Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Holy Week 01: Jesus was not white... or black. He's gray.

On Palm Sunday the majority of our service at Northlake was a reading - by seven different people taking different parts - of the Passion Narrative from Matthew's Gospel.  I have never been in a service where a passage that long (126 verses) was read form start to finish.  It was broken up by Communion as well as songs that expressed a particular part of the Story.  The reading ended with the sealing of the tomb.


Though I have read that Narrative many times before, something struck me in the public reading of that passage that I had not really given much thought to before.  It is something that Jesus says three times in three different situations in these two chapters (Matt 26-27).  And, in my opinion, He should have said something more, something else... anything else.


The thrice repeated phrase was, "You have said so."


1) The first time He says this it is to Judas at the Passover or, as we have come to refer to it, the Last Supper.  Jesus predicts that He will be betrayed by one of His own.  They all, of course, deny it.  Jesus intimates to Judas that he is the betrayer.  Judas, of course, denies it. Jesus enigmatically says to him, "You have said so."


2) The second time He says this is before the Sanhedrin where He is being accused of anything and everything they could falsely say against Him.  Jesus remains perfectly silent.  Then the high priest demanded, with veins pulsating in his neck, that Jesus on oath before God tell them whether or not He was the Messiah.  Jesus' silence is broken with an obscure, "You have said so."


3) The final time He says this is before Pilate where, again, He is being assaulted from all sides with false testimony about Him.  Lies upon lies pile up to shut Him up, lock Him up, and hang Him up.  Again, Jesus says nothing.  Not a word in defense of all the religious-political propaganda that will surely subvert everything He has stood for, all He has taught, everyone He had touched, all the work He had done.  And not a word.  Pilate finally asks Jesus directly if He is the king of the Jews.  Jesus irritatingly says to him, "You have said so."


Questions are asked, charges are made, angry speech is hurled at Him... for which this ambiguous "You have said so" makes no sense.  A less fitting reply would be hard to come by.


Can you hear their fuming, raging thoughts?


"What? 'You have said so.'?! Actually, no, I didn't!"


"Actually, I asked a question - answer me!" 


"What is He talking about?  He IS crazy!"


And, in their duplicitous company, I also ask, "Why, Jesus, is that all you could muster up to say?"


This little exchange highlights to me the continued realization that Jesus thinks differently than most of us.  Think about it.  Jesus was God (finally) in the flesh.  After millennia of people begging God to speak, accusing God of failure and unfaithfulness, condemning Him for His silence, He arrives on the scene in human flesh with human language and human capacities for communication.  Now, finally, at His disposal are


Words


Speech


Audible Revelation


Direct Answers


Jesus should have launched the greatest PR campaign the world would ever see.  Jesus should have set out with blazing resolve to set the record straight.  Once and for all here is the TRUTH - the black and white, no questions asked, idiot-proof, atheism-deconstructing, airtight TRUTH.  He should have gone about answering every question, responding to every idle word, shutting down every foolish accusation, cleaning up all the smear campaigns wage against the Holy Name.  He should have put an end, once and for all, to the bickering and religious division by answering all theological debates with His final, right, decisive word.  


Jesus, answer every controversy that divides us.  


Dispel every myth that misleads us.


Respond to every lament that breaks us.


Come on, Jesus!  WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!


He certainly should have had a bigger audience and a much longer tenure of prophetic truth telling.  Three years.  Really?  That's it!?  Wandering around Galilee and Judea.  Really?  That's it!?


And in the miniscule amount of time given to verbalizing (finally) the will of God to that pathetically small group of people, what did He decided to talk about?


I can grant that entering into all mankind's little squabbles would have been unwise.  He could have at least addressed all the big questions.  I will at least concede that He DID address the MAIN issue - the Kingdom of God.


Finally, we can put one tally on Jesus' side of the score card.


But!


But....


How does God-finally-in-the-flesh-with-audible-words choose to talk to us about this all-important, eternally-significant topic?


In parables.


Are you kidding me... parables?!


Here is an example of one from Mark 4:
This is what the Kingdom of God is like.  A man scatters seed on the ground.  NIght and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.  All by itself the soil produces grain - first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.  As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.


O..kay....?


This is why I like theology books and commentaries.  They seek to address with clairty and depth and in directness what the Kingdom is.  They offer answers - direct answers.  They offer categories for thought, definitions for understanding.  When I purchase a book by some renown scholar I don't expect (or want) to open it up to read a bunch of agricultural metaphors.


Go and look for a definition, a categorization, some scientific label of some sort of the Kingdom from Jesus.  If you find it, please share it with me.


But we come to Jesus for hope, for life, for meaning, for answers, for guidance, for the voice of God spoken into the mess of our lives and the ruin of our world.


And


all


we


get


is


parables.




Jesus did not deal in the black and white.  Jesus is gray.  Jesus would laugh (or cry) at our sentiments "The Bible says what it means and means what it says."  He would fall out of his seat at our mythological "Truth is black and white.  The Bible is clear and simple."


Jesus, the master of misdirection and dodging questions and changing the subject and stirring up confusion, scoffs at our claims to a controlled truth, an easily defined Kingdom, and simple answers.


Jesus refused to answer the burning questions of our minds and instead choose to light a fire in our imagination.  Jesus knows that any answers to our questions would be the wrong answer because our questions are so bad.  We don't need answers.  We need a new imagination, a new way of seeing.  And He knows that parables are the only tool weak enough yet powerfully transformative enough to do that.  Parable ignore our questions, our definitions of truth and invite us into His Kingdom, HIs way, His eyes.  Maybe once the parables do their work on us, then maybe 




maybe




we can begin to figure our what "You have said so" is all about.


I may want to control Jesus, manipulate the issues, define what truth is and how it works, and own the answers of orthodox biblical interpretation, but if the Gospels reveal anything to me it is this:


Those who find themselves most certain of the truth, most passionate about defending the truth against other false teachers are the very ones most in opposition to God, no matter how vehemently their claims to the contrary.


Jesus, this Holy Week lead us on a journey to crucify our arrogant need to contain and control you in our systems of truth. Amen.





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