Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Zero to hero

Without the resurrection, Jesus and his movement would have incurred no more than a paragraph and maybe as little as a footnote in the history of Judaism. On what we now call Holy Saturday Jesus was a zero. Dead, buried and all but forgotten. That Jesus was raised from the dead is as certain as the existence of Christianity itself. Working from the objective fact of the empty tomb and the subjective experiences of eating and drinking with the risen Jesus, the followers of Jesus knew he was the Christ, the hero sent from God, and told that to everyone they met. We know that because they were named Christians (not Jesusians).

There was a story to tell about Jesus Christ who rose from the dead and the resurrection impacted on the telling of the story. A good kind of mayhem was caused by this foxy fact in the chicken coop of sayings and deeds of Jesus. Each New Testament writing in its own way probes the real significance of Jesus of Nazareth in the light of being raised from zero to hero. The four gospels are especially interesting because we read them naturally forwards from beginning to end and it takes a certain amount of educated effort (e.g. through biblical studies) to read them as stories which have been revised backwards, from resurrection to beginning.

One simple example illustrates this, the example of what the gospel writers actually say about the beginning of Jesus. Mark presents Jesus from his baptism. Matthew gives us Jesus from his conception and birth contextualised with a genealogy going back as far as Abraham. Luke similarly but offers a genealogy going back to Adam the son of God. John - if it were a competition, he wins by an eternity - goes back before time: as the Word, Jesus existed before the beginning of creation. Where does the not zero but hero, not dead but raised One come from? The gospel writers do not disagree with one another in their respective answers: rather they outdo one another in how far back they can see in the light of the resurrection.

Then, as they move forward in telling the story, perhaps here telling it as they have heard it (revisions having occurred, perhaps, in the prior handing down through Christians sharing stories about Jesus) and maybe there retelling it as they strain to make certain points to the audience they have in mind as their readers, the gospel writers tell the story insightfully in the light of the resurrection as its significance dawns on them. I suggest we particularly see this as readers today as we appreciate the presentation of Jesus through the whole of a gospel as a certain kind of heroic figure.

Thus Matthew marshals his material about Jesus to present Jesus as the New Moses, who gives the law of the kingdom both authoritatively and in five Torah-like blocks of preaching. Mark more than any of his evangelical colleagues presents Jesus as a  'hero', a divine man who heroically stands up to Satan, releasing people from Satan's grip of illness and possession, and establishes a new power in the world, the kingdom of God. Luke takes a huge risk in simultaneously presenting Jesus as a non-threatening do gooder comfortable with Roman imperialism who is also the real Caesar of the whole world establishing a rival kingdom on a global scale. John, perhaps with the most time lapse from resurrection to composition, accepts the insights of his gospel predecessors and pushes them further: Jesus is the Word who was God, became flesh and dwelt among us, that is, the Son of God both one with the Father and sent by the Father to transform the world.

What is then fascinating is to read the gospels as these forward-yet-backwards documents which effectively are theological histories of Jesus of Nazareth. Just when we might expect that more of the impact of the resurrection would be worked into the history of Jesus, we do not find it. The resurrection, for instance, provoked mayhem on the question of identity: did a Gentile believing in this Jewish rabbi need to adopt identification as a Jew through circumcision? The controversy over circumcision rumbles through the early life of the Christian church, but it is never woven backwards into the life of Jesus. Chalk one up for the reliability of these theological histories as histories.

Approaching Good Friday we observe that the theological meaning of the death of Jesus, elucidated through Paul's writings and the Epistle to the Hebrews, scarcely impacts on the gospel narrative. Presumably the historical Jesus said very little about the meaning of his death and, remarkably, the gospels are faithful to Jesus when it must have been tempting to put words in his mouth.

Conversely, the resurrection of Jesus triggered a flood of reflection on what happened on the cross. To be sure, the risen Jesus before ascension may have contributed to this flood (Luke at least hints at this). Why does Jesus die only to be raised from the dead? Couldn't the victory and vindication of the hero be expressed through a rescue operation which prevented Jesus' death (cf. Isaac/Abraham)? Effectively the early Christians said 'Yes' to the latter question and furrowed their brows to find the answer to the former. The former question faced the reality of what actually happened to Jesus. The latter question was hypothetical (though, later, Islam would teach that it was so).

PS. Following on from yesterday, like the glory days of my youth, when the NZ cricket team beat Australia and England for the first time, NZ stands on the verge of a great win. England are 90 for 4 chasing 481 to win.

On the ongoing matter of gay marriage in NZ, Dan Dolejs of Nelson has a few words to say.

Interesting claim here that Diana's death ended the English Reformation. Er, maybe.


Father Ron Smith said...

I guess that, wherever you went in Nelson you would find the same sorts of argument. must be something in the water. Personally, I think it is a cri-de-coeur from a macho-male. He doesn't want to be identified with any male who might actually love another male person.

Reading today's Gospel,about Jesus at the table with his best friend John, leaning on his breast at supper. Now that would not do for Dan! How do macho males live with that sort of relationship, and in public, too?

And as for that David and Jonathan affair (better than the love of women) - how come they even have bothered to mention that in the Bible? But there your are - It's God's Word, isn't it?

It really is time some people grew up and accepted the fact that God made them male and female - and all sorts of people in between.

Anonymous said...

Just more ad hominem.

I actually read the article and it presents a number of reasonable, though certainly debatable, points.

Ron fails to adress even one. Instead, using apparent psychic powers again, he claims that Dan Dolejes just has a psychological problem because he is "macho", or perhaps it "just in the water" in Nelson.

Both Dan and this blog deserve better responses to the arguments of traditionalists than these kinds of superficial, Ad Hominem driven responses.

Anonymous said...

"It really is time some people grew up and accepted the fact that God made them male and female - and all sorts of people in between."

Two problems.


Merely because we disagree with you dies not make us immature children.

STOP the Ad Hominem Ron, it will only end in tears.

Secondly, Jesus said God made men and women. Full stop.

Please show us where Jesus says "male and female - and all sorts between."

Anonymous said...

The claim that David and Jonathan were likely gay is ludicrous. Apart from displaying an appalling lack of understanding of Middle East male culture, the idea that because David and Jonathan loved each other this must mean they were "gay" is a purely modern Western liberal prejudice, and insulting to men in general.

If I love my brother, my dad, or my son, does that make me gay?

Of course not! Then why if two men have a deep and loving friendship does that HAVE to be gay?

This is pure political propaganda, not Biblical exegesis.

Father Ron Smith said...

You're putting words into my mouth again, Shawn, Please desist from this appalling misrepresentation.

Peter Carrell said...

Further correspondence here on David and Jonathan, etc, or on who is misrepresenting whom will not be accepted.

Joshua said...

Once again Ron hijacks blog.

And once again Peter, you let him!?

Peter Carrell said...

You haven't seen the comments I have deleted, Joshua!

Anonymous said...

Peter, you create a rod for your own back and thereby prevent serious evangelical discussion getting underway. This is a great shame (and entirely unnecessary and self-inflicted), since evangelical Anglicans in NZ need a good forum for mutual edification and instruction in a church in SERIOUS decline. I like to hear what Shawn and Bryden have to say, but give up once the infantile and tiresome remarks from the peanut gallery begin.
I do not inflict myself on Mr Smith's blog or on 'Thinking Anglicans'. Why do you inflict him on us?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Martin
I am responsible for the comments which make it through moderation. I do not always get it right and clearly here I have gotten it wrong!

I am not going to ban Ron per se but if Ron is reading this, the noose is getting tighter re "ad hominem" comments. And now I am also watching out for comments which otherwise stifle and inhibit the free flow of exchange around ideas!

Joshua Bovis said...

You haven't seen the comments I have deleted, Joshua!

Point taken!!!!!!!!


Anonymous said...

I thought you would reply that way. The triumph of hope over experience. You will have the same problem in two weeks' time.


MichaelA said...

Peter, I am unimpressed that you yourself have "inhibited the free flow of exchange around ideas" by presenting us with sweeping statements in an authoritarian take-it-or-leave it fashion. To wit:

"NZ stands on the verge of a great win. ..."

Next you will be asserting that the Crusaders are flogging their opponents in South Africa, and other absolutist claims.

MichaelA said...

"Approaching Good Friday we observe that the theological meaning of the death of Jesus, elucidated through Paul's writings and the Epistle to the Hebrews, scarcely impacts on the gospel narrative. Presumably the historical Jesus said very little about the meaning of his death and, remarkably, the gospels are faithful to Jesus when it must have been tempting to put words in his mouth."

I agree, sort of, but would observe that Jesus taught a great deal about the meaning of his death in the three years leading up to Holy week, and he also taught a lot about it after his resurrection.

We are not told the content of most of the latter teaching, but it is reasonable to assume that it greatly influenced the Apostles' teaching, since they were the recipients of it.

Peter Carrell said...

Yes, MichaelA, and that unrestrained hope on my part has been soundly disciplined with the visitation of a "draw" upon our team!

Andrew Reid said...

Peter, I think we get a clue to Jesus' teaching about his death from the Acts of the Apostles. Luke's gospel leaves us with that tantalising account on the road to Emmaus, where Jesus begins with the Law and the Prophets to explain the Scriptures about himself to the two disciples on the road. We then find the apostles in Acts explaining God's purposes in Jesus' death from Psalms 2, 10, 116, 118, and Dt 18. We are meant to deduce that these are the very passages Jesus used to explain his death and resurrection.

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, those of us in the ACANZP who perhaps have a different slant on spirituality from your own (except where it really matters) - and that of the majority of your current correspondents, want you to know that we are grateful for your gracious hosting on your blog.

We would want to defend you against those who want you to foster only (their) like-minded theological speculation - believing that, as a diocesan Educator, you are able to value the contributions of those from whom you may differ; and you host your blog accordingly.

Thank you for your gracious hospitality. If ever you think that outside opinions are not welcome here, I would gladly (albeit, sadly) give way to those whose opinions coincide with your own.

I am very much aware that many of your commenters are disposed to call my posts 'ad hominem', and I'm sad about that, and herewith, sorry to have caused grave offence. However, I have noted that these same people who moan about my 'orneryness' are not immune from offering 'ad hominem' themselves.

For your (and their) peace of mind, I will not be posting further until after Easter. That's if you will have me! The Peace of Christ be with you this Paschal-tide

Yours, en Christo, Ron.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron et al

Whether we think of this blog as Anglican, Christian or both in character, it is a blog for all willing to read it, and where comments are welcome from all when they are comments on posts, on the substance of other comments, or perhaps on other matters, including cricket.

What are not welcome are comments which are comments on other commenters.

Increasingly I am realising that such ad hominem comments are not far removed from comments on other people (the Pope, liberals, gays, conservatives, English cricketers, etc). Expect further crackdowns!

The problem from a moderation point of view is that generally no one here comments in a purely ad hominem way, raging against another human being. Rather, quite erudite and civilised comments about issue X or topic Y include one sentence, or even a half-sentence about commenter Z ... and therein lies the trouble!

So if we could tighten up, but principally if I as moderator could spot those half-sentences more quickly ... but I am moving from the grace of editing such comments to the law of hitting the Delete button.

Anyway, all commenters welcome; but ad hominems are excluded.