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Archive for the ‘textures’ Category

As Jesus’ ministry gathers steam in Luke’s telling, we glimpse the drawing up of battle lines in the three-times-repeated memory that Jesus rebuked a collection of enslaving adversaries.

And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent and come out of him!’ And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. And they were all amazed and said to one another, ‘What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!’ (Luke 4:33–36 ESV)

The verb that abbreviates Jesus’ belligerent command over the ‘unclean demon’ that holds this unnamed man in bondage is ε͗πιτιμάω (traditionally, to rebuke), supplemented in the people’s astonished after-commentary by ε͗πιτάσσω (usually, to command). As mentioned, Luke deploys ε͗πιτιμάω three times in close proximity, two of them of loud confrontations with demons reluctant to leave their hosts and once of Jesus’ command that an incapacitating fever should leave Simon’s mother-in-law.

And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them.

Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. And demons also came out of many, crying, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ. (Luke 4:38–41 ESV)

In those who heard Jesus teach and observed his stern command over enslaving powers that is abbreviated by this word, it elicited recognition of Jesus’ authority (ε͗ξουσία; 4.32 of his teaching, 4.37 of his forcing the demon to depart).

By means of this flurry of words, we are meant to understand a powerful confrontation between Jesus, on the one hand, and enslaving tyrants on the other. The latter may be the difficult-to-describe phenomena that the text routinely calls demons or the hot fever whose departure allowed the afflicted woman to resume her customary habit of serving her guests

It is worth noting the uneasy cohabitation of accommodating truth and religion, on the one hand, and madness and religion on the other. Jesus’ teaching on the sabbath astonished by virtue of its authority, in implicit contrast with more customary sabbath instruction that appears to have lacked this. And Luke locates the man with ‘the spirit of an unclean demon’ precisely ‘in the synagogue’ at Capernaum.

Luke describes Jesus as the sworn enemy of those powers that imprison human beings in a cage of madness, destructive self-absorption, and enervating disease. It is possible that his narrative subtly means to include ‘teaching without authority’ among this roster of enslaving enemies of the newly arrived Jesus.

More, Jesus represents the front edge of a campaign to banish these from human experience.

In the passage at hand, such powers simply leave (έξέρχομαι, ἀφίημι), though often with a loud and frightening pout as they go, as though to signal that ‘This is not over …’.

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild?

Not so much.

 

 

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There is a fruitful agony, a suffering that bears life rather than merely pushing open the door to death. Jesus’ agony was of this kind, in spades we might say in retrospect and from the angle of hope’s full flowering.

Yet the moment left its early evidences as well.

And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.

And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). (Mark 15:20–22 ESV)

As many have noted, Mark’s narrative mentions two names that don’t much illuminate the crisis of the moment: Alexander and Rufus.

The story as it’s told reads well as an indicator that Alexander and Rufus were members of the community of Jesus’ followers in which Mark and Peter, his apparent source, nourished the memory.

Simon of Cyrene was just a passerby, forced by uniformed Romans with little concern for local courtesies to carry their murder weapon when their victim became too exhausted to carry the tool of his own death. There was absolutely nothing premeditated about it. If the Romans had not grabbed Simon, they would have press-ganged someone else. He just happened to be ‘coming in from the country’ when the little drama of Jesus’ execution was taking place.

Simon was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

So it would appear.

Yet the little mention that he was the father of Alexander and Rufus, two men whom Mark’s readers in his community of followers of Jesus were expected to recognize, suggest that there was more in play than bad luck. Something happened to Simon by the time he had dragged the lumber of Jesus’ murdering to Golgotha. If it did not happen in the moment, then perhaps shortly thereafter.

That something was passed on to Simon’s children, whose names became household names among the daughters and sons of this new faith, names that could be mentioned familiarly with no special elaboration.

As Jesus stumbled his final steps to Golgotha, faith’s seed was already finding fertile soil in the heart of a bad-luck farmer who had showed up at the wrong time.

As my wife likes to abbreviate such complexities, ‘That’s how God works.’

Things are seldom as they appear.

 

 

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Perhaps the rabbis were correct to affirm that some of the ‘deeper writings’ are not suitable for untrained eyes. Or perhaps the cynical proverb that affirms that ‘school is wasted on the young’ is, after all, on to something.

Or perhaps only mothers and fathers should read such a thing as this:

Therefore thus says the LORD, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob: ‘Jacob shall no more be ashamed, no more shall his face grow pale. For when he sees his children, the work of my hands, in his midst, they will sanctify my name; they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob and will stand in awe of the God of Israel. And those who go astray in spirit will come to understanding, and those who murmur will accept instruction.’ (Isaiah 29:22–24 ESV)

Jacob’s prodigals had not only run amok on their own terms. They had been dragged to distant lands by the powers of their day to suffer the quick extermination of our news cycle or the slow extermination of assimilation to the alien’s ways. (more…)

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We rarely receive the moment of our lives on our terms.

Almost always, the line in the sand is drawn a beach or two away from where we would have preferred. The defining issue is seldom of our choosing.

After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, and advanced him and set his throne above all the officials who were with him. And all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage. Then the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate said to Mordecai, ‘Why do you transgress the king’s command?’ And when they spoke to him day after day and he would not listen to them, they told Haman, in order to see whether Mordecai’s words would stand, for he had told them that he was a Jew. And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him, Haman was filled with fury. (Esther 3:1–5 ESV)

The biblical Book of Esther is full of fools. Yet none of them outdoes the legendary Haman the Agagite, who figures in the book’s troublesome narrative as a kind of Fool of All Fools. He is an idiot prince, this Haman, a man whose self-absorbed banality is surpassed only by the arrogance that fuels his rise. (more…)

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Before all things, we protect our children.

The park just outside my window is frequented by parents and small children, these defenseless little tykes who would not know a leaf from a wasp. Nor do we expect them to know. So, we cradle them in our arms against all threat unseen. We swoop them low to greet the neighbor’s little doggy, though we would not have them crawl beside the four-legger, for who knows what strange ferocity might kick in suddenly in a world like ours.

We expose them gradually to our little park, one that is in the main benign but might harbor here or there a sting, a bite, a lecher too kind. (more…)

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One of the most finely crafted and resonant chapters of the biblical corpus achieves its quiet doxology via a horticultural simile, which catches this reader’s eye on the morning after hauling yet another load of subtropical greenery to our Colombian patio.

For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations. (Isaiah 61:11 ESV)

The author has in the preceding verses gone a bit crazy in the search for metaphors that capture the extravaganza of YHWH’s turning towards his people after the ‘brief moment’ of their affliction. Now, they are walls called ‘salvation’, rebellious citizens will have become ‘the righteous’, the oil of gladness will have displaced mourning, Zion’s children will have become famous throughout the world. (more…)

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YHWH’s blessing comes not as a single product, well-worn branding splashed across familiar package.

Rather, it sneaks into life variegated, diverse, subtle, nuanced, its hues settling in across the broadest range.

Instead of bronze I will bring gold, and instead of iron I will bring silver; instead of wood, bronze, instead of stones, iron. I will make your overseers peace and your taskmasters righteousness. (Isaiah 60:17 ESV)

The prophet reaches for a poet’s pallet to explain to a weary people why return to all that once was and has been snatched away beyond repair will be more glorious than a captive nation can just now imagine. The cadence of his Hebraic persuasion does indeed speak of shining extremity, for example in the ‘wealth of nations’ that will flow to resplendent Zion, in the transmutation of empty abandon into urban majesty. (more…)

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