For what “sign” shall I ask? When? What? WHAT?

The Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
John 6:24-35

When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there,
they themselves got into boats
and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
And when they found him across the sea they said to him,
“Rabbi, when did you get here?”
Jesus answered them and said,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
you are looking for me not because you saw signs
but because you ate the loaves and were filled.
Do not work for food that perishes
but for the food that endures for eternal life,
which the Son of Man will give you.
For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.”
So they said to him,
“What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”
Jesus answered and said to them,
“This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”
So they said to him,
“What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?
What can you do?
Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written:
He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”
So Jesus said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven;
my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.
For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world.”

So they said to him,
“Sir, give us this bread always.”
Jesus said to them,
“I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

A lot has happened in John’s gospel between today’s reading and last Sunday’s about Jesus feeding the crowd. Remember at the end of that text John relates how the crowd construes Jesus as a prophet (like Moses!), and decides to carry him off to make him king (6:15) – a decision that drives the Galilean Shaman to seek solitude on “the mountain.”

What comes next further underscores Jesus’ identity as a shamanic figure as his disciples, while crossing the Sea of Galilee toward Capernaum, see him walking on water (6:16-21). When the “crowd that remained” on the other side of the sea realizes Jesus and the disciples have crossed over, they make their way, too (6:22-24). It’s interesting that John’s description of the crowd apparently, and very subtly, changes tone as they are described “seeking” Jesus (6:24) – the same Greek word used to describe he Judeans’ “seeking” to kill Jesus for healing the sick man by the pool (5:1-18). Do they mean to do Jesus some harm?

A Heated Interogation

“Rabbi, when did you get here?” (6:25). Notice they refer to him as only a “teacher” – Rabbi! Have they relinquished their earlier construction of Jesus as a prophet like Moses (6:14)?

Jesus responds like a teacher, but does so in a way that puts his honor on the line – he MaciejowskiExodusMannaprefaces his words with a vow – “Amen, amen, I say to you…” (6:26) – and follows it with the reason why they pursue him, that is, because they are hungry. Then the “Rabbi” teaches them about pursuing food that never spoils, and that yields eternal life – food that will come from the Son of Man, from Jesus (6:27).

What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” (6:28) Not understanding Jesus’ invitation to eternal life, the crowd wonders about the kind of work necessary to get more bread.

The “Rabbi” describes “the work” as believing in the one God sent (see 1:14) – an interesting invitation, indeed.

What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do?” (6:30) The crowd, refusing the invitation to believe, instead asks for a “sign” or “miraculous deed.” This demand for a sign agonizes this exchange, and is further intensified by their countering Jesus’ claim to mediate “food for eternal life” with a memory of Moses’ mediation of manna from heaven in the wilderness (Exodus 16). The crowd witnessed the multiplication of the loaves already. Why the demand for a “sign”?

Jesus cleverly undercuts their memory of Moses, reminding the crowd that the manna came not from Moses, but from God, and that “my Father” gives the “true bread” bread from heaven, and not just manna (6:32).

The agonistic encounter (between Jesus and the crowd) catalyzed by Jesus’ teaching about food that never perishes, results, although somewhat torturously, in the crowd’s misguided “seeking” for what they think is the bread Jesus is talking about: “Sir, give us this bread always” (6:34). Like the Samaritan woman earlier, who asked Jesus for water the endlessly quench her thirst (4:15), they must still be hungry and wanting to fill their empty stomachs (6:26).

What demands am I putting on God in exchange for believing in the one sent from heaven?

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Those Insubordinate Animals! Weird Quote of the Week…

Reading old journal articles on covenant theology yesterday, I came across this just-plain-strange suggestion in an essay by Eugene Merrill, offering comment on the role of the serpent in Genesis 3:

“In the first place, because an animal (the serpent) was the vehicle of man’s temptation and fall, animals must, in general, be condemned for insubordination…” (“Covenant and the kingdom: Genesis 1-3 as foundation for biblical theology.” Criswell Theological Review 1, (1987 1987): 295-308).

IND54453 Adam and Eve with a Serpent (tempera on panel) by Spanish School, (12th century) Tempera on wood Museo Diocesano de Solsona, Lerida, Spain Index Spanish, out of copyright

IND54453 Adam and Eve with a Serpent (tempera on panel) by Spanish School, (12th century)
Tempera on wood
Museo Diocesano de Solsona, Lerida, Spain
Index
Spanish, out of copyright

I knew it…those animals! This explains a lot about my dog’s behavior. But does “original insubordination” really, temporally precede “original sin”?

Thoughts?

 

 

 

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A Mountain-top (Shamanic) Experience to Re-member and Talk About!

The Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
John 6:1-15

Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee.
A large crowd followed him,
because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick.
Jesus went up on the mountain,
and there he sat down with his disciples.
The Jewish feast of Passover was near.
When Jesus raised his eyes
and saw that a large crowd was coming to him,
he said to Philip,
“Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”
He said this to test him,
because he himself knew what he was going to do.
Philip answered him,
“Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough
for each of them to have a little.”
One of his disciples,
Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him,
“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish;
but what good are these for so many?”
Jesus said, “Have the people recline.”
Now there was a great deal of grass in that place.
So the men reclined, about five thousand in number.
Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks,
and distributed them to those who were reclining,
and also as much of the fish as they wanted.
When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples,
“Gather the fragments left over,
so that nothing will be wasted.”
So they collected them,
and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments
from the five barley loaves
that had been more than they could eat.
When the people saw the sign he had done, they said,
“This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.”
Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off
to make him king,
he withdrew again to the mountain alone.

Two things to focus on here: Mountains and Gossip.

John’s telling of the feeding of a great crowd includes a couple of details, each alluded to twice!, that continue to situate Jesus – in John’s story-world – firmly in his first century Mediterranean context as a shamanic figure, or a “holy man.”

First, the mountain.

Jesus and his disciples ascend a mountain after crossing the Sea of Galilee (John 6:3), which may recall for the original audience Moses’ ascent of Sinai in Exodus 19. Moses receives the Torah on the mountain, while John’s Jesus, operating as a conduit between the Divine and the human, provides food for what would have been an extremely large crowd. Back to the mountain in a moment.

The crowd Jesus provides food for is described as following him because of the “signs” he was performing on the sick (6:2). In other words, the gossip and rumor networks were icon-feeding-5000working well, spreading the news about Jesus and his ability to heal. Thus, “Jesus the healer,” as we might imagine he was being construed, is worth pursuing.

Notice too, that Jesus’ feeding the crowd generates even more speech about him, indeed gossip in the form of third-person evaluative speech: “When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world” (6:14). Scholars recognize Moses as “the Prophet” being re-membered by the crowd here (see Deuteronomy 18:15) – a re-membering that construes Jesus as a prophetic figure (function of the “shamanic complex”; cf. below), and sets up the vivid and visceral contrasts between Jesus and Moses coming soon (6:22-7:24).

Finally, again, the mountain.

In light of the speech and talk constructing Jesus as a “prophet like Moses,” Jesus withdraws to the mountain alone (6:15). That he does so alone is significant since, inFrontcover Jesus’ time and place, mountains were understood as threatening places fraught with danger, populated by angels and daemons – basically places where any normal person would have been in jeopardy. But the not-so-normal “Galilean Shaman,” as Pieter Craffert refers to him, is at home alone in such places on the edge, where divine beings and holy men come-and-go between the realms.

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Next Year at St. Mary’s University: Memory and the Reception of Jesus in Early Christianity

I was stoked today to learn that the Centre for the Social-Scientific Study of the Bible is planning a conference for June, 2016, around the theme of “Memory and the Reception of Jesus in Early Christianity.” Not only is the existence of the Centre, in Twickenham, London (just two or so years old?) extremely important as it promulgates a vital perspective on the Bible, but a conference on memory and reception(?) – the obvious links between memory and gossip (speech and talk) are just waiting to be explored and unpacked…much work to do!

christ-pantocrator-st-catherines

Chris Keith – a young, razor-sharp NT scholar, and Director of the Centre – has been publishing on memory and the transmission/reception of Jesus traditions for the last few years, enough to percolate an interesting and important discussion among several others (Anthony Le Donne, Dale Alison, Zeb Crook, et al).

BTW: Its been a while since I’ve consistently followed The Jesus Blog – that Keith, along with Le Donne and James Crossley maintain – and I’m happy to tell folks “Go see what those guys are up to!” Its great stuff!

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The Galilean Shaman and Ecological Conversion

Pope Francis writes in his encyclical Laudato Si that “Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically” (LS 10). I want to focus on the idea of Jesus’ “miracles” – healing, exorcising demons, calming storms, walking on water, raising the dead – not as supernatural events, but as examples of Jesus’ action of “living out,” or “enacting,” or even, perhaps, “fleshing out” an integral ecology. (See the entry for July 12, 2015, below). There are a number of reasons to see it this way.

christ_walking_on_water

In the first place, most, if not all of Jesus’ “miracles,” or “deeds of power” fit rather nicely into the social-scientific matrix of the “shamanic complex.” The shamanic complex is a cross-culturally construed constellation of various features and functions of “religious practitioners” within traditional cultures. Such practitioners are called by the name “Shaman,” which originates from the Tungus people of Siberia. Used as a descriptor, the word “Shaman” itself is commonly used today by anthropologists to describe certain religious practitioners across cultures, that is, even outside of the cultural context of Siberia. In any event, a list of the features and functions of a shamanic figure reflects, rather directly, many of the deeds associated with Jesus in the Gospels: Functions like healing, divination, prophecy, mediation, exorcism, controlling weather and/or nature, and features such as “soul flights,” or journeys to and from other “realms” or “worlds” (See Pieter Craffert’s Life of a Galilean Shaman, Wipf & Stock, 2008).

9781556350856

Second of all, the very idea of “supernatural” was not part of the ancient mindset, and so, certainly not the same as the modern idea of “supernatural” since the very category, as we westerners imagine it, was construed – as we know it – during the European enlightenment. In other words, folks in Jesus’ time and place would not have thought walking on water was an event involving the suspension of, or power over particular laws of physics. Although, the experience of such events in the ancient logic, would have been unusual (not daily occurrences), they would at the same time, be quite “natural” for divine beings or “holy-men.” God (or “the gods”) either made, or was intricately involved in the making of the cosmos, and thus could “make or do” whatever God (or, “the gods”) wanted to do (See Benson Saler’s Supernatural as a Western Category).

Now, back to Jesus, Pope Francis, and an “integral ecology.”

I suspect that part of the problem, as Francis articulates it in Laudato Si, is the propensity of human beings to imagine ourselves as Dominators of the creation – given to us to “be OTcosmosfruitful and multiply” in, and “subdue,” and use however we see fit and toward whatever ends we desire. Seeing ourselves as “Lords” (Latin = “Dominus”) apart from God’s creation, do we instead dare imagine exercising our “dominion” over (“Lord it over”) creation with the same grace that God “Lords it over us”?

I wonder if our idea of being made in the “image of God” is understood as “domination” and associated with power over creation, and how we might nurture this idea with the stories of Jesus’ miracles. How many times have we heard a Christian apologist appeal to Jesus’ “supernatural power” to “prove” his divinity? Jesus, the “super-Hero” flexing his divine muscles over-against demons and the natural world we humans strive against.

Seeing Jesus from a socio-anthropological perspective as a shamanic figure, imagines him not over-against the created world/cosmos, but integrally related to it, and to such an extent that he, being the Son of God, is able to control the spirits (not the elements themselves!) that dwell within the earth, skies, and the sea, as well as those in the other “realms” – not because he overwhelms with domineering-power, but because Jesus is intricately connected to the rest of creatures…joined in a splendid universal communion” and bonded “to all beings (LS 220). After all, Jesus does say that whoever has faith enough, will move mountains (Mark 11:23).

The ecological conversion the Papa Francesco calls us to is just that – a powerful conversion to a faith that embodies and lives out an integral ecology.

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People saw…and many came to know!

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mark 6:30-34

The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place. People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them. When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things

Today’s Gospel reading tells the story of Jesus’ invitation to the disciples to “rest a while.” The disciples probably needed a rest after going out, in pairs, anointing the sick, healing, and preaching the gospel (Mark 6:7-13).

The invitation to “rest” reflects the Sabbath rest of creation, when God rested from God’s work of creating (Genesis 2:1-3). Many interpreters have recognized Jesus’ works in Mark’s gospel – his exorcising demons and healing the sick – as anticipating the imminent kingdom of God. Jesus’ healing activity literally embodying the kingdom here on earth. After Jesus imparts the same ability to heal and teach to his disciples, upon their return, the Lord invites them to rest. The pattern of creation-rest cannot be more evident in Mark’s gospel to this point. The disciples participate directly, with Jesus, in fleshing out the presence of the kingdom of God – in ushering in the new creation of God’s kingdom among human beings – and then entering, with Jesus, into holy rest.

How do we respond to God’s invitation to Holy rest? Or, do we ignore the invitation for the sake of  “productivity” – the busy-ness that implies great importance?

Notice how the people are reported “coming and going in great numbers.” What generated such attraction to Jesus and his group? And after Jesus and his disciples took off by boat, “People saw them leaving and many came to know about it” (Mark 6:32-33). How was it that many “came to know” about Jesus, if it wasn’t by gossip and rumor networks?51VkDjbdFkL__SX322_BO1,204,203,200_ The people were construing Jesus’ identity, and his disciples’, by their speech in response to Jesus’ actions of healing, exorcism, and teaching, and that of his disciples. The words and deeds of Jesus were events, the experience of which generated speech about him, and them.

How do we respond to the stories of healing, exorcism, and teaching in Mark’s remembrances of Jesus? Do we know the stories all too well to even be curious enough to construe Jesus anymore? Do we already know full well who Jesus was, and is? It is worth considering how believing communities of faith are called to engage, over and again, in re-membering Jesus together.

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Authority Over Unclean Spirits

The Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 12, 2015

icon-of-the-twelve-apostles

Mark 6:7-13
Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two
and gave them authority over unclean spirits.
He instructed them to take nothing for the journey
but a walking stick—
no food, no sack, no money in their belts.
They were, however, to wear sandals
but not a second tunic.
He said to them,
“Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave.
Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you,
leave there and shake the dust off your feet
in testimony against them.”
So they went off and preached repentance.
The Twelve drove out many demons,
and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Mark’s gospel refers to the disciples here as “the twelve.” While many preachers recognize the significance of the number twelve reflecting the twelve tribes of Israel – “lost,” but to be gathered together at the coming of God’s kingdom – it is also interesting to know that “the twelve” is indicative of the constitution of Jesus’ primary group. Jesus’ group was called together by him to see his mission through with him, that is, fleshing out the imminent kingdom of God “Right here, right now!” It is likely that Jesus imagined the lifetime of this group to be relatively short given his imminent expectation of the coming of God.

As were all people in Jesus’ time and place (and still today, most folks living in the “Mediterranean Culture Continent”), this group was a collectivist gathering, with each person’s “individual” identity construed by the other members of the group – not by the individual. In other words, Peter’s identity wasn’t construed by Peter, but by John; and John’s by Peter and James; and James’ by Peter and John, and so on, and so on…

What might it be like if we were more intentional about “seeing” our own “individual identity” – and each others’ – as thoroughly embedded in the Body of Christ, fleshing out the coming of God here and now?

Mark’s gospel also re-members Jesus granting authority to his disciples to drive out demons and heal the sick – both exorcism and healing were understood to involve demonic activity. Many homilies and sermons today appeal to the “supernatural” power of the exorcist/healer, since we modern folks like imagining Jesus as a super-human super-hero! But, in Jesus’ time and place, such healing and/or exorcising – and other “miracles” involving nature – were not understood to be “supernatural.” The idea of “supernatural” as we typically understand it, emerged from out of the 17th-18th century Enlightenment. In the 1st century Mediterranean world however, curing diseases, exorcising demons, and even walking on water, although uncommon occurrences, were considered quite “natural.” If God created the entire cosmos, then certainly God’s only begotten son (as well as other divine beings out and about) can do such things. Nothing “supernatural” here.

What if we were to say that Jesus’ “miracles” didn’t reflect “power,” but rather a deep, integral relationship between Jesus and God’s creation? And, since we humans are made in the image and likeness of God, can we re-imagine and so, be in relationship to God’s creation integrally – as part of a whole, as the care-takers and gardeners God intended?

Texts to see more about this stuff:

Laudato Si
Gossiping Jesus (pp. 1, 29-40)
Genesis 1-2, especially Gen 2:15!

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