Sunday, 24 February 2013
Love’s Dart to the Heart
Luke’s story of the Pharisees warning Jesus about Herod depicts Jesus as being particularly tenacious and heartbreakingly poignant.
To repaint the scene, some Pharisees warn Jesus to leave the area because Herod is out to get him. This seems to be out of genuine concern (we’re not told otherwise, and there are no parallels in the other gospels). In any event, Jesus had no plans to remain, though this had nothing to do with Herod. To make that point clear, he urges them to go to Herod (even if only rhetorically), to tell him that he’s not going to stop doing what he’s doing. Jesus will continue his journey to Jerusalem because he must, because it is impossible to think that a prophet would die elsewhere. This determination to make his way to Jerusalem reinforces Luke’s overarching journey theme, which began when Jesus ‘set his jaw for Jerusalem’ (9.51).
There is a justifiable tendency to read ‘necessity’ in such texts. It is easy to think that Jesus was fated to die, that his death was somehow preordained, that the blood sacrifice had to be made for our salvation. For better or worse, that is one way of reading the whole story from Candlemas (with Simeon’s prophecy of Mary’s sufferings) to the cross. However, the descriptions of Jesus’s resoluteness ought to undermine such thoughts of fatalistic inevitability. The more obvious narrative explanation is that Jesus’s death owes more to his decisions, to the logic of what he said and did, than to any pre-written script. There is undoubtedly a strange rightness to his ending up in Jerusalem, but that rightness is appreciated not by a glimpse into fate, but by the realisation that any other choice would have been the end of it all — instead of the culmination of it all.
It is sometimes helpful to wonder what might have happened had Jesus kept his head down, had he stopped preaching and healing. What if he’d refused to go to Jerusalem, what if he’d stayed on the periphery and not gone to the holy city itself, not proclaimed his message there, where it really mattered? What if his fear of death had been stronger than his belief in the coming Kingdom? Safe to say, it would have been all over. The dream would have fizzled; his disciples would have scattered. Seen in this light, Jesus’s death has nothing to do with fate, and everything to do with faithful choices. Indeed, the Jesuit theologian Bernard Lonergan suggested that Jesus’ sacrifice is best understood first in terms of Jesus’s choice to put his life on the line, and only secondarily in terms of his actual dying — the former is something he did (it was his sacrifice), the latter was something done to him. (Lonergan’s view of the Eucharist is similar: we are invited to share in Jesus’s attitude rather than in his physical death — the former is something actual, the latter is something we do symbolically, as a way ‘to put on the mind of Jesus’.)
But there is still more to this passage. Jesus’s decision to go to Jerusalem is not a political or dramatic calculation, even though the text suggests finality or even fulfilment. Neither is it a provocation or a grand geste. Though Jerusalem may well stone and kill the prophets, Jesus nonetheless longs for something else: he has longed to gather the people safely together, as a hen might gather her brood under her wings — to protect them from themselves. Later, in the nineteenth chapter (v. 41), Jesus actually weeps over Jerusalem for much the same reasons.
Jesus’s willingness to die, to put his life on the line for those who could hear his message — this was not a test of obedience to a divine decree (‘I must go on my way’), but was rather the out-flowing of his compassionate love. There is a strange rightness here, but there is no line of inevitability apart from the trajectory of love’s ‘dart to the heart’. Though we are smitten, we must still choose.
Joe Cassidy is Principal of St Chad’s College, Durham.
Posted by Joe Cassidy on
Sunday, 24 February 2013 at 6:00am GMT
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Thanks for the characteristic clarity and simplicity, Joe, and for the nugget from Lonergan.
"There is a justifiable tendency to read ‘necessity’ in such texts. It is easy to think that Jesus was fated to die, that his death was somehow preordained, that the blood sacrifice had to be made for our salvation. For better or worse, that is one way of reading the whole story from Candlemas (with Simeon’s prophecy of Mary’s sufferings) to the cross. However, the descriptions of Jesus’s resoluteness ought to undermine such thoughts of fatalistic inevitability."
This seems yet another attempt to reduce the eternal purposes of the triune God to human rationality - even at its best.
That we who in God's sight were dead, yet because of his great love for us in Christ have been made alive - to all who believe - the decisions and work of Jesus cannot be reduced to 'fatalistic inevitability'. Rather because he is rich in mercy he chose to do the Father's will so that all who believe might be born of God.
I think if Joe had been around in first century Palestine, Jesus would have been having a conversation with him such as we find in John 3!
What a wonderful differentiation between the concepts of inevitability (no choice, but..) and a purposeful and willing (wilful?) self-offering. Thank you Joe!
William, this is not an "attempt to reduce" anything but a wonderful explanation of a perfectly credible and meaningful way of interpreting the story.
It really would help if we did not always feel this need to dismiss everything other people say. You can just as easily believe in your interpretation while acknowledging that right from the beginning there has been a real breadth and depth in Christian theology and that other people just see things differently.
Yes william - two sides, same coin...
'some Pharisees warn Jesus to leave the area because Herod is out to get him. This seems to be out of genuine concern'
Indeed. I always think it odd that, again and again through Luke's gospel, we encounter individual Pharisees who provide Jesus with material assistance, and are sincerely interested in exploring His teaching. Yet somehow, the Pharisees as a group still manage to be obstructive and full of menace. But this links closely into Joe's theme of there being choices involved in what eventually happened in Jerusalem - a decision by the Pharisees to follow Jesus en bloc does appear to have been a real possibility at some stage, and would have required, at least, a somewhat different sequence of events.
I don't understand the issue being raised here. Clearly it made no sense at all without going to Jerusalem, as Jesus is trying to nudge God into bringing about the transformation into the Kingdom, the end of the kind of existence people have suffered from for too long. I'm not sure it is love, perhaps it is duty. The question is the level of preplanning (e.g. the known role of Judas, assuming that story is believable). Jesus follows the scriptures of the suffering servant and pre-messianic duty. The tragedy for him was, of course, that no Kingdom came in. A Church was formed, but not the one closest to his message, but a Pauline one that turned Jesus into an object of salvation, affecting all the Gospels, and the early Church, rather than his actions as a more 'primitive' pointer of the way. It's a tragic story under a supernaturalism that was just not true, but culture deceives.
Engaging article, stands on its own, but like others, I appreciated the Lonerganian reference.
would you not say that even if you do not believe in supernaturalism, that Jesus' actions still point to the only way of living that can "redeem" individuals and "save" them from becoming selfish, hard-hearted, shallow and bitter? The psychology is still true even if you don't accept the God part of it. And that path of living still opens up the same hard choices, still leads to the cross - following the way still ends in failure.
You only need belief in God for the concept of universal salvation in an afterlife. Not having it doesn't invalidate anything Joe writes.
Brilliant piece. Comment thread is spoiled by heretical disillusionment with the relay of faith through Christ's hand-picked apostles from the usual quarters.
One wonders why He even chose them to witness His teachings and miracles from Cana to Golgotha, if He had any inkling that they would pervert His message. Of course, don't let reliable inferences stand in the way of self-indulgent speculation!
If we are to believe John 6 51 "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven.
Written a year before Jesus went to the cross - it is very difficult to see that Jesus did not seem himself as the lamb of God - and therefore He went to Jerusalem with that purpose.
"Written a year before Jesus went to the cross . . ."
New dating for the writing of the Gospels?
Re David Shepherd "Comment thread is spoiled by heretical disillusionment with the relay of faith through Christ's hand-picked apostles ... ." Not sure what this refers to exactly, but if it were only that simple.
Its difficult to find learned articles to pass on that are not behind a pay-wall or limited to subscribers, but the link below from an Australian on-line journal is well researched. Its written by Brain Gleeson CP.
From the over view, "His investigation leads him to contrast the familiar and fixed patterns of ordained ministry today with the earliest adaptive
patterns of authority and leadership."
We are the bread to be broken and distributed in order that the work of the incarnation may go forward. The fact that many church leaders don't understand this is the problem. In order to be re-fashioned in the image of Christ patterns of understanding and behaviour need to be broken. No growth without pain and all that. I am always struck by the fact that many Christians suppose that Christ would come again for more of the same. We seem quite content to crucify the spirits of women and LGTB members - all of whom bear the likeness and image of Christ and are fully embraced and called like all of God's people to various forms of apostolic ministry.
Keeping heads down is a besetting sin for many Christians, especially those in positions of power and this piece is wonderful. Look what happened to Mary's heart.
Creative biblical interpretation seems to cause consternation - I reckon the Holy Spirit is doing a cracking job of enabling it at the moment. Not at all bothered to see certain posters coming out with the usual academic nonsense. All I can think is Christ isn't a bit interested in 'pointless' comments. There is far too much to attend to creatively noment by moment and I dectect the diehards are trembling and rushing for their weighty tomes or the dark recesses of their supposed sacrosanct territorial domains - known to some of us as closed minds. Prepare to be shattered in the name of Christ.
My answer to Erika is in the nature of two 'problems' regarding Jesus and his motives.
The first is his sense of self. He clearly regarded what he was doing as important, and rather self-important. So to be 'self-giving' to the point of martyrdom depends on where you come from to start with. Perhaps he thought too much of himself, that his self-sacrifice on the biblical model he could read would stimulate God to act and change reality. He wasn't unique in this at the time, in the sense that several such figures went about proclaiming the end was nigh.
The other is in why the Roman authorities were bothered to kill him off, at the time. The Easter narrative as a 'history' doesn't work, and one doubts whether ever Pilate ever noticed the deaths of that moment. But from the inside story, so to speak, is the question of the role of Judas, and whether Judas took on that role himself, or whether it was another biblical prophecy for the leader to carry out - i.e. he knew all the time, and the matter was arranged. In other words, despite the heavy 'responsibility' and the life giving necessity (before possible transformation, or another coming, or resurrection as believed by Pharisees), the matter had to be arranged so that the Romans, for whom life was cheap, but who had a population to suppress, took notice and took away yet another potential populalist leader - from their point of view.
For example, when Jesus was crucified a certain Paul as Saul would have been in town and he took no interest in it. No one did, probably. But the Romans had several to kill, as per usual. So what was arranged so that a certain mission could be fulfilled?
I don't know where your version of events leads us other than into a "we might as well disregard this sycophantic nonsense and forget the man" kind of religious nihilism.
That's ok, of course, it is not possible to prove or disprove your questions.
I don't find it particularly helpful, though. Because it IS possible to live like Jesus did, it IS possible to be motivated selflessly by something you perceive to be larger than your own ego. The psychology is credible.
And the question here was whether you have to believe in a divine plan and a Jesus without genuine choices without the whole narrative disintegrating into nothingness. And I don't think you do.
Endless speculation, rather than revelation will only result in 'having the form (morphosin - outward appearance) of godliness, but denying the power thereof.' (2 Tim. 3:5)
I suppose we now only have to somehow spirit away the gospel references to the 'thirty pieces of silver' bribe, as it would have been an unnecessary financial inducement to treachery, if there was prior agreement between Judas and Jesus. And to what end? Only to impose a more sceptical view of Jesus' motives than is presented by the apostolic witness.
We then have to speculate that the gospel characterisation of Judas as an embezzling group treasurer (who, for a price, wanted to ensure he was on what appeared to be 'right side of history' by helping Christ's enemies) was probably a later distortion added by an overzealous propagandist.
In all of this dispassionate form criticism, there is very little room for self-scrutiny, just the resultant all-too-familiar denial of Christ as the One who is God's self-revelation imparting sacred awe (eusebeia) - the power of godliness.
At least, we know the apostles endured more sacrifice in furtherance of Christ's message than any conspiracy theorist. False apostles have too great a sense of self-preservation for that.
Paul's instruction to the Ephesian bishop in respect of speculative knowledge in the first-century remains true of other kinds of speculation today, Pluralist.
That is, 'Have nothing to do with them'!
I don't particularly want to get bogged down with this, but I'll answer the points put, implications made.
"the question here was whether you have to believe in a divine plan and a Jesus..." Certainly not: you can indeed be self-sacrificial if this is appropriate. Being a martyr may be appropriate, but it is often excessive to what is at hand.
Yes I do 'deny Christ' if you want to put it like that, in so far as I am not a Christian. There is not the historical evidence nor ability to create a moral league table and put Jesus of Nazareth on top. It is simply a matter of doctrine. There are particular issues even in the gospels about his pastoral skills regarding gentiles and stance about animals. No, I am not a follower of Jesus.
no-one is accusing you of being a follower of Jesus and no-one is trying to persuade you of anything. And I don't think anyone used the words "deny Christ"?
But you started your comment in this thread saying that you did not understand the issues being raised here.
All I was trying to do is show what the arguments were about and why they made sense, at least as a preposition.
I had assumed you genuinely wanted to understand what we were talking about.
"Yes I do 'deny Christ' if you want to put it like that, in so far as I am not a Christian."
- Pluralist -
Then what is your underlying purpose in contributing to this blog - in a way that undermines the very principle of its title; 'Thinking Anglicans'. It surely must be a waste of your time, and certainly a waste of ours, to offer thoughts from an openly adversarial basis.
The whole basis of Christianity is to affirm the Incarnate Son of God in Jesus Christ. Anglicanism is intimately bound up with that supposition. If you have problems with that affirmation of the place of Jesus in our brand of religion, one wonders what is your purpose in commenting here?
One Joe Cassidy's insights I like is this one "The more obvious narrative explanation is that Jesus’s death owes more to his decisions, to the logic of what he said and did, than to any pre-written script."
For lent, I've been attempting to the re-read, Raymond Brown's "The Death of the Messiah". Studying it is a reminder of, not only the common themes, but also the diversity, nuance, and various theological expressions of both the Christ and his passion in four narratives. The NT passion is so much more richer, so much more giving, than the impoverished take on the death of Jesus offered up by contemporary fundamentalists with their concept of a tiny punitive god.
Additionally, I think it helpful to remember that part of the scandal of the death of the Christ lies not in its uniqueness but in its ordinariness. Jesus died like so many before and since, deprived of human rights, deprived of dignity, and in the most violent of circumstances.
Questions were raised that are open to anyone to answer - history is universal afterall, and I'm not adverserial as such but just commenting regarding the logic of the case, and using available biblical criticism/ theologies: but I take the point about your boundaries and wish to say no more.
Re pluralist, "say no more", I'm sorry to read that. Many of us live in this bubble called "church land", where exacting in-depth biblical scholarship is dismissed out of hand by appealing to "revelation" or some such thing. We need more, not fewer, people from outside the bubble to be in conversation with. Anglicans who are "thinking" Anglicans should welcome intellectual challenges from all takers. I would tend to put the emphasis on "thinking" rather than "Anglican".
Pluralist: 'There is not the historical evidence nor ability to create a moral league table and put Jesus of Nazareth on top. It is simply a matter of doctrine.'
I'm not sure we have any such doctrine. The nearest in the 39 articles is "Christ alone without sin"; but there's a subtle ambiguity in that phrase "without sin": does it mean "never having violated the law of Moses", or does it mean "morally perfect"? I don't think it can mean both at once. But the former is important, in order to have the credibility to abolish the extraordinarily repressive civil precepts and ceremonies of the law of Moses without being open to the accusation of self-interest.
The 'but I say unto' pronouncements of the Sermon on the Mount would be sheer hypocrisy regarding the complete submission of covert and overt desire to God, if Christ did not maintain perfect equitable benevolence himself.
Had He failed to maintain complete internal obedience, but only managed to live by the outward precepts of Moses Law, it would prove that the New Covenant Life was impossible for One whose earthly life was graced by the Holy Spirit in full measure. What hope would we have?
The resurrection in fulfilment of the written prophetic witness was the means by which the apostles were convinced that He was the spotless lamb of God, even as He endured in silent submission the ordeal of God's merciful alternative to our own judgement: a death penalty on His Son's earthly life wrapped up to the lethal force of the Roman State.
'There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin'!
I can't quite tell which horn of the dilemma you're taking there. Or perhaps you have a third option in mind...? But you're quite right that the choice is central to the legitimation of those "but I say unto" statements, and of the forgiveness of sins, and of the new covenant.