Jared Byas recently posted a Kierkegaard quotation at Peter Enns’ blog:
My listener, allow me to make a confession about myself here. I still do not dare to be utterly alone with God’s Word. I don’t have the honesty and courage for it . . . Being alone with God’s Word is a dangerous matter. Of course, you can always find ways to defend yourself against it: Take the Bible, lock your door – but then get out ten dictionaries and twenty-five commentaries. Then you can read it just as calmly and coolly as you read newspaper advertising.
Kierkegaard, the Nineteenth Century philosopher and theologian, was arguing against our use of scholarship to insulate ourselves from the demands of Jesus — a very valid point. We turn Jesus’ stories into laboratory specimens to study as disinterested Western scientists and scholars. And by turning them into puzzles to be solved rather than stories to be lived, we escape from the power of Jesus’ words.
(Lk. 8:19-21 ESV) 19 Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. 20 And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” 21 But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”
(Lk. 14:26 ESV) 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
If we were to inhabit these words, what would happen to our concerns about Thanksgiving dinner?
(Lk. 14:27 ESV) 27 “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
NT Wright explains,
Once again, the summons (‘We are going up to Jerusalem; the son of man will suffer, but will be vindicated; so take up your cross and follow me!’) could well have sounded like the call to revolution. Those who answered such a call would have to be prepared to act in such a way that, if they were caught, they would be likely to pay for it with their lives. One can imagine Judas the Galilean or Bar-Kochba saying similar things to their disciples. The Pharisees who urged the young hotheads to pull down the eagle from Herod’s temple issued a similar call. Within the context of Jewish martyr-stories, such a summons would carry as well the implication that any who died in the cause would subsequently be vindicated by YHWH. … What we can say for certain is that a summons to risk all in following Jesus places him and his followers firmly on the map of first-century socially and politically subversive movements.
N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1996), 304.
Understandably, we read this passage in light of Jesus’ own crucifixion, which is not unsound, but it’s not how his disciples would have heard it. Jesus had not yet been crucified. But many traitors had been. To bear your own cross is to be prepared to die the death of a traitor to the prevailing government. The Romans crucified enemies of the state.
Now, this runs contrary to the American metanarrative that ties American patriotism to Christianity. A serious reflection on this passage forces us to ask whether that story is true. Or when it’s true and when it’s not. But Jesus doesn’t let us just assume that being a good American is also being a good Christian. Maybe. Maybe not. We can’t just assume.
We could run through all four Gospels this way, but I’ll do just one more story.
(Lk. 8:43-48 ESV) 43 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. 44 She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. 45 And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!” 46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.” 47 And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. 48 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
I’ve always preferred Luke’s version, because it has the surprising statement, “I perceive that power has gone out from me.” I mean, did Jesus not control his own power? How did he heal and not will that the healing occur? The clear implication is that the woman was healed without Jesus even knowing.
Here’s my thinking. The curse on Creation of Gen 3 brought disease and futility to both humanity and the rest of Creation. Jesus came to undo the curse. In fact, wherever Jesus was, the curse was undone. The weather calmed on the boat not just because he so commanded. It calmed because he was present — and so the futility of Creation was healed wherever he stood. For a moment. As he passed through the storm, the storm could only relent because corruption and futility cannot exist where he is intensely present.
Therefore, when the woman came close enough to him to touch his prayer shawl (the fringe of his garment), she found herself in a place where the corruption of the Creation could not exist. She was healed.
So who are we in the story? Are we the woman seeking to be healed? If so, then how do we get so close to Jesus that we find ourselves no longer touched by the cursedness of the world? Or are we the disciples, so distracted by the business around us that we don’t see miracles happening before our eyes? Or are we Jesus (not fully, of course), bringing healing in our wake because we are peacemakers and curse-defeaters in how we live our lives? Or are part of the crowd, enjoying the spectacle but unwilling to do anything but be entertained by it all?
Back to female deacons
Now, if we picture ourselves as like Jesus, working with God to undo the curse on creation, to bring reconciliation, to heal — if that’s our story — then the issue of female deacons becomes a task we want to take on because it helps repair what’s been broken. It’s a small step toward ending the curse on women found in the curse. It becomes even more important than, you know, Thanksgiving dinner.
If we picture ourselves as like the woman, desperate for healing and willing to suffer humiliation and shame just to get better, then family Thanksgiving won’t be such a big deal, because we’ll be far more concerned to let Jesus fix our brokenness than a few harsh words at a family gathering.
But most of us picture ourselves as part of the crowd. We just enjoy watching this stuff happen, but have little interest in either healing or being healed. Our story is that the level of commitment Jesus wants from us is for us to be in the crowd watching. It’s like NFL football, except it ends with heaven. The thing is to watch. And, of course, those are the people who weren’t healed and who weren’t disciples. It wasn’t a safe place at all. It just felt safe. But it was to live in entirely the wrong story.