Sunday, August 17, 2014

parabolic curveballs

Matthew 12:46 - 13:58

"My people, hear my teaching;
    listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth with a parable;
    I will utter hidden things, things from of old—
things we have heard and known,
    things our ancestors have told us." Psalm 78

These parables of the kingdom are bookended by two stories involving Jesus' family. Do they reflect some distancing between the gospel writer's community and those in the Jesus movement loyal to Jesus' "brethren," particularly James, who were more conservative in regard to traditions and also more nationalistic? I have no idea. Jesus says his real mother and sisters brothers are the community of faith who will make the potential kingdom a reality. He is so obviously speaking figuratively here it feels stupid to point out that he doesn't mean his followers undergo a change of DNA or undergo a metaphysical transformation from son of a human dad to son of God. Why is it hard to see that the same poetic license is involved in calling Jesus the Son? Or is he saying that the community of faithful constitute a mother deity?

Jesus' disciples didn't all fast and weren't particularly observant to the traditions but they do his Father's will because they believe Jesus' revelation is true, or can be true, if they believe. If it has the potential to be true? I'm asking.

 The parable of the sower, speaking of "potens" - seed planting, and the potentials realized and unrealized. What kind of sower sows this way? What kind of Darwinist reading of this rather random diaspora could be done? (Thoreau's notes on the dispersion of seeds) Birds are natural sowers of seeds. Is Jesus the sower? He's broadcasting the news but only a few will understand it and will commit to acting on what they understand, but they will be fruitful. God's covenant to Abraham and promise to multiply his seed and give them possession of that still-disputed real estate comes to mind, and also John's warning that God can make sons of Abraham out of the rocks, and the Diaspora following the war with Rome.
The parable of the darnel (weeds) mixed in with the wheat, that will be separated out, bundled and burnt at "the end of the age."
The parable of the mustard seeds potential.
He uses the idea of a seed, or of cultivation as a metaphor in different ways to describe the creation of a new culture (leavening?) that realizes the prophetic message of a potential kingdom, the messianic age.

In the first century of what might as well be called the Christian Era, after the destruction of the second temple, some Jews joined a new cult that declared a new age of faith prepared by the early phase and based on the ministry and/or sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus, a man whose thoughts and actions we only know through writings collected by his followers.
I don't believe this man had a plan for establishing the State of Israel and destroying the Dome of the Rock to re-establish the Jewish Temple where he will sit and be King of the Universe. Many people do believe something like this, including people I know and love. I have no desire to ridicule this belief in my blog, but I do want to explore what these writings collected by a specific community could have meant for that group. Did they believe Jesus' essential mission was to offer himself as a sacrifice, did they believe he came back to life and ascended to heaven and that he would return in their lifetime? Did Jesus teach this?
 I don't want to get hung-up on the historical Jesus myth. The story of Jesus, even stripped of the supernatural, and revised like Jefferson and Tolstoy and other post-Enlightenment readers, or given a modern misreading by post-Existentialist readers, or adapting to left or right political propaganda. like using old wineskins to carry new wine, created a culture out of scraps of an old culture destroyed in the insurrections of first century Palestine.

Jesus was conceived out of wedlock, but his stepfather and his mother called him a child of God. By the time he was thirty he had to decide to find out for himself if he was son of God or just some bastard, so he went  to meet the prophet many thought was Ezekiel, because who else would know? John identified Jesus as "Son of God" -- as the potential new king who could establish utopia.
This new Ezekiel put Jesus through an ordeal that began with being baptized in the Jordan and followed with a vision quest that was a forty day period of fasting "in the wilderness" that was a ritual reenactment of Israel's forty years in the wilderness in which the initiate is faced with the same temptations the nation faced in its history myth, temptations that questioned the national identity and the collective vision and faithfulness. The history myth tells the story of the Law and of the future kingdom that has no human king and the law is internalized. The prophets were the poet activists who described this future and criticized the nation for failing to be true to its potential and for injustice and bad ideology.

This gospel reading quotes Psalm 78, " I will open my mouth with a parable." This psalm was sung in the temple and tells the story of Israel's history myth and God's great deeds of liberation and providence, and reminds the listeners of God's punishment of Israel when it was faithless. The prophet is warning them as he reminds them of the promise.

"He drove out nations before them
    and allotted their lands to them as an inheritance;
    he settled the tribes of Israel in their homes.
But they put God to the test
    and rebelled against the Most High;
    they did not keep his statutes.
57 Like their ancestors they were disloyal and faithless,
    as unreliable as a faulty bow.
58 They angered him with their high places;
    they aroused his jealousy with their idols.
59 When God heard them, he was furious;
    he rejected Israel completely."

Like John, Jesus is teaching the prophetic message of rebuke and hope. Unlike John, he is teaching in parables. Is it to keep himself from getting arrested he speaks in code only some will understand? Only those who know scriptures? "With a parable he told them nothing." Only those whose interest is triggered and who will try to find out what he means? What is the hidden treasure or the pearl of great value? How will the good and the evil be sorted out at the end of the age? 

"Prophets are not without honor," The carpenter's son said wryly. 


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