Friday, March 30, 2007

Holy Week: Parable of Passion

A popular saying is that there is no way to bridge the gap between the "Jesus of history" and the "Christ of faith." I have sympathies for that, especially as my own journey has taken me deeper into the traditions of the Christian community(ies) that sprang up in response to the resurrection (I am more of what might be described as a catholic-liberationist UU Christian using Tom Wintle's categories; see the now 20 year old essay on Who are the UU Christians at But I think the saying is wrong.

The key is the parables of Jesus, which contemporary scholars see as the key to the historical Jesus and his mission re: Kingdom of God, but as they are transformed into the "parable" of the death and resurrection of Jesus known as the events of Holy or Passion Week. What Paul does first, then the gospel writers elaborate on narratively, is to connect the essence of Jesus' parables, a kind of com-passion which over-turns the values paradigm of the world, with the Passion Week story itself.

The "moved by compassion" which Jesus portrays by the Father of the Prodigal Sons (plural intended) and by the Samaritan, both of whom are in positions of being shamed and dishonored in the eyes of the hearers of the parable, is what happens as God is moved to raise and anoint the crucified Jesus. The unholiness of the leaven and the mustard seed, the corruption that becomes a sacred spirit erasing oppression, becomes the cross transformed from the world's power-over ending and finality into a doorway to the divine relational power always creating more and abundant life.

And so the Palm Sunday event becomes a parable of how the really divine enters into the world, a parody of the Caeser's entry based on war and victory and might and youth and beauty and wealth and education and achievement. Deep freedom is to be so connected to God you can walk past the rows of crosses into Jerusalem at Freedom Passover time and cause a disturbance at the precise time when the most power is aligned against you in order to teach people to see again who it is they should be serving.

And so the parable of being anointed by a woman overturns our notions of projects and plans of justice for others somewhere else at some other time and calls attention to the sacredness of the here and now, to the abundance of spirit that there is enough to go around, and to the importance of the blessing of the body, and speaking or acting about the elephant in the room, the danger of death impending. As Spong has written, Jesus' model was about love freely and wastefully, in the world's eyes, spent. This event enacts that model.

And so the Maundy Thursday event is a parable about the divine world is a banquet of fools and outcasts rather than conqueror's feast; a parable that even betrayal and confusion, etc. amid the banquet is part of the transformation and the coming of the Kingdom of God. And that the kingdom of God is like fear and loneliness and despair and surrender in the garden, and about lying and denial and more betraying.

And so on Good Friday the kingdom of God is a parable of true divine power, of silence not oration; of beaten not beating; of humiliation not detachment; of nakedness not finery; of helplessness and fear and abandonment and mockery. Of not being able to choose, living freely nevertheless, for it isn't that Jesus chose these things, or that, God forbid, we would seek to choose them. But they are not the final and ultimate events that define us. The kingdom of God in this day's events carries an emptiness like the parable of the woman with the empty jar in the Gospel of Thomas. Like the parable of the laborers in the vineyard that challenges what we think about such human concepts of "deserving" rewards; it challenged the notion of justice. Parables, like poems and dreams, are unable to be closed off with interpretation. So it is with the Good Friday events particularly, they belie even this interpretation, refuse to be understood, and only call for our presence not our answers.

And so Easter Eve is the parable of the kingdom of God is like a mother mourning, like the going through of motions, like stunned moments when life seems to stand still, and realizations of what is lost hit us, like the parable of the rich man and his storehouse of grain.

And so Easter is the parable of how the kingdom of God is like women, (how many times were women, the personal and private spaces deemed insignificant turned into places of the sacred in Jesus' parables?), or even a lone woman, returning to a place considered shameful, out of sight and out of mind, like fear and trembling at something not understood but you feel in your gut, your womb (that Greek word that has been translated in the parables as com-passion or pity is about the deepest movements in the bowels, our gutsinks, something born in the womb connecting us to others), that calls us to likewise move with compassion, to turn again (how many turnings in the story of Mary of Magdala in the gospel of John account?), to see again. [william ellery channing's advice to new ministers--teach them to see!, based on jesus' way]. Like the hierarchy of who God should come to first being overturned, the women receiving it first, the learned receiving it lastly and doubtfully. Like coming into the world not on the great avenues of the Empire, or in Temples, but on the road to Emmaus, not in crowds but in twos and threes and small groups, and along the shores where daily work and living take place, in eating together. And coming even to touch one who was most unworthy, who had persecuted other followers. The Kingdom of God then vs. the Kingdom of Rome vs. the Kingdom of America/Churchdom/SecularNihilism/Consumption now.

The calling of the parables Jesus taught, and likewise of the Passion Week depicted in the historical Jesus becoming the Christ of Faith, is to turn upside down and inside out and open what seems to have been closed all things that echo more of the Empirical world's values and culture and ways of being. It is the reason for being for the missional incarnational gatherings we call church. It is the week when we should celebrate what has been done once and can be done again, even in our time, as we commit ourselves to what it means to really follow in the spirit of Jesus the Christed of God, and to form and reform communities and relationships in that spirit.