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Louise: But didn’t he finally do something religious when he died on the cross?

I’m sorry to disappoint you, Louise, but no again. Nothing he did was in any way recognizable as having religious significance. He died as a common criminal. The cross is a sign not of sacrifice but of execution — of a nasty bit of judicial murder that has no more intrinsic significance than the thousands of other such acts all through history. To be sure, people have turned the cross into a religious symbol; but since Christianity is not a “religion,” that sort of thing can only lead to confusion. Christianity is the proc­lamation of the end of religion, not of a new religion, or even of the best of all possible religions. And therefore if the cross is the sign of anything, it’s the sign that God has gone out of the religion business and solved all the world’s problems without requiring a single human being to do a single religious thing. What the cross is actually a sign of is the fact that religion can’t do a thing about the world’s problems — that it never did work and it never will — which is exactly what Hebrews 10:4 says: “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” So, if you want to theologize it into a sign, the best you can do is say that it’s the sign of the fulfillment of all that religion ever tried to do and couldn’t. The fact that the death of Jesus was non-religious says that loud and clear. And the fact that we put up crosses in the church, and make the sign of the cross on those who are baptized, says the same thing.

If that’s hard for you to grasp, try a little mental exercise with me. Suppose for a moment that the work of Jesus — the mani­festation of the whole Mystery of God’s Incarnation — was taking place now rather than in the first century. Suppose that the Jesus in whom he became human had been born in an inner city to poor, Hispanic parents in 1959, that he began teaching when he was about thirty, and that after three years he ran afoul of the authorities and was condemned to death in 1992. Then ask yourself, “How would he be executed?” Most likely, of course, he’d die in the electric chair.

But then, jump ahead to the year 3092 and ask yourself another question: What would his followers in that distant future be doing with that manner of death in terms of ecclesiastical symbolism? It’s interesting, isn’t it? The chosen sign of the saving Mystery of his death would be not a cross but an electric chair. There would be replicas of the Old Rugged Electric Chair in all the churches. Solid brass ones, fourteen-karat gold-on-silver ones, fabulous diamond-encrusted ones on cathedral altars, tiny silver-chained ones to wear around your neck, and even molded chocolate ones for Easter candy. Not only that, but those who were baptized would probably have their heads shaved and be strapped into a chair for the rite.

But perhaps that’s enough to make my point about the cross. All I want to add here is that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was just as non-religious. Nobody at all saw him actually do it. And only a handful of people witnessed the empty tomb — a witness that was written off by a good many others as a fraud. True enough, his followers claimed to have seen him risen; but he didn’t bother to stay around long enough to get any decent publicity. Instead, he disappeared after forty days and left a ragtag group of apostles and disciples to proclaim that this festival of irreligious mysteriousness was in fact the best news the human race had ever had. Weird; definitely weird. But not religious.

Third and finally, though, think of how the street-theater director’s cast of characters might try to explain to themselves how he finally turned their hodgepodge of actions into a play with a happy ending. They might, of course, attribute his success to specific bits of intervention on his part: a word here, the suggestion of a different bit of business there. And, true enough, each of those interventions would have been an instance of the director himself entering into the interchanges of the play. But if the cast were wise, they would look deeper than that. For one thing, they would see that since the key to the play’s success didn’t lie in them, it had in some sense to have been in the director all along. And for another thing, they would realize that since the success of the play was caused by the director, he had to have been in the play at every moment of its action, not just at the times they could recognize as his interventions.

In other words, they would have to invent something very like the notion of mystery to explain his constant, unobservable presence throughout the play; and they would have to invent something very like the notion of sacrament to explain how his occasional, specific actions were not just single instances of his acting to make the play a success but rather manifestations, in certain situations, of his real and effective presence to the play all along. Or, to put it another way, they would have to develop a directology (read “theology”) of his work that met two important criteria. On the one hand, it would have to affirm his intimate and immediate relationship to every moment of the play and not insist that his specific interventions were the whole cause of its happy ending. On the other hand, it would have to affirm his general relationship to the play in such a way that it didn’t deny the real presence and effectiveness of that relationship in his specific interventions.

Which brings us (luckily, because the analogy is just about to wear thin and break down) to what the church at its best has done in developing a theology (read “directology”) of the work of God incarnate in the world. Needless to say, the church’s theolo­gizing has had its share of analogous temptations. Some theologians leaned in the direction of the “on the one hand” in the preceding paragraph. They treated the death and resurrection of God in Christ, for example, as if it were the only time and place in the history of creation where God had done his reconciling work. He acted once and for all, they said, in A.D. 29. Taken literally, of course, that got them into trouble. The “once” made it sound as if God had been absent from the play of history until he showed up after the intermission and did his thing in Jesus. And the “for all” gave them problems because it required a lot of legalistic shuffling to get the job he did in Jesus applied to the characters who died before the intermission, or to those who did their part in the play of history in places that Jesus (or his church) never got to before they died — or never got to at all.

This approach also led them to take a highly “transactional” view of what the church was up to. The church, for them, became the pipeline through which the work of God in Christ was funneled to the world. If you got yourself connected to the church, you got the happy ending; if you didn’t, you were out of luck. Or, to change the illustration, the church took the God in Christ who said he was the Light of the world and turned him into the Lighting Company of the world, complete with access fees (lots of good deeds) to be paid before you could tap into his power, and the threat of a cutoff in service if you didn’t keep up the monthly payments with righteous acts. But if Jesus really shines as the Light of the world the way the sun shines as the light of the earth, then nobody needs to do anything to get the light. The Mystery of Christ shines from one end of creation to the other: the whole shooting match is already lit up everywhere, free for nothing. The church doesn’t have to tear around telling people to get themselves wired into Jesus. It just has to bring them the hilariously Good News that if only they will trust Jesus and open their eyes, the darkness will be gone. And it will be gone because, except for the blindness of their unbelief, it was never there at all.

The whole, reconciling work of God incarnate in Jesus, you see, is already in everybody and everything by the universal pres­ence of the Mystery of Christ. Therefore, the church is catholic not because it has the whole human race inside it (it never has had, and it probably never will) but because it is the sign (sacrament) to the world of the catholic reconciliation God has handed to every last human being from Adam to whomever. And do you see whai that means? It means that the Mystery of Christ is present not just in Christians or in good guys but present in sinners right in the midst of their sins. It means that the Mystery isn’t something that picks up its lily-white skirts and runs away when somebody does a no-no. The Mystery just hangs around everywhere: it’s in the murderer at the moment he puts the knife in the victim’s chest; it’s in the victim as the knife punctures her heart — and it’s in the abuser and the abused, the torturer and the tortured, the violator and the violated. You don’t earn its presence by being a good egg, and you can’t lose it by being a bad one.

Which is why, I suppose, when God chose to sacramentalize the presence of that Mystery in Jesus between 4 B.C. and A.D. 29, he made sure it got manifested in a very questionable egg indeed. In some sense, to be sure, Christians are committed to take seri­ously the notion that Jesus was “without sin.” But you have to be very careful not to turn him into a Little Lord Fauntleroy in velvet pants. Because whatever the theological significance of his “sinless-ness” may be, it’s a cinch that the notion would have been news to most of the people who ran into him during his career. As a matter of fact, a lot of them just lumped him together with the whores and tax sharks he habitually hung around with and let it go at that. Even more alarmingly, he never even tried to convince them otherwise — being content, it would seem, to be made “like his brothers and sisters in every respect,” even to the point of being a rotten egg, or, in Paul’s more elegant but even more astounding phrase, of being “made sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21).

The Mystery of Christ manifested in Jesus, therefore, is the Mystery of the irrevocable marriage of God to creation — of a completely restored relationship “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health.” It is not some divine Ro­mance with an idealized beloved; it’s the embracing of all the gorgeousness and grisliness of the world because that’s all the world God wants and all he’s got — because “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29), and because, as the om­nipotent, champion turkey-caller of all time, he doesn’t quit till he gets every turkey in the world: Robert, Louise, Otto, Enid, Alice, and Frank; Alexander the Terrible, Sam the Serial Killer, and Geof­frey the Office Letch; St. Francis of Assisi, St. Gregory the Great, and St. Jerome the Professional Grouch-and even St. George the Dragon-slayer, just in case he had the dumb luck actually to exist We are all the Bride, the Wife of the Lamb who is the Light of a world made new in his death and resurrection.

I promised you that at the end of this long string I would give you something about the carnality of faith to the enjoyment of the Mystery of God’s Incarnation, of your restored relationship in the Marriage of God to creation. Here it is; read it slowly, because it will be over in just two short sentences:

You don’t have to work for the relationship because you’ve got it already. Just trust Jesus and open your eyes.

 

The Mystery of Christ, pgs. 62-67

 

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A friend asked this question of me knowing my promiscuous appreciation for Robert Capon…

What do you think Robert Capon would say about Matthew 5:13-20?

(Thinking about Sunday’s sermon)

L.

I don’t find at this point anything that RC has said on that text.  I’m sure that he homilied  it more than a few times.

The Beatitudes are not simple.  I’m constantly being challenged by what Jesus is recorded to have said in this setting.  I’m constantly in flux relative to what I think it means to me and us as “church”.

Be that as it may, let me start with what Dallas Willard says about the Beatus;

“The Beatitudes, in particular, are not teachings on how to be blessed. They are not instructions to do anything. They do not indicate conditions that are especially pleasing to God or good for human beings.
“No one is actually being told …that they are better off for being poor, for mourning, for being persecuted, or so on, or that the conditions listed are recommended ways to well-being before God or man. Nor are the Beatitudes indications of who will be on top ‘after the revolution.’ They are explanations and illustrations, drawn from the immediate setting, of the present availability of the kingdom through personal relationship to Jesus. They single out cases that provide proof that, in him, the rule of God from the heavens truly is available in life circumstances that are beyond all human hope.”
-Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy

I think that Willard is correct that in the parables Jesus isn’t telling us to do anything—they are not moral stories, rather stories that give us some insight into what the Father (and at times the Son) is like and how radically varient is the oikonomia of the Kingdom of the Heavens from the powers and principalities of the present age.  I know from my extensive reading (even a superficial reading would serve) that Capon wrote the same kinds of things and had very similar understanding as Willard in this.

To establish the context I’ll copy/paste Eugene Peterson’s take on the passage;

When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down 2 and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

 3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

11 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. 12 You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

13 “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.

14 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. 15 If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. 16 Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. 17 “Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures— either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama. 18 God’s Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God’s Law will be alive and working.

Knowing full well, as we do, that RC’s shibboleth that Grace rest on the lost, the least, and the last—I’m now forced/constrained to view the Gospel narratives through that systematic lens.  How do we–the down and out’ers at the end of our ropes, we who have lost everything we once thought indispensable (especially our own egoic pride), we have ceased from taking ourselves seriously, have entirely different “appetites” than what is considered “normal” by our competitive and sex and violence addicted society, we who would rather spend time in contemplation than amusing ourselves to death with “reality” TV, and have more appetite for constructive relationships than rather trying to figure out who’s in and who’s out with God…Yeah, us “nare do well’s”  who just don’t get “how this world works”, so to speak.  (Isn’t that just a humdinger of a run-on?)

So, how are we, the Failures in the sight of the world (everybody are losers, it’s just that some admit it and some don’t…in the final analysis none of us have the power to hold our life intact) who apparently spend our lives in the “lost and found” section of Sears, how is it that Jesus says we are “salt and light”?

My short answer?

By being willing to be viewed as “failures” and “dog dirt” (I Cor. 4:13) by the powers that be (“The World”). In doing that—in reality allowing that to be in us—we are to the world sacraments of Jesus, the Light of Life which has come into the world.  Being vulnerable to others will at the surface look like a total failure.

Maybe I can “channel” RC with a paraphrase…

“Jesus is the ultimate loser of a god dying on a loser’s cross—a loser right to the end when he prays, “Father, FORGIVE THEM….”

Nietzsche didn’t criticize Jesus as a failure or loser, rather his criticism was directed toward those who claimed to be Jesus’ followers while at the same time buying into a “tame” successful life in the present which is a repudiation of Christ and thus the “death of God”.

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I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these.

Is. 45:7 KJV

“ In God’s world good and evil are an ecology. The whole world is an ecology of opposites dancing with each other.  And God loves their dance.  The real sin at the tree of knowledge of good and evil was man trying to manage good and evil as God does not manage them.  God lets evil be.  Given the actions of people God does not, except in very rare circumstances, in the business of preventing their consequences.”

Robert Capon

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=-ueqWpyKOvo#t=1213

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“Faith is not something that is rewardable.  Faith is the illumination of our darkness.  Faith accepts whatever is there already.”

Capon

Mark 10:

46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.

John 5:

2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids-blind, lame, and paralyzed. 4 – – – 5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

Bartimaeus ask for sight and gets it.

The invalid when asked by Jesus if he wants to be healed only complains about how he can’t drag himself into the water ahead of others—and Jesus heals him.

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