Sunday, September 14, 2014

the sign of Jonah

Jesus takes Peter, James, and John, three of the first disciples he'd
called to follow him, on a vision quest on a high mountain and they
see their teacher transfigured and his face illuminated like Moses',
and then they see him with Moses and Elijah. How did they know who
they were? Why did Peter offer to build shelters for each of them?
Then comes the revelation that came at Jesus' baptism, the voice from
the sky proclaiming him the beloved son.
This week's reading develops Peter's story of his evolving faith,
small like a mustard seed, but having the potential to develop, so the
disciples could become as powerful as Jesus.
Jesus' declaration that some of his listeners will still be alive when
he comes in his glory -- were all of these listeners dead by the time
Matthew was written?
The sign of Jonah was already interpreted by Matthew back in chapter
12: 38-42 as a metaphor for Jesus' death and resurrection, although
the story of Jonah seems more like a parable of redemption,
specifically, the redemption of Gentile nations. Did Nineveh convert
to Judaic Law? Maybe Jonah stands in for xenophobic Jews. When Nineveh
unexpectedly (to Jonah) repented and sought righteousness Jonah has a
crisis of faith. Jesus' death was a consequence of his obedience to
his father's will, but Jonah's symbolic descent into Sheol was the
result of his attempt to run away from God.
The strange story of the shady bush that God provides after Jonah
builds a shelter (like "Simon bar Jonah" offered to build for Jesus,
Moses, and Elijah?) and then destroys, angering Jonah yet again -- is
that also part of "the sign of Jonah"? Although the Law of Moses and
the anti-Beelzebul mission of Elijah focuses on the exclusiveness of
the Jews, Israel also is called to be a sign for the Gentiles, and the
possibility of Gentile redemption and righteousness shouldn't create a
crisis of identity for righteous Jews, as Nineveh's repentance was for
Matthew and the other gospels might be saying that the "leaven of the
Pharisees," that is, certain rabbinical traditions that are markers of
Jewish cultural identity, are inappropriate for non-Jewish cultures
seeking God. In the gospels Jesus was interpreting interpreting Jewish
law for Gentile consumption. The Law was God's gift to the Jews, but
also for everyone. How can Gentiles become righteous? Do they have to
convert and conform to rabbinical tradition, which, since the
destruction of the temple, became the authorized form of
The maji fro the east, the Syro-Phoenician "dogs", the centurion who
had great faith, all had hopes or myths of a messiah, and of a
fundamental transformation, and they were looking for an ultimate
reality and cultural revolution like that of a Moses or Elijah.
What is the essential prophetic message that can be understood and
adopted by the Gentiles? What teaching can be given to them and taken
into their own cultures? What did the Jewish scriptures have for
non-Jews, and are those new Gentile converts, those dogs, with their
unorthodox forms of worship a threat to Jewish identity in the
Centuries after this gospel was written the new orthodoxy established
by the council of Nicea excluded both Jews and many Gentiles who
embraced the teachings of Jesus, but didn't agree with everything in
the Creed.


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