Like a Child

Preamble:

Yesterday’s post “And so we have it!” certainly suggests that with the major parties capitulating to “marriage equality” demands there are massive issues at stake. They are so momentous that it is well to stand aside and refuse to play the silly and farcical game of the Liberal Coalition parties with their national survey. It is a thoroughly confused strategy – unprincipled at root – and likely to generate still more political confusion and more unprincipled parliamentary manipulation.
Our advice: stay well clear. Keep your head and refuse to be badgered by this nonsense.
So with that dissent we are still in need of perspective, a light to lighten the path ahead. Here is my effort to suggest some things about the way in which Matthew gave the early church teaching of Jesus that helps us reconsider our membership in the “kingdom of heaven” in this 2017 context. It not only helps us see what is crucial for our everyday life, as we come to terms with a new and upcoming generations of children, but also for how we should see the connection between our contributions to the nurturing of these generations and the manner in which public life is formed (and we are taxed).

Matthew 18: 1-7

Here follows a series of exchanges where the disciples of Jesus begin to probe Jesus further, since his teaching is so obviously fresh and new and gives raise to all kinds of thinking that hitherto has not been thought about.

Jesus has begun to “open the eyes of the blind” – particularly of his disciples. Yes, their Kingdom of Heaven responsibilities include their task as those who live in a political realm, but not necessarily as they have come to construe it. His teaching instructs them to be motivated to give freely as God has given freely to them (Matt 10:8). This is part of a divinely mandated reciprocity that cannot be withheld from by the disciple from rulers even if these rulers sadly neglect their subjects by recourse to pre-emptive powers that claim ownership of the stewardship that has been given them by God.

And so the question of true greatness – albeit in a context of power-mongered demand for tribute – is raised.

Who commands immediate respect in God’s Kingdom, Lord?

Jesus’ answer turns the world upside down. These disciples were being forcibly induced to view it in another way. It is as if Jesus’ replies:

Oh I have been wondering when you might ask that question. It’s so important. Well done for asking. Here’s the answer – this lad, this lass, here, this three year-old who is still so much reliant upon being held in mum and dad’s arms – this child is the one to whom you, with all your adult sophistication, with all your tax reduction schemes, with all your skilful apprecticeships in various occupations, with all your learning from synagogue and school, with all the understanding you have gleaned from your parents and elders – this is the person who must command first and foremost respect in your life. And you know, unless you turn around and face this reality, and stop blundering on in your quest to command respect and in deed become a child, just like this one, there’s simply no way you can set out on the paths of God’s kingdom. This is because the pathways of God’s Kingdom are especially reserved for those are humble, who humble themselves like this child – get to know and sing, and keep on singing Psalm 131. Being one to one such child is being open to me – to me, your Lord, Master, Rabbi, the Son of Man, the one you are so keen to confess as Israel’s Messiah.

In his exposition of the tribute that His Father expects those associated with His Son to pay tribute to the Imperial Government – lest there be cause for offense. What Jesus says to his disciples leads on to what he says here about the consequences – the offense, the scandal – of not giving first and foremost respect to children.

More and more in our reading of this Gospel we have evidence of Matthew’s way of developing his narrative. As he develops the brief discussion about the paying of tribute, it is as if Matthew says to us “Oh and that word offense (σκάνδαλον) in the context of Jesus’ response about tribute, that reminds of this other time when Jesus used that word.” This seems to be part of the way Matthew maintains continuity in his story-telling narrative.

We see here a pertinent question about following Jesus, following Jesus in a political context requiring the payment of taxes, following Jesus by looking forward as we pay these taxes to how they will be put to good use, following Jesus by reckoning with the Kingdom of heaven’s deep, persistent and ongoing concern for how the next generation is being respected as it should be in our lives, following Jesus by giving respect to the ongoing human task of bringing children into God’s creation and nurturing them. He reckons with the problems, the offenses, the scandals, the sins.

The implication is that we are simply not on the same page as our Father in heaven if we do not understand His earnest desire of us as disciples of His Son to ascribe first-and foremost respect to who we are because of our being associated with His Son. it is as if Jesus continues:

And this all means that you are those He has given to me, you, you as His children too, just like this child here.

That then leads Jesus to a warning that burned the ears of those attending.

In God’s Kingdom any lack of first and foremost respect to any of these, whoever they may be, by actions that throw a hurdle of offense onto their path, is simply a disaster for the one doing so.  The consequences of missing this point, even if by a concerted effort of giving offense in response to offense being given, is, quite frankly, to miss out on life itself. You might as well be drowned, well and truly.
Sure, says Jesus, these offences, these historically constructed hurdles that stand in the way of a new generation’s proper respect, are bound to come, but don’t go contributing, paying tribute, to these scandals. Keep well away.

And the way of keeping well away, presumably, is a life in keeping with Jesus’ teaching – because He is God’s own Son – and this teaching nurtures a new generation of those, just like us, only now as we take up our nurturing task, we become moreso like what we are becoming to be (an awkward construction admittedly but also used by the Apostle Paul who had to learn from Jesus how to forego his former offense at the Gospel – 2 Cor 3:18). This is the way to keep on identifying ourselves as children in God’s Kingdom.

This account would assist the young church in what their task was in relation to what Jesus had done and taught in his ministry. The sadness of the disciples at his prophesy that he was going to be killed – like John the Baptist – was no forerunner to an anger that would be oriented to rebellion about the Romans. This part of Matthew’s Gospel gives sound precedents to how Jesus expected his followers, not only to pay their taxes, but also to keep on encouraging the raising families even if it were in circumstances of alien imperial rule and oppression.

BCW 13.8.17

UNCOVERING THE HIDDEN DIMENSIONS OF A SECULARISED IDENTITY (6)

A Christian University Student Confronts the Secular University  

The assumption that “religion” was a “private” matter was firmly entrenched, so much so that its privatisation as that had occurred in our own personal lives was rarely discussed. It is, I guess, a failure to be explained by various contextual factors, not least the intellectual elitism that was part of the positivist world-view that had superficially absorbed the “Protestant Ethic” thesis of Max Weber, and what was said to be his version  of “value free” scientific inquiry (see comment quoted by Hugh Stretton in a later post). In this way a taken-for-granted historical interpretation of the “privatisation” process was simply oriented to ignore any doubts that students might have raised about this “privatised” view of religion when they reflected upon their own experience of, say, the previous 5 years.

Such was the prevailing university ethos that all such doubts were considered to be “private” or “personal hangups”. Even so, for me the teaching of Jesus Christ about what it meant to be his disciple had become important in an everyday sense and so “being a Christian” became more and more a way of life, something to be lived out, something that could not avoid its public expression. It was not just a matter of what I said to people on the bus I took when travelling to the campus for classes. Even the bus ride made sense as part of the life Jesus Christ called me to live. So did the football field. But did that simply mean, courteously thanking the driver and talking quietly about my personal beliefs to the person who happened to sit next to me? Although I could not accept a “privatised” view of religion, I was not really prepared to consider what “being a Christian” meant for the sociology lecture, where we might be invited to ask questions, or the tutorial where we were required to give a brief paper. Was I ready and able to reflect upon what might be called the “everyday secularisation” that had already become part of my life? Was I ready and able to reflect upon the “everyday secularisation” in which I was immersed every day.

And so my point here is that “secularisation” was already very much alive in our pre-university experiences and should have been part of class-room discussion in university sociology when we were introduced to “secularisation theory”. The fact that I can now say that we were not encouraged to openly explore our own religious experience to that time as under-graduates should not be interpreted to mean that we were discouraged from doing so privately. In the same way the reigning “politeness” (and at times sheer mean-spirited arrogance that Stretton fingers) didn’t encourage us to critically explore the schooling we had experienced (or endured). To do so, on either count, would have violation the accepted views of “value neutrality” of the teaching that was being presented to us. The Vice Chancellor attempted to enter into debate with a statement that demonstrated his own positivist credentials:

It really is important that university scholarship should be neutral and objective. [It should not be forgotten that at this time the Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Politics publicly asserted that Karl Marx was not on the economics curriculum because he had not made any significant contribution to economic theory!]

At the very least there is a field here for further sociological and historical research to understand just what the previous presumption of the privatisation of values for scientific and scholarly research meant and how that coincided with the dogmatic acceptance of what Berger now refers to as “secularisation theory”.

To cut a long story short: the cultural context in which Christian faith then confronted modern life was one in which one faith was dominant – and it remains to this day even if it has suffered serious challenges from post-modern relativism, nihilism, resurgent nationalism and even Islamic Terrorism. But this dominant faith of our universities is pragmatism even as John Dewey had described it. Our political-economy is led by those who fervently believe that politics is a part of human culture given to us to solve our economic problems. This is not Christianity, but a rigid and dogmatic faith and trust in the human capacity for problem solving, and it leads the way even as it is not at all sure where it is headed. That was the perspective that prevailed in the social sciences, and particularly in sociology as well. And the problem that defies resolution, and seemingly cannot be avoided, is that Christianity in large part has accommodated pragmatism and Christians are living a life that assumes that their own faith needs to be harnessed to the problem-solving autonomy of pragmatism.

I ask this question now – almost 50 years later – and I can grandstand and say that I should have been invited to investigate this crisis by sociology lecturers and tutors who should have seen this as part of their professional task. But such a dogmatic ex post facto judgment on my part would simply hide the fact that just as I was became somewhat unsure as to why I was at university (in 1969-1971), so when I taught sociology in years that followed I didn’t adopt the kinds of pedagogic strategies I would now say should be simply part of the deal.

The more interesting sociological question, perhaps, is one about the state of the discipline as understood in the 1960s and early 1970s. It was dominated by that same secularised utilitarian outlook and I suspect lecturers and tutors who may have had a keen sense of their responsibility for nurturing a genuinely intellectual attitude did not necessarily find it easy to do so. Yes, some were of the “survival of the fittest” school who delighted in the brutality of their cruel comments: “you pass because you give well organised pseudo-attention to the theorists you go through the motions of considering … you give the game away by asserting propositions that indicate you were writing a religious tract rather than a serious intellectual exercise…” The fact this tutor overlooked at the time was that some religious tracts were indeed serious intellectual exercises and had changed the world, having had significant social and political consequences. And in my response to her I ignored this as well!

Leaving aside the blatantly uncaring, unloving attitude of those aspiring to assert an Oxbridge (or even LSE) elitism in Australia’s antipodean academies, let me list a few examples of how “everyday secularisation” were part of my experience and note how they were avoided when I was initially introduced to the sociological theory that “secularisation” meant an inevitable retreat from religious faith.

1. I can remember my mother teaching me and my brothers the “Lord’s Prayer”. This was before going to sleep at night when we were very small. As we grew older, “Grace” was only said sometime on Sunday before dinner (still then the classic “roast” that had cooked in the oven while Mum attended church as Dad stayed at home “nearer God’s heart in the garden than anywhere else on earth.”)
2. We three boys were encouraged to go to Sunday School. I remember one Sunday morning saying to Dad that I didn’t want to go. He said I had to go. It seemed to me that since he didn’t go to church, it was somewhat illogical for him to require me to go to Sunday School. Logic didn’t prevail, however; I went.
3. Most of the children in my primary school classes (1957-1962) still went to Sunday School. By third form of high school (1965), a smaller but smaller percentage of students in my year were still attending church and involved in church youth group weekly activities. By form six, I suspect, the numbers had fallen appreciably. At High School, I joined the InterSchool Christian Fellowship which in Form 4 – I had been confirmed at the local church in Form Three – and I became a leader in Forms 5&6. The group met weekly and was supported by a network of Protestant and Evangelical churches and associations.

Why do I list these as part of “everyday secularisation”?

1. Praying to God may have been important when I was young. But as I grew older it became less and less emphasized and apart from the occasional ‘Grace’, not something done as a family. I suspect the custom of praying before meals in previous generations had, with us, become guiltily reduced to now and again at Sunday dinner.
2. Sunday School was common for many school children in the 1950s. That was part of our post World War II “baby boomer” generation’s taken-for-granted experience. It suggests that for a while religion was deemed important in the aftermath of the war. It provided moral glue. It was rationalised by those requiring their children to attend Sunday School, even if they were not church members, as a necessary means for the moral instruction of the young.
3. By becoming involved in the Inter-School Christian Fellowship (ISCF), and then later at University in the Evangelical Union (EU) – a member of the nation-wide and international “Intervarsity Fellowship” (IVF), the possibility arose to reflect upon how it was that there had been such a decline in churches, Sunday Schools and Christian youth clubs. In that sense, such association membership, as with continued church attendance, was “against the tide”. Many within the EU saw the club as means of reviving the churches.

Within the expanding Melbourne suburbs, ISCF and EU were part of a loose confederation of Christian associations that renewed contacts at Belgrave Heights at Easter, supporting Overseas Missionary Fellowship (CIM), Wycliffe Bible Translators (Summer Institute of Linguistics), the Australian Institute of Archaeology, and Scripture Union. In 1970 there was a second “Billy Graham Crusade” – a first had been held in 1959 – and this may have presupposed such a network. But the widespread Christian and evangelical acquiescence in “secularisation theory” coincided with an increase in university trained graduates in these organisations.

University was said to be the place for professional training. The view was this: a scientific and modern outlook was developed at university and those undergoing scientific training were gaining a basis for professional expertise to face up to the facts that could be objectively verified. The prevailing view was that modern society had developed with “religion” assuming its place in the background, religious beliefs being a private matter. Since all this was taken for granted, the experience of advancing “secularisation” of which we may have already become aware, did not become part of any discussion in lectures or tutorials. It was simply assumed that religion, and with it religious experiences, were indicative of a way of life that was on the way out, a way of life that had been superseded.

It did not occur to us as we sat in sociology lectures and tutorials that these social experiences of “everyday secularisation” from our own twenty year Australian social experience should have been openly discussed and analysed in tutorial classes. Despite the implicit endorsement of auto-biography by Peter Berger (Invitation to Sociology Penguin 1963/ 1968 p.27) because it provided empirical “data” for sociology’s scientific advance, religious belief was merely accorded due respect as a matter of private conviction. And there it could stay, respected and undisclosed subjected to a disciplinary imposition of a necessarily secularised consciousness. By contrast with religion, science was said to be concerned with what was public and factual, with what, in other words, was objective and open to scientific verification. Religious belief may be accorded deep respect as an unavoidable and even mysterious dimension of human subjectivity, but we weren’t encouraged to concern ourselves with that – in ways strikingly similar to how the dodgy Queensland Premier of those years said in reply to difficult questions: “Don’t you go worrying about that!” Had not human social development increased as religious influence decreased? Was not western progress so advanced that we were on the verge of conquering all kinds of problems that previous generations had no known how to think about, let alone resolve because of dogmatic prejudices inculcated by dogmatic religion? And so the focus was very much upon other matters of large-scale social institutions and processes and functions, rather than exploring the possible sociological significance of Sunday Schools, Christian Clubs and church membership. If there was encouragement to study such vital aspects of our younger lives it was only ever indirect, and certainly not to help us understand how we had already participated in what was assumed to be the inexorable process of secularisation which emancipated adult maturity to think rationally and scientifically.

In these times when we hear about the ongoing cover-up of scandalous sexual abuse and exploitation in Christian churches, one can only surmise about what might have resulted subsequently, let alone then, had sociology tutorials, in those so-called radical times, been fired with a genuine concern to ensure just discussion and analysis of the “everyday secularisation” of the kind I have outlined above, let alone the profane and disgusting conduct that was perpetrated under the protection of self-defining sacred institutions.

To give another example: why was it, with all the “secularisation theory”, born of the enlightened reason dominating those radical years, missed the impact of this mis-use of religious institutional power implicit in the stolen generations and had to wait decades for recognition let alone for Government’s “Apology” on behalf of the nation and ongoing reconciliation? Doris Pilkington Garimara (Dolly Craig) (1937-2014) the author of Rabbit Proof Fence, published her book in 1996; the film came in 2002. The prevailing and pathetic advocacy of “secularisation theory” in sociology might want to say that it was sociology leading the way to reconciliation but that simply deepens the question as to why such injustices were not confronted decades earlier? Just as “secularisation theory” may have been set forth in the same breath as “civil rights progress”, just as easily it might be said to have hampered the understanding of what was at stake, particularly when it failed to form an open view of the social world that would initiate an inquiry into the “social construction of secularisation” and do so by placing student evidence of “everyday secularisation” on its sociological research agenda. But if its horizon was itself secularised, from its own beliefs, then it clearly missed what was self-evidently right there in front of it.

There is more, much more that I can and should say about this. This series of posts has gone on for long enough. In future posts I will discuss further how I came to understand the calling of the Christian student. In the meantime those who have read this far might find my 1989 reflection worthwhile reading.

BCW

15.5.17.

UNCOVERING THE HIDDEN DIMENSIONS OF A SECULARISED IDENTITY – Part Four

Confronting Christian Sociology’s Cordon Sanitaire

As I have said in previous posts: I had begun to doubt the common “privatised” view of religion as a fourteen year-old. Because I could not accept a “privatised” view of religion, I was not at all willing to accept that the “everyday secularisation” that had already become part of my life should be ignored as religiously neutral. It was not. And that it was not religiously neutral was confirmed by the way in which the sociological explanation of “secularisation” was set forth in lectures and tutorials for us undergraduates as a process that was taking place above our heads, without our own involvement.

In that context to affirm that the teaching of Jesus Christ meant discipleship was a way of life and not merely a way of worship, something to be lived out publicly, had to clash with the “sociological tradition” which presupposed that Christianity had been consigned to the “background”, released to the private realm. And so, my under-graduate years were indeed a spiritual challenge. Even with sociology as my BA major, the idea that my major concern should have been with the development of a Christian sociological perspective did not come easily to me, and it was certainly not presented as a serious project for sociology students.

The ambiguity that I began to confront was this: if the development of a Christian sociology was to be viewed as a contradiction in terms, then this alleged fact needed to be investigated by those who considered it to be so. The theoretical view that was then challenging the dominant positivist view considered facts to be always part of a socially constructed reality and if the impossibility of a Christian sociology was fact did it not need to be investigated so that an explanation of the reality of its social construction could be set forth? And the investigation should definitely not be left to Christian students themselves. Was the social construction of reality perspective put forward by Berger and Luckmann a genuine sociological perspective or not? Or was the “debunking motif” that Berger claims as an integral part of the sociological perspective to be understood as perpetually biased on the side of those wanting to show the secularity and religious neutrality of the scientific discipline? In which case “secularisation theory” thus understood seems to imply a deep religious bias that a Christian sociology shouldn’t be attempted

I am suggesting that such an investigation is not at all peripheral. If society was indeed to be studied in terms of “secularisation theory” then to investigate why a Christian sociology was not possible, by those who believed it was not possible, must go to the heart of sociology itself. The negative case, if it is to function as part of scientific sociology, needs to be argued not merely presumed. The fact that it was merely presumed, the fact that Christian sociology was not a problem for investigation but an irritating problem that needed intellectual avoidance, simply indicated that “secularisation theory” was collapsing under its own antinomies. Without such developed argument, the proposition “There is no Christian sociology” is simply a dogmatic utterance blocking genuine research. And that’s just to discuss how it functions for students who don’t see any inner connection between their religious faith and their studies, even if they claim to have no religious faith.

So sociology, qua discipline, was merely affirmed to be religiously neutral. At that point we have come to a point where a significant sociological research question comes into view: how is it that the reigning commitment to “secularisation theory” didn’t require such challenging questions to be asked! How was it that sociology could be taught with its underlying secularised assumption masked? Why was it that the secularising social life of the students themselves was not part of any “invitation to sociology”? The absence of frank and open discussion about “secularisation” in its personal dimensions and consequences simply revealed a sociology that was dominated by an exclusive and unhelpful dogmatic attitude.

Context

At this point, I guess, my concern with the discipline that has become my major concern, requires some “relativisation” by referring to the prevailing education context of those times. From early on in high school, University entrance had been held out as something for students who were in the “top bracket”. University studies were a pre-requisite for future leadership in our society (or was it to be as student cynicism had it: just a “piece of paper”, a qualification in order to obtain a job?). Only the very brightest and the best would go on to “uni”. And once inside the academy, the under-graduate student discovered – sometimes to his or her deep consternation – that courses were organised in ways that may have required students to choose a “specialist” path but did not necessarily provide a scientific and philosophical training that gave them any basis upon which to make decisions concerning post-university contributions, employment and service. And in the process the idea of the university that had to that time prevailed, as a place of learning with an expectation of student curiosity was subverted. In Australia’s universities this utilitarian view was led by the prestigious professions of law and medicine first securing their place in the emerging scheme of things and they led the way with the basic BA and BSc degrees no longer retaining their central place as pre-requisite for any advanced specialist and professional study. High school was the launching pad for law and medicine and training in a well-rounded scientific competence would be replaced by job-training. Training in science (in all of its specialties) was being replaced by job training specialisation. The hopes of students who entered university in the 1960s hoping to enter courses that would allow them to transcend the narrow, specialised paths required for high school matriculation were soon dashed.

Getting it all Together

I may have had a vague idea of this at the time but it took some time to understand the maelstrom into which I found myself as an undergraduate. What emerged was an intellectual or more exactly a philosophical and theoretical problem that required coherent solution as my university studies proceeded: How was a student to “get it all together”? The demand was that one simply “get through the course”, to worry about intellectual integration later. Such philosophical questions could be attended to after one had become qualified, after one had proven oneself in specialised research in one discipline? Besides, who was going to listen to you anyway?

This problem was also part of the social and cultural atmosphere at that time? We breathed an air full of youthful criticism. There was idealism but it was always tempered by such a utilitarian calculus that – philosophically – suggested that the way forward was to stop being concerned with presuppositions, with pre-theoretical commitments, with asking basic questions about the structure of scientific inquiry.

I guess this kind of utilitarian “wait until you are qualified” fob off had already been inculcated in a “softer version” from family and school, and not so much from church, especially if it tended to indulge youthful aspirations.

Whatever we did as university students presupposed our eagerness to avoid “getting into a rut”. Was the university qualification, a BA, merely a passport to owning a home in the eastern suburbs? Was a BSc a flag that added to one’s marriage prospects? Was a university course merely a way to put off conscription if one had been unlucky enough for one’s birthdate marble to come out of the national service barrel?

I can’t tell the full story here. That would require some discussion of what seems now to have been something of a holding operation due to the stimulating writings of John Stott (1921-2011) and Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984). But I can say that a lot of things came together when I read a draft translation titled Reconstruction and Renewal of Herman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977), that would later be published as Roots of Western Culture (1979).

Choosing Ruts Carefully?

But that was also at the time, late in 1971 when I attended a lecture by a Sydney evangelical philosopher, who had already attained his place in a university faculty, who put it in these terms when addressing the inaugural National Evangelical Anglican Congress in 1971:

“Choose your ruts carefully!”

He may have been saying this with a considerable dose of irony but I found myself deeply alarmed by the call (and I still do) (The congress was for senior churchmen but the lectures were invaded by many interested evangelical students like myself). Had we not been challenged by the purveyors of the same evangelical outlook to go to university in order to challenge the view that life was inevitably to be “stuck in a rut”? Had we not been told on all sides, including in our churches, that we, a younger Christian generation, needed to serve Christ and avoid the ruts in which our parents’ generation had found themselves? Even our parents, those who still held out hope for us that we would freely give ourselves to our callings, had implicitly warned us about the way post-war “progress” had left them “in a rut”. Were we not warned about the peril of “going along with the crowd” – was not conformity the pathway to a future life lived that lacked authenticity? The genealogy of this view may have been English, but it was a view well entrenched within our generation’s cynicism, albeit somewhat “Christian” to boot. R. H. Tawney had associated it with his fictitious character “Henry Dubb”:

We go to work to earn the cash to buy the bread to get the strength to go to work to earn the cash … [quoted in R H Tawney “Christianity and the Social Revolution” Chapter 11 of The Attack and Other Papers Statesman 1981 (repr of 1953) pp. 157-166 at p. 163 ftn.1. This was a redraft of a 1935 review in the New Statesman.]

But then in 1971, what was this widely-respected Christian evangelical scholar doing by espousing a view that, as I then read it, undermined the self-same evangelical challenge that had, presumably, been thrown out to him earlier on in his life? Was academic success merely the means by which a person gained public permission to implicitly sneer at the urgency with which one started out as a Christian on the path of “higher learning”? How could Christian discipleship be maintained in such ruts? I was not so much angered as disturbed, concerned that this prominent scholar had so seriously accepted the view for himself that a Christian life for a university graduate was necessarily to live with such a dissonant world-view, one that seemed to acquiesce in his own compromised idealism as he set forth his view that the doctrines we live by needed to be affirmed by scripture, tradition and reason.

What was the antidote to this compromised scholastic idealism? An uncompromised anti-scholastic idealism, perhaps? A consistently moral, this worldly, materialism decorated with one denominational choice of biblical bunting?

To be continued ….

BCW

12.5.17

 

Ready and Waiting to Serve – the Disposition of a Christian Political Option

Ready and Waiting: Peter’s Understanding of a Christian Way of Life

I Peter 5:1-11

Let me call upon the seniors among you, as a fellow senior myself, one who has been a witness to Christ’s suffering, as well as being one who shares [with you] the status of those who wait for what is yet to be unveiled. You should shepherd the flock which is God’s and do it not by pressure-tactics but voluntarily, just as God has done Himself. Not with dog-eat-dog competitiveness, but with the eager intention of helping, not with an approach that presumes you are boss over your patch, but rather by creating an example for the entire flock to follow, so that when the Chief Shepherd Himself appears you will be crowned, the brilliance of your true status will be perpetually displayed.
And to you who are younger, in a similar attitude [of willing, eager service] submit yourselves [mutually] to those who are more senior. So that, with you all presenting yourselves to each other in humility you will experience mutual submission, since God is truly on the offensive against the high and mighty attitude and instead lavishes [His] grace upon those who are lowly [in spirit].
So then, keep yourselves humble, take a lowly position under the all-powerful hand of God so that, just at the right time, he may lift you up. Unload all your anxieties upon Him because He has made whatever it is that concerns you His business.
Stay alert; keep watch. Your prosecuting enemy rages up and down like a lion seeking to devour whom he may, and therefore is to be decisively resisted in the same faith [by which you unloaded all your anxieties] knowing that the same kind of trouble is being confronted by your fellows the world over.
Now may the God of all grace, He who has called you to henceforth share in Christ’s status, will, after these little troubles, renovate, plant, empower and secure you. To Him from henceforth be all the power! So be it! 

The letter presents Peter’s straight-forward instructions. Clearly the community to whom Peter was writing was not at that point strictly defined in any organisational sense. It is composed of house-servants, spread out over a wide geographic region, and includes those who are marriage partners, those who are older and younger. There is a recognition of the responsibilities and communal authority of people who have been around longer than those who have been around for less time. We don’t know what they were doing together in any detailed sense, and whether and how they met together on any regular basis, if at all. But they were now made new, open from their hearts to each other. Peter also reiterates a view that derives from Jesus’ own comments about authority as service.

You know how it is with those people who carry on ruling the nations. They lord it over each other and their great ones act in a tyrannical way. This is not how things should stand between yourselves. On  the contrary, if any one would wish to be of high standing, that person must be your servant; if he wishes to have priority it must be as a slave. This is how things are done with the Son of Man who has now turned up not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom paid on behalf of a multitude of people (Matthew 20:25-28 Adapted from Heinz Cassirer God’s New Covenant).

As we have discussed previously, the discussion of those who are older and those who are younger, relates to Peter’s address at Pentecost and concerns another “line item” of fulfillment in the prophecy of Joel:

I shall pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, the younger shall see visions, and those older shall dream dreams…

He continues to remind his readers that they, as believers in Christ Jesus, the ones on whom the Spirit has been poured out, are the ones who by their lives fulfill what has been foretold by the prophets. This discussion of the older and the younger, equally participating in God’s new covenantal community, that indeed they fulfil what Malachi had foretold about God’s great work before the final day of judgement,

… turning the hearts of the parents to their children and the hearts of the children to their parents (Malachi 4:6).

   We now also read this in the context of the final chapter of John’s gospel where Jesus calls upon Peter to serve as a shepherd, to “feed my sheep”, to “shepherd my lambs”, to “feed my lambs” (John 21:15-17). Does this not suggest that Jesus was calling upon Peter to exercise his responsibility in a way that recognises the flock’s generations? “The flock which is God’s” is in need of ongoing nurture and is made up of those who are older (sheep) and younger (lambs). They need to be cared for and the caring needs to be dispensed with sacrificial love and a deeply friendly approach both to the Lord and to the flock. But for such growth to be promoted in the flock, the Chief Shepherd first of all confirmed Himself as Friend to this fellow, Simon son of John. What Jesus was wanting to know was whether Peter loved Him, whether Peter considered himself to be a friend of the Chief Shepherd. It is when that friendship of love is established that those who will subsequently be responsible to the Chief Shepherd Himself will be able to truly submit themselves to each other, mutually. The entire flock must be nurtured, that is Jesus’ concern. And that will mean special attention to the youngest and most fragile, in order that they may grow into their full stature as members of the community. Eventually they will, when older, become “elders” who must also, in turn, contribute to the shepherding of the younger.

The Chief Shepherd has come once and will one day return. In the meantime His work is carried on by those who are privileged to do so. This is the ongoing nurturing responsibility for the people of God, those who have, by Divine action, been made safe by the work of Christ Jesus. God’s plans for His image-bearers include their ongoing growth and development, generation to generation.

Peter once more encourages those who are reading his letter to look forward to the time when it will all come together in the completion of God’s purposes. By living with such anticipation, they will maintain their own ongoing viability as an active serving community of faith. And that is how, in the meantime, before His return, the work will go on, and the task of older members of the flock made plain. As well, the task of younger members is to grow into fully mature members is also affirmed. The way of life is described as an ongoing unveiling as they heed the Good Shepherd’s voice – earlier on in his letter Peter had referred to this ongoing unfolding of God’s purposes in terms of the life of grass, of plants.

Give yourselves earnestly to the loving of one another without any hidden reservations, all because you have been re-born, not by seed which fails, but by that which is unfailing, the living word of God that endures on and on. Indeed [this is as it is written] all flesh is as grass, all its reputation is from its flower; the grass dries out and the flower falls. But what the Lord speaks endures now and  henceforth (1:22-25).

Here the message is the same even though the metaphor seems to have changed from that of plant (grass) to animal (sheep) life. [Earlier the metaphor of the Lamb and the flock relates to the stone and the temple of the Lord]. He returns to the floral image by reminding us of the perpetual and unfading [άμαράντινον – amaranthus, perpetuity] crown and does so by referring to what he has already explained as the purpose for his letter:

an inheritance which shall sustain its value, its integrity and its perpetual brilliance, especially ear-marked in the heavens for you (1:4).

So what is being reiterated and further elaborated here concerns the task of growing together in generation to generation terms. By faith in the Son of God, they (we) are to adopt the same humble demeanour which characterised Jesus Christ Himself, unloading all anxieties onto their Heavenly Father (Matthew 6: 25-34). The Lord God Himself has made it known that the concerns of His people are His concerns. And it is with that attitude that they will stay alert, resist the prowling tempter who would love nothing more than to see God’s children put on the wrack, or roasted on the spit. Peter has learned to be ready and [with perhaps some feint reference to the age-old story of Job in his suffering] anticipates this cruel resistance to godly living, thereby commending an alert and watchful attitude. We are all in it together, he says. No reason to think you are alone in your suffering.

It is to Jesus Christ that all power belongs and Peter concludes with a blessing that reminds his readers, and us, who they and we are and of the ongoing call to truly get in line with what God is purposely making them and us to be, the co-heirs of His Kingly rule in Jesus Christ. The Lord Himself is busy bringing His creation to its fulfillment and in this self-same process He is busy correcting, renovating, maintaining, securing, strengthening and  establishing the lives of His people.

Their concerns are truly His concerns. That is why they can live lives that are “ready and waiting!” This is a perpetual calling. It is not going away. Not now. Not ever.

BCW 23..4.17

Family Life, The Good News and Resisting Invasion

As we have written in this blog, again and again, Nurturing Justice is seeking to promote a Christian political option. And any reader who has followed what I have been trying to formulate over the years will be aware of my conviction that a Christian political option stands in need of a deeper and living reading of Biblical teaching by Christian citizens.

So in this blog, I’m reporting on something that I have begun to think about from considering what the Gospel tell us about the early years of Jesus, as well as what the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament tell us about the marriage of Mary and Joseph and their family life. And yet there is deep, deep denial of the Gospel record that Mary had other children in some prominent quarters of Christendom. The Gospels do in fact speak about Jesus’ siblings (Luke 8:19-21; Mt 12:46-50; Mt 13:55; Mk 3:31-35; Acts 1:14). I am suggesting that such denial is unhelpful in many ways, and has led to many misunderstandings and wrong paths. And that means problems for developing a Christian political option as well. A Christian political option needs to talk about the human task given by God, generation to generation, of raising and nurturing children to maturity. Jesus’ coming also has much to say about that intensely meaningful part of human responsibility coram Deo.

But Luke also tells us that in the years of their nurturing Mary’s first-born, Joseph and Jesus’ mother had only a vague glimpse of what Jesus’ coming into their lives meant. So as we read Luke’s Gospel, and keep in mind that he is reporting what he has uncovered in his investigations for Theophilus, we need to be alert to what we can learn from what is implied by Luke’s approach to how the child Jesus was nurtured within his family circle. And it’s not so much what we “hear”, it’s more like what we “overhear” as we attend to what is written. And for that we need careful, but at the same time, bold discussion to arise among those who wish to seek public justice in Jesus’ name.

From Luke’s account we hear that the story of Jesus’ childhood was kept as a family treasure by his mother. And just at the point in text where we might think we are being invited to view the family’s photo-album, we discover Luke telling us that what he has written is all we will get to know and, presumably, all that he knows too.

Just because this was the childhood of the One who would be resurrected and ascended to God’s right hand, does not mean that we have to know the full family history of these years. We do not find ourselves diminished in any way by not knowing Jesus’ family’s history.

We do know from Luke and Matthew of Jesus’ conception, we know of his birth, we hear of his presentation to the temple and we know of the event that occurred when the family crowd “went up” to Jerusalem when he was twelve. Luke and Matthew also help us understand something of the political context in which the lad was raised.

But what we mainly have are accounts of Jesus’ adult ministry, his works and teaching as the Anointed of the Lord. He was a poor Galilean preacher, teacher and healer.

Similarly, we do not have any accounts of the childhood of Jesus’ cousin, John, and there are only indirect inferences we can make about the experience of children from the reports of events that took place when, years later, Jesus’ ministry took him around Judaea, Galilee and Samaria. And I have noted that there may be something similar at work here when Jairus and his wife, and with them Peter, James and John, were instructed by Jesus not to tell the story of the little girl’s raising – there would be no internet site, no selfies of Jairus’ daughter put up on that synagogue’s web-site. Wasn’t the little girl’s ongoing health in view when Jesus gave that instruction?

And yet, Jesus instructed his disciples to give their full attention to children. This did not mean that the details of their young lives, their particular stories, were to be proclaimed as so much free information for whomever may have wanted to know about such details. And that is why I am saying that there is indeed something here for us to attend to. Particularly today with the epidemic of undifferentiated “data” being strewn around. We need to respect the tender plant which is a child’s life, to wait, and not presume upon its public blossoming. There are delicate facets of parent-child relationships that are just not for public distribution. Celebration and treasuring in one’s heart are not without a context of God-given human responsibility. And this is not just a matter to be respected after family life goes pear-shaped and falls into tragedy, or violence or break-up of marriages.

The coming of the Saviour of the world, did not mean that he left behind a family scrap-book or photo-album or diary for his followers to get all sentimental about and leaf through when they didn’t have anything else to do. In fact what he left them was a meal, a meal reminiscent of a broken body and a bloody execution – until he comes again. And it is a meal to which all family members who love him are all invited

 Jesus seems to have assumed that his followers would have their own family traditions and stories to tell, even when his command also required them to leave that all behind in order to follow him.

So what were the parents, Mary and Joseph, to do when they could not find their son among their fellow-travellers on their trip home? Did they not, as parents, have responsibilities for which they were accountable to God? What we have here is but one little excerpt, one corner or one page from what was, no doubt, a rather full  family scrapbook.

The young Jesus, in his reply to his parents, tells those who were present (and, via Luke’s account, us as well so many, many years later) that he was taking the initiative in learning more about the teaching of the Law and the Prophets, and doing so alongside his own family and extended family network. He took the opportunity of the Jerusalem temple visit at Passover time to do so. Was not a twelve year-old’s education part of that trip up to Jerusalem celebrating the Passover, the deliverance from Egypt? Family life is so important for nurture; but there is also life beyond the strict limits of the family network and household. Young people mature and become adults. Jesus was on the path to adult maturity, even as, as Luke tells us here, he was still submissive to his parents.

So Luke tells Theophilus – and he will repeat it later on as well – that Jesus was indeed on his own learning curve. This learning curve involved coming to an appreciation of the intersection between himself as a child of God – and as a child, conceived as no other child had ever been conceived – and the household in which he was called by His Father in Heaven to learn the way of life of his parents, subject to their care and nurture.

Luke might have recounted more of his investigations about Jesus’ childhood, although, as we have said, he doesn’t tell us anything about John’s childhood except the occasion of his naming when Zacharias had to confirm Elisabeth’s choice of “John” as name their son.

There is the implication here that a family “outsider” (like Luke, like Theophilus, like ourselves) needs to develop respect when confronting the public record of a neighbour’s family and its members. Even if that family is the one from which the Son of God came to us, an “outsider” is to remain respectful of what is kept “within the family”, of what is considered that family’s business. This what is beyond the responsibility (and gaze) of “outsiders” like ourselves, no matter how aligned we as “outsiders” may be with the person concerned, is beyond our gaze. Full stop.

So let us ask: when exactly did Jesus make this response to his mother?

Why have you been hunting for me, mother? Did you not know that I must be busy in the things of my Father?

Are we not hearing the the young man Jesus, saying to his mother:

but haven’t you been telling me all these years of how it was that God my Heavenly Father gave me to you?

When Luke says that Joseph and Mary did not really understand what Jesus meant by his reply, he has given us a brief hint, a merest glimpse of what had to be managed within that household.

Mary says to Jesus:

Your father (πατὴρ) and I have been searching for you …

He replies:

I would have thought that you of all people mother would have understood I have to be busy with the things of my father (πατρὸς).

Luke is (presumably) writing in Greek; we believe on good authority the language in which Mary and Joseph was not Greek but that they conversed with in Aramaic. Here we have just a glimpse and Luke reassures us that, likewise, Joseph and Mary too had a mere glimpse of what all this meant. They too would have to be patient. The young man in their care would grow into an adult and perform a ministry that was unlike anything anyone else had ever undertaken. Just like their son, they too were on steep learning curves.

When earlier we have read of Mary’s compliance with the angel’s news –

“Take note please. I am the maid-servant of the Lord. Let this happen to me. Just as you have said it would.” (Luke 1:38)

we are not wrong to read it as the expression of pious obedience by a young woman to the revealed will of the Lord. But it indeed became the “signature tune” of her entire life, and she would in time have to deal with the enormous emotional roller-coaster of the betrayal of her first-born, his trial and crucifixion and then his resurrection and ascension. And we are not wrong in seeing this as the onset of a life-long “event”, we might say that it is a learning curve, and one unprecendented among all the sons and daughters of Adam. And the comments of Simeon and the affirmation of Anna at the temple in Jerusalem must have been a profound pastoral support, preparing Mary and Joseph for their work as parents as they took on the task of nurturing this boy and the other children of their family and household.

With the four Gospels at our disposal, we now reflect upon how this part of Jesus’ story became clarified for his mother with his crucifixion and resurrection. Was it only later on that the real significance of the angel’s message, and of the prophecies of Simeon and Anna (let alone the Jordan River announcements of John the Baptist) would begin to make sense? It seems so.

And as we reflect upon these events, with the profound mind re-directing questions that inevitably arise, we might note the quiet respect of Luke, patently evident also from all other New Testament writers as well, for this faithful woman and her husband, and their family. We keep in mind that apart from Luke’s report of Jesus’ birth, and what he recounts about two visits to Jerusalem’s temple (Luke 2:21-40, and 2:41-52), that there are only very slight references to the life of Jesus’ familial household.

From pondering this “absence” we seek a wisdom to better understand what God is doing by having met with us in Jesus Christ. What God has done with Mary and Joseph and their family and household was presumably left by Luke for them to work out between themselves and God! We are left outside of it. Why? We have our own family stuff and family background and grandchildren (if we have any) to work with, to work and serve those God has given us, and to do so personally, intimately as members of God’s family and kingdom.

And as with Jairus and his wife and household having their “inside story”, so all other families have theirs and ours. And so I am suggesting that as we develop a Christian political option, in the context of a Christian way of life, that is something vitally important for us to think about. It refers to the peculiar nurturing that God in his creational wisdom is pleased to see develop in our lives – first between ourselves and our parents, then between ourselves and our siblings (if there are any), then between us a married person (whether a husband or a wife (if we get married), between us as parents and children. And from decree of glory to another.

And so here too, with a deepened sense of responsibility coram Deo we can, helped so gently by God’s Spirit, understand our own family’s distinctive integrity and  resist all invasive intrusions forcing themselves upon us, whenever and however they attack. And at the same commit ourselves to the service of our neighbour in Jesus name, to all, in our family networks and beyond to the whole world in the knowledge of the grace and goodness of the Lord.

BCW 5.4.17

Last Rites: Temple Curtain Rent

Luke 23: 44-56

And it was now about midday, and the sun not shining with darkness coming across the entire land until mid-afternoon with the veil of the temple ripped down the middle.
And Jesus, crying with a mighty voice said: “Father, my spirit I leave in your hands”, breathed his last.
And having watched it all take place, the Centurion [on duty] gave [his] praise to God, saying, “Truly this was a righteous man!”
And the crowd of people who had converged to watch first-hand, all went off home beating their breasts. And meanwhile, those whom he had known, the women accompanying him from Galilee, stood far off watching.
And this was when, Joseph comes into this report. He was a member of the Sanhedrin, a good and righteous man, not at all consenting with the council’s decree and what they had done. He was from Arimathea, a Jewish city, waiting expectantly for the Kingdom of God. He had gone to Pilate asking for the body of Jesus and taking it down wrapped it in linen, placing it in a rock-hewn tomb in which no-one had yet been laid.
And of course it was the day of preparation and the Sabbath was immanent. And the women, those having come with him from Galilee saw the tomb, noted how the body was placed therein, and then they went home to prepare spices and oils [for the burial]. And since it was now the Sabbath, they rested.

We have wondered how Luke came by the account of Jesus’ exchange with the two criminals who were executed alongside him. Given that his disciples had forsaken Jesus and fled, we are left wondering who was there who could have provided Luke with the details he presents to us? In asking this, we note that Matthew and Mark with some slight variation give similar accounts to this.

Luke’s brevity is notable and as I have suggested, it is a significant aspect of his creative literary composition. He gives emphasis to the relatively short duration, when all is said and done, between arrest and execution. He appears to be very keen to move on to get to the “punch line”, the explosive reality, and, as it were, to get it all down for Theophilus before the Lord returns. He pauses briefly to tell us that it was a day to be remembered for the failure of the sun to shine and when dark clouds overshadowed the proceedings.

And it was then, on such a gloomy and dismal day, when, as confirmed by Matthew and Mark as well, that the curtain in the temple was torn. Luke says it was “torn down the middle”. Matthew (27:51) and Mark (15:38) say it was torn “top to bottom”. Matthew also refers to other strange miraculous events and sightings as well (27:51-54). And all three mention the Roman officer witnessing the event.

By reference to the clouds and the sun withholding its light, Luke also indicates to Theophilus something of the mood that accompanied Jesus’ execution; but he does not expand upon it as Matthew does, nor does he at this point tell us the names of the women who stood at a distance watching (see 24:10). We can say once more that his account – perhaps with the “distraction” of the exchange between the criminals and Jesus – is characterised by his emphasis upon how it was all carried out so efficiently and quickly, even if there was a degree of administrative uncertainty. In writing this account, Luke is eager to get to the main point of his entire exposition ASAP.

When he tells us of Jesus breathing his last breath, we obtain a hint of one primary source for his account – the Roman centurion is quoted and we should also keep in mind that perhaps he was indebted also to the conscripted cross-carrier, Simon of Cyrene.

Then those who had been spectators of the event returned home for the Sabbath. Except Luke now makes a distinction among the bystanders; the woman and some of his companions from Galilee stayed while the corpse was removed from its brutal frame.

And here comes another witness; Joseph is introduced into Luke’s account. The arrival at Golgotha of the Council member from Arimathea is wholly unexpected (by us). It is not only crucial for validating and giving further depth to Luke’s account of the rank injustice that had overtaken the Sanhedrin’s deliberations, but Joseph’s involvement would prove vital when the disciples would later refer to the discovery of an empty tomb, the burial place that had been made available by Joseph’s personal stewardship.

But at this point the disciples had fled. Who was thinking about a burial place? Was not Jesus’ body destined for the same mass grave that would be the resting place for the bodies of the two criminals? John the Baptist’s disciples had taken the headless corpse and laid it in a tomb (Mark 6:29). But apart from Joseph and the women, Jesus’ disciples were in no state of mind to make arrangements for the burial. The women kept an eye on events. Were they perhaps expecting Joseph?

John tells us that Joseph had teamed up with Nicodemus (John 19:39) – the supplier of oils for burial. So Luke points us to a couple of possible reliable witnesses and we recall, as he has said, that this is his attempt to put together an orderly and coherent account of what has transpired, confirming the utter reliability of what Theophilus has already been told concerning the amazing news of Israel’s Messiah and the meaning of his coming for the entire world.

By mentioning the temple’s veil being torn in two, Luke provides his readers with not a few questions. He simply states it as fact. It is as if Theophilus has already some idea of its meaning – it is also a metaphoric allusion to the fulfilment of Jewish temple rituals in the slaying of the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. But the report of a coinciding event that happened on that same day, around that same time, it doesn’t seem to make much sense unless Theophilus had already been instructed in these ancient teachings. In that sense what we have said about Luke’s ongoing interest in linking his account of Jesus’ ministry with that of John the Baptist also comes into focus here. After all, John was well-known among Jesus disciples for having pointed them to Jesus “the Lamb of God who is taking away the sins of the world.”

And that then might suggest that Theophilus has some knowledge of John’s baptism (Acts 1:5; and also significantly 19:1-10). Would it not be another indication of how Luke’s two books were framed to tell how baptism in the name of Jesus, with the coming of God’s spirit, superseded the water baptism of John for repentance?

So far so good, but why does Luke’s narrative not provide us with any account of the 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension? Could it then be that it is not elaborated because it was simply the time when Jesus clarified his teaching for his disciples? Was it not then that he answered their questions in the context of a reiteration of why his suffering was necessary for them. And so we have the repeated refrain in all Gospels that when he told them about his coming suffering they had no idea what he was talking about. Did he not have to provide them with the definitive explanation of the temple’s torn curtain to break through their “wilfully ignorant and lethargic hearts” (Luke 24:25)?

Luke, by his account of the haste by which Jesus’ crucifixion was carried out after his arrest and trial, seems to have taken on that characteristic into his own telling of the story. And indeed, it is, under his hasty telling, that this final chapter of what we have as “Luke’s Gospel” – his announcement of the Good News following Jesus’ suffering and resurrection. This then is all part of culmination of the story“until the day on which he was taken up from them into heaven” (Acts 1:2 see also Luke 24:51), and on the surface, it seems, we learn very little of the 40 days, apart from the account of the meeting on the road to Emmaus.

Of course, we can speculate about the exchange that took place between Jesus and his disciples as they regathered to meet him, and as he met them, in the 40 days between his resurrection and ascension. On one reliably reported occasion there were up to 500 disciples, brothers and sisters, meeting him (1 Corinthians 15:6). But what are we to understand by that 40 days – let alone that crowd of 500 witnesses? What are we to understand concerning what happened during this time? It would seem that these witnesses were participating in Jesus’ glorification in ways not dissimilar to what Peter, James and John had experienced on the “mount of transfiguration”, except now, instead of refraining from talking openly about what they had seen, as Jesus had then instructed them, they were to consider themselves as those called to prepare for the time when they would spread the word to every creature under heaven!

So as we consider that – provoked by the seeming riddle of Luke’s fleeting reference to “the temple curtain torn down the middle” – we might also come to a surprising conclusion. Rather than concluding, as we might easily do, that we only have sparse written accounts of what transpired on the 40 days between resurrection and ascension, we could just as well conclude that we have 4 Gospels which are the definitive account of Jesus’ “intensive” with his disciples during that period. That was when he taught them how his ministry had prepared him and them for his suffering and resurrection as Israel’s Messiah – his death and raising in which they now shared. It was also then that his relation to John the Baptist was clarified, and it was then further elaborated by Luke’s painstaking investigation, the results of which we now have in this Gospel.

After all, the meaning of the “ripped curtain”, is also definitively explained by Jesus in his teaching about himself. Before this curtain was torn in two Zechariah had received the promise of a son from the angelic messenger (Luke 1:21-22). And now, before the close of this scroll, Luke will recount how Jesus in his resurrection power, in his own body represents the tearing of the curtain “down the middle” that the other evangelists denote as a rip that came from “top to bottom”. Jesus challenged the “wilful and lethargic ignorance” of the disciples by presenting himself to them as the one who has brought the true and living way (Hebrews 10:20).

Were not these things necessary for the Anointed to suffer in order to enter into His glory?” And then beginning with Moses and all of the prophets he explained to them all the characteristics of himself from the scriptures (Luke 24:26-27).

Friendship Wrought From a Theatrical Moment

Pilate and Herod Become Best Mates
Luke 23: 1-25

And the entire assembly rose as one and brought him to Pilate. And they began to make their accusations saying: “We find this man has been corrupting our nation, forbidding the paying of taxes to Caesar, saying that he is the Christ and thus a King.”
And Pilate cross-examined him saying, “So, you are the King of the Jews are you?”
And he replied, “That is what you say! [Those are your words].”
And [finally] Pilate said to the chief priests and the assembled crowd: “I can find no crime in this man!”
But they were insistent, saying, “He stirs up the people with his teaching throughout all of Judaea, beginning with Galilee and now he has come here.”
Having heard of Galilee, Pilate made enquiries as to whether he was a Galilean. And as soon as he realised he was from Herod’s jurisdiction he arranged for him to be taken to Herod, since he too had come up to Jerusalem at that time.
And upon seeing Jesus, Herod was very pleased. He had been hearing about him for some time and was hoped to see some sign wrought by him. And he questioned him at length but Jesus said not a word.
Meanwhile, the chief priests and the scribes were also present, throwing malicious accusations at him. Having come to despise him, Herod and his soldiers mocked him by dressing him in a gorgeous robe to be then sent back to Pilate. And from that day, Pilate and Herod became friends because up to that point they had been each other’s enemies.
And Pilate called together chief priests and the rulers, with the people, to tell them:
“You brought this man before me accusing him of corrupting the people. And now, take note, I have examined him before you and found he has done nothing worthy of death. Neither has Herod for he sent him back to us. I will reprimand him and release him.”
But the crowd shouted in reply: “Away with this man and release Barabbas for us!”
This was the man imprisoned because of a rebellion staged in the city and for murder. But Pilate called out to them, pleading, wishing to release Jesus. But they shouted back:
“Crucify! Crucify him!”
He, now for a third time, replied to them: “What evil has he done? I found nothing in the case [you brought against him] that deserves death. I will reprimand him and let him go.”
But with a concerted chant they demanded his crucifixion. And their voices prevailed.
And that was how Pilate came to pass judgement at their request, releasing [at the same time] the one who had been thrown into prison for rebellion and murder, according to their request. But Jesus he handed him over according to their will.

Luke’s account of Jesus’ trial and committal hearing tells Theophilus that the Roman Governor had no special interest in this case. He obviously knew little about Jesus; it was only from the Jewish Council that he now learned about him. We can speculate upon what took place beyond what the Gospels tell us, but Jesus’ case was achieved with what seems relative efficiency. There is Pilate’s uncertainty , and his wife’s dream. But what we have here is in many respects a similar account to what is reported in John 18:28-40. Luke is telling his account with an emphasis upon the haste with which his judicial murder was carried out. Barabbas was obviously guilty and he was still in prison and his crime had taken place some time previously. Barabbas was presumably subject to some negotiation between the Governor’s administration and those wanting to make political capital for themselves from his incarceration.

But with Jesus’ “trial”, if we can call it that, it is the haste of his enemies that Luke emphasizes. But there is one feature that Luke adds to our Gospel knowledge of Jesus’ crucifixion – before he was nailed to the cross he was sent over to the (holidaying) Herod. Presumably, this was Pilate’s device to get himself off the hook, and Jesus’ enemies off his back.

And whatever Pilate’s exact motive may have been, Luke is also reminding Theophilus of the man who ended the life of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. The actual story of John’s beheading is not recounted by Luke – we find it in Matthew (14:1-12) and Mark (6:14-29). But Luke’s account tells us explicitly that Jesus did not take the opportunity to discuss “religion” or any other relevant topic with the gutless monarch. He remained silent.

That silence, says Luke, simply inflamed Herod’s instinctive abuse and mockery. He had this “king” dressed in a royal robe and sent him back to Pilate.

We have to wonder why it was that they became friends from that day on. Was it not that they had shared a theatrical event that goes them a moment’s respite from their respective uncertainty when faced by this innocent Teacher, let alone their boredom with the duties of public office.

And so, Herod entertained Pilate on that day – one can only wonder how Pilate greeted the mob of High Priests and rulers who brought him back to Pilate for concluding the charade. Herod had endeared himself to Pilate; we guess it was the royal robe. And with that development, Pilate resolved – Matthew tells us he was subject to his wife’s plea (Matthew 27:19) – to let him go.

And so the negotiation begins again with Jesus’ enemies and this time he is ready with a carefully formulated judgement

You brought me this man accusing him of sedition. Take note, I have examined him before you and found he has done nothing worthy of death. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. I will reprimand him and release him.

But Jesus’ accusers are ready. They have the Barabbas issue to resolve and besides it’s the day when a prisoner can be released.

Come on you guys. We know each other, don’t we. I can’t condemn this innocent man. You haven’t told me what evil he has done!

But what was he to do with demands for Barabbas’ release now being shouted from the roof-tops?

Luke tells us what we already know: Pilate’s uncertainty caved in.

We may now wonder whether Pilate had to deal with his wife’s subsequent sleepless night because of the injustice wrought on “that innocent man”, but Luke was telling Theophilus that efficiency prevailed and that a most convenient political friendship had arisen from a theatrical moment in the proceedings. Herod obviously knew how to engage in the art of dealing with conflicting demands. Nice touch that. Good theatre with that gorgeous royal robe. Helps a lot.

It may have been a difficult day for Pilate, as he confronted the organised insistence of Jesus’ enemies, but then his action betrays the realpolitik cop-out: that’s the reality of political life, isn’t it?

Besides he and Herod had shared a theatrical moment together, a joke that may have been at this poor man’s expense, but then the friendship between the Judaean Monarch and the Roman Governor was forged wasn’t it? Public administration, especially of such a difficult polity, needs such friendships, doesn’t it? It’s all part of the deal!

BCW 17th February 2017.