church ends up getting in the way of the Gospel because it begins to consider itself more important than Jesus himself.
For Anglicans, one of the principle reasons we remain separated from Rome is that we do not trust that particular system not to succumb to that temptation (and I don’t mean to score debating points with my Roman Catholic sisters and brothers here, I am just describing what is real), and yet, here we Anglicans are, in the full nature of human hypocrisy, screwing it up just as royally ourselves. We’ve created a system with rules of behavior that determine who is in and who is out and created a super-hierarchy with persons we call “primates.” Can anyone in their right minds imagine Jesus—or even Paul, for that matter—thinking it was a good idea for Christians to call some people “primates” who have “primatial authority?” It’s enough to make this good catholic boy a mad-raving protestant!
Does Jesus want a church formed around the primates or the mikros? The answer is quite obvious and betrays the very sad state of affairs we have gotten ourselves into. And the sad thing is, we knew better.
I don’t know what the answer is on the global scale. This “ordinary person of God,” if I dare to call myself that, is increasingly disgusted by how the Church is behaving, and no leader stepping into the role of Jesus and saying, “Enough, boys and girls, the game of who is in and who is out is somebody else’s game, not the church’s. Let’s get on board with anyone who happens to do a deed of power—even giving a glass of water—in my name. If they happen to also be mikros, the weak, the despised, the defective, the outsider, well, that’s no big surprise, is it. Jesus wasn’t actually clear about many things but one of them was that it was they who were going to bring in the kingdom of God.
 Letter to the Primates of September 15, 2006 reported bythe Anglican Communion News Service in message 4190, www.anglicancommunion.org.
 Luke 19:1-10