Posted by Christopher Johnson | Thursday, April 21st, 2011 | Uncategorized | 47 Comments
Christmas and Easter have each developed the same longstanding tradition. The run-up to these two holidays always produces television documentaries, magazine articles and learned treatises purporting to tell us what really happened at Bethlehem or on Golgotha and what it all means(since everyone has gotten it wrong up to now).
I’ve already dealt with one example here while Dale Price elegantly destroys another one here(do not miss Dale’s take; when my man is on his game, there is nobody better in the world at whatever this stuff is).
Here’s another. At the National Catholic Reporter, Jamie Manson doesn’t want to know what happened on Good Friday as much as she wants to know why it happened:
I’ve had more than one Catholic who grew up either before or on the cusp of Vatican II tell me horror stories of how they were taught that Jesus died because of their sins.
“Horror stories of how they were taught that Jesus died because of their sins.” I think you already know where Ms. Manson is going with this.
This was a particularly heavy-handed way for priests and nuns to lay an even thicker coat of guilt on impressionable Catholic school children. Because they were sinners, Jesus had to suffer and die to redeem them. It was one rendering of the traditional theological interpretations of the crucifixion — that Jesus had to die to fulfill the Scriptures and that his death atoned for the sins of the world.
Get ready for the customary condescending pat on the head.
I know that countless people throughout the centuries have found profound, life-changing and even comforting meaning in this understanding of the Cross.
Since Ms. Manson has much more important fish to fry(see what I did there?), she’ll let the rest of you have your little legend.
But I’ve often felt that if we immerse ourselves in the accounts of Jesus’ arrest, passion, and death as told by the four Gospels, these texts can broaden and deepen our understanding of the crucifixion.
I don’t know how much deeper one needs to go than getting one’s sins taken care of so that one can go home to the Father.
It can help us make meaning of so much of the anguish that we witness in our world and in our church.
I stand corrected. Jesus died the most horribly agonizing death that it is possible to imagine in order to “help us make meaning of so much of the anguish that we witness in our world and in our church.” Got it.
Me, I’ve never ever been able to “make meaning” of diseases, wars, genocides, famines, earthquakes, tsunamis and other tragedies with their attendant human suffering. I guess I’m not trying hard enough.
When I read the passion narratives of the Gospels, I don’t hear simply that Jesus suffered and died for our sins. Rather, I hear the four evangelists very clearly say that Jesus’ suffering and death was the will of those who conspired against him — those whose political systems he had undermined, those whose religious convictions he had offended.
Glad we’ve finally cleared that up. Neither Romans nor Jews killed Christ. It was the Republican Party and the religious Right.
Jesus’ death may have been the will of God, but it was also the will of both powerful people and ordinary people who preferred unquestioning loyalty to rigid, oppressive political and religious regimes to the profound challenges of God incarnate.
You thought I was kidding before, didn’t you? But God incarnate? Wow. Does Jamie actually believe that Jesus was the incarnate Son of the Living God? Not so much, no.
Jesus was the embodiment of all those things we should equate with God: love and justice, care and compassion, creation and creativity, transformation and wholeness.
God doesn’t merely display “love and justice, care and compassion, creation and creativity, transformation and wholeness,” He should be equated with them. In other words, God is love. And love is God.
Jesus was the embodiment of all good and healing things that we experience in this life on this earth, and Jesus taught us the ways to experience this fullness [of] God’s presence more and more abundantly: by healing afflictions, by offering community to those banished by religions and societies, by inviting us to his table when no one else seemed to know we existed.
And that’s why they killed Him? Simply because He hung out with lowlifes?
Unfortunately, Jesus’ convictions about the ways to bring God’s presence more fully into the world shattered traditional religious practices and cultural conventions.
Folks, we are getting into some deep Episcopalianism here.
Though some thought having the fullness of life meant having socio-economic power, Jesus — God-incarnate — said it meant sitting at the table with the dregs of society. Though some thought experiencing holiness meant being acceptable in the eyes of religious authorities, Jesus said it meant being constantly judged and ostracized by those in religious power. Though many were told that experiencing God meant obeying laws and practicing empty rituals, Jesus told them that encountering God happens when we feed those who hunger, welcome the estranged, shelter the vulnerable, and visit the lonely.
Granted. But I don’t know whether you’ve noticed this or not, Jamie, but those are not the sorts of things that human beings naturally go out of their way to do.
If there’s an atheist-sponsored food bank or homeless shelter in the world, I’m not aware of it. Most Christians do all those things because of our gratitude to the One who loved us enough to die for our sins on the Cross.
Because that is who God is: love, justice, integrity, comfort, peace. Any time we experience these things, we experience God. And, therefore, any time these God-experiences are violated or snuffed out, we experience a death of God — a microcosmic manifestation of the crucifixion in our time.
And any time a bell rings, a NatCatRep writer gets his wings. Where are you going with this, Jamie?
The crucifixion tells on a grand scale the smaller-scale deaths of God that occur every minute of every day throughout the world. In the Gospel stories, God, in the person of Jesus, is being wounded, abused, neglected, and killed. And this idea, I believe, couldn’t be more relevant and more meaningful to us today in a world ruptured by violence, poverty, and greed, and in a church beleaguered by self-alienation, intolerance, and excommunications.
The Crucifixion as performance art? Jesus was scourged to within an inch of his life, had nails driven through his wrists and feet, spent hours slowly suffocating to death and eventually died merely so that people would be nicer to each other?
Seems a little, oh, I don’t know…excessive? I don’t see how you got from Point A to Point B but I don’t have a Master’s from Yale Divinity. So there you are.
Whenever we harm ourselves or deny our own goodness, we wound God.
There goes the whole “dying for the sins of the world” business.
Whenever we allow religious institutions to rob us of our dignity as unconditionally beloved children of God, God is put into a prison and degraded.
So stop saying that homosexual activity is a sin. Ordain some women, misogynists! And make a few of ’em bishops. Chop, chop!!
Whenever we deny love or compassion to someone in need, or allow injustice to prosper, we deny God.
You getting all this down, Paul Ryan?
Whenever a creation of God suffers at the hands of greed, or the abuse of power, or hatred or fear, God is abused. Whenever a creation is killed, whether through our continued ravaging of the earth or through atrocities like genocide and war, God is crucified.
Up top there, Jamie said, “Jesus was the embodiment of all those things we should equate with God: love and justice, care and compassion, creation and creativity, transformation and wholeness.”
So I guess when she says that “God is wounded, degraded, denied, abused or killed, what she means is that every time we do one of these bad things, “love and justice, care and compassion, creation and creativity, transformation and wholeness” is wounded, degraded, denied, abused or killed. And that doesn’t make a lick of sense.
For a brief time, God had a body on this earth in the person of Jesus.
Nice of you to admit that. But to paraphrase Inigo Montoya, I don’t think that means what you think it means.
But that doesn’t mean that God’s body does not continue to work on this earth, seeking and yearning to bring God’s presence — love, justice, and compassion — more fully alive in all of creation in order to stop the crucifixions, the on-going and never-ending deaths of God.
Give it up for the Jesus-was-a-great-teacher-and-nothing-more pseudo-Gospel. To Manson, God is a system of ethics, Jesus is this real cool philosophy professor you had at State and Christianity is one long college-level philosophy class with free snacks.
Look. I’m not saying that all those things aren’t important. I am saying that a system of ethics, no matter how exalted it might be, is not, by itself, going to move men and women to do much of anything noble.
Nobody ever read the Nicomachean Ethics, built a movement around it and swept all before them. However, a small group of first-century Jews changed the whole world. But they didn’t do it, couldn’t have done it, simply because Jesus’ preaching was so revolutionary and his ethics was so sublime.
They did it because of what they saw on Good Friday.
And Who they saw on Easter.
Think of it this way. Sacrificing something of yourself for the sake of others is hard. But once you realize how infinitely much God sacrificed for your sake on the Cross, sacrificing for others becomes the easiest thing in the world.