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The Pleasure of Hurting Others Through the Law

In psychoanalysis there is a technical term for someone who is incapable of questioning the law and whose entire effort is aimed at establishing the law. This sort of individual disavows any inadequacy or the notion of anything lacking in the law and wants to ensure that the law is fulfilled or completed.  Completing or establishing the law may involve her own or others’ transgression which results in punishment.  It is precisely through punishment that the law is “felt” to be established and that pleasure is derived.  This pleasure is found in the fact that “the Law is doing it” so that the immediate suffering/pleasure is the assurance the Law is being served/serviced. Children torn from their mothers’ breast, wailing at the border, are a living proof that the border laws are effectively established. The Law knows no tolerance as zero tolerance serves to define the sharp and absolute edge of this autonomous god-like force. Continue reading “The Pleasure of Hurting Others Through the Law”

Denying Suicide the Last Word Through Agape Love

The force which would cause us to put the rope around our own neck, I assume, is not distinct from the nihilistic darkness which assails everyone from without. The darkness within and without, that is, are presumably of a piece – the dysfunctional family, the real-world loneliness and alienation, vexing cruelty, or the seeming pointlessness of everything, converge with our inward bent. Or are depression and despair an untreatable and untraceable interior experience? The suicide of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, both of whom had reached the heights of success in their respective fields, might seem to mystify suicide – to contradict the notion that suicidal despair is traceable or circumstantial. Bourdain’s mother, Gladys Bourdain, told The New York Times: “He is absolutely the last person in the world I would have ever dreamed would do something like this.” But Bourdain and Spade belonged to a world – food and fashion – which not only does not lend itself to giving voice to despair, neither provides an inherent counter voice.  Food and fashion, the world of the aesthete in Kierkegaardian terms, may not have provided the impetus to continue to get up in the morning. The despair of the human condition is neither articulated nor addressed but is accommodated in aesthetic pursuits. It is not that Bourdain or Spade did not have reason to kill themselves. The futile desire which grips us all is unquenchable, but chefs and fashion designers depend upon this desire for their livelihood, and perhaps, in this instance, for their life?   Continue reading “Denying Suicide the Last Word Through Agape Love”

The Feminine as Salvation: Becoming the Bride of Christ

In the Gospel of John women, more readily than men, come to faith and seem better positioned than men to confess and serve the Messiah. The longest conversation occurs with a woman, the most profound and earliest confession is that of a woman. The example of humble service, which Jesus is trying to teach his male disciples, is first grasped and enacted by a woman. The women, which John notes “Jesus loved,” outnumber the men. It is women who first come to the empty tomb and who first encounter the risen Jesus. It is a woman who is the first mass evangelist and it is a woman, his Mother, who first prompts the inauguration of Jesus miraculous ministry and who is witness to the end of that ministry. Some of his final words concern this woman and her care. Continue reading “The Feminine as Salvation: Becoming the Bride of Christ”

Colin Kaepernick as Minor Prophet

Of the “controversy” surrounding the “take-a-knee” protests among certain players of the NFL (beginning with Colin Kaepernick), much noise and political commentary has already been made.  As is usual, social media and the blogosphere have been lit up with shrill opinions since Kaepernick first refused to stand during the playing of the national anthem in protest of repeated examples of egregious police violence against young black men and boys.  Because opinions on this topic tend to be immovable, I don’t doubt that my contribution here will have little impact.  Yet, I can’t help feeling that the perspective I wish to share here may be very different from the ones typically shared—certainly in “evangelical” circles. Continue reading “Colin Kaepernick as Minor Prophet”

John’s Cosmic Reconstitution: Redemption as Overcoming Dualism

The human disease presents itself in a variety of oppositional dualities – darkness versus light, good versus evil, flesh versus spirit, such that the seeming cure would be in reconciling these differences. “Oppositional dualities,” however, are not “dualisms” in which the opposed pairs are equally real and stable and forever needing to be harmonized.  The Star Wars “dark” and “light” sides of the Force typify this Gnostic sort of dualism, in which evil is pictured as a competing reality with the good. In this world (cosmos), good and evil or life and death constitute a “reality” of struggling between opposed pairs. Life is consumed in an agonistic striving toward balance, but the illusion –  producing suffering and death, is that engaging the struggle more intensely is the means of resolving the struggle. This peace through war or life through death antagonism not only misconstrues the power and substance of war and death but loses life and peace in the process.  Simply stated, the human failing is to confuse reality with unreality, setting up an antagonistic struggle to the death. John’s Gospel, defines the cosmos of darkness through a series of oppositional dualities which are precisely not dualisms, as John will reduce and collapse one pole of the opposed pairs. In a closed cosmos (in which the cosmic reality is all encompassing) oppositional forces, in David B. Hart’s description, constitute “an economy, a cycle of creation and destruction, oscillating between order and chaos, form and indeterminacy: a great circle of feeding, preserving life through a system of transactions with death.” Hierarchy, law, and sacrifice are aimed at warding off chaos through maintaining a rigid balance. In John, the Logos explodes this cosmos of darkness in that the light will penetrate and expose the darkness, life will defeat death, heaven will come to earth, and the children of the Devil will become the children of God. The evil, fleshly, world below is not an enduring autonomous reality but is exposed and defeated so that the apparent dualisms are exposed as mere oppositional dualities.  Continue reading “John’s Cosmic Reconstitution: Redemption as Overcoming Dualism”

Judas versus Jesus: Salvation’s Confrontation with Sin

The judgment in the “trial” of Jesus is not a pronouncement by Pilate concerning Jesus (Pilate refuses to pronounce judgment and refuses to actually have a formal trial)[1] but Jesus pronouncement that “he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin” (Jn 19:11, NASB). The significance of this “he” and of his sin of “delivering” Jesus is that it encompasses the ultimate sin or the culminating point of sin.  Pilate, Rome (the world of Gentiles), Judas, the Jewish priests, the Jews, and Satan are all involved in the “delivering up of Jesus unto death.”  John equates this delivering up with darkness, with Satan entering into Judas, with the uncleanness that clings to the Apostles in the form of the betrayer. Jesus is delivered over to the Gentiles or Romans through the Jews by means of an Apostle, such that every class of human is involved in this deliverance. Darkness, sin, death, uncleanness, and evil, are encompassed in the movement which delivers Jesus unto death. Judas starts the chain reaction of “delivering” or “handing over” (παραδίδωμι) in which he “hands over” Jesus to the Jews (Mark 14: 10), who in their turn “bound Him, and led Him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor” (Math. 27:2). The Jews picture their handing him over as a self-evident sign of guilt: “If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have handed him over to you” (John 18: 30; cf. also Mark 15: 1 and Matthew 27: 2). At the end of the trial Pilate will hand Jesus over to the Jews to be crucified. Judas though is the “betrayer” (ho paradidous) or the one whose entire identity is marked by this “handing over” (Mark 3: 19, “Judas Iscariot, who handed him over (hos kai paredōken auton),” and in Matthew 10: 14, “Judas Iscariot, the one who handed him over (ho kai paradous auton).” Once Jesus is delivered into “the hands of men,” into the hands of the high priests, into the hands of the Gentiles, the momentum toward the crucifixion is a foregone conclusion.

Isn’t the decision of Pilate, the role of Herod and the High Priests, the work of Rome, the important element of the handing over? The death drive which would consume Jesus would seem to concentrate itself at the end of the process.  Something as insignificant as a kiss, as inconsequential as 30 pieces of silver, as trifling as a little greed, sets the more important forces of Israel and Rome into motion. But this kiss, as Karl Bath says, “attests and seals again the fellowship of the perpetrator with Jesus.”[2] That is the darkness to be penetrated, the orientation toward death which needs overcoming, the evil to be defeated, cuts through the Apostles and is represented by Judas.  Judas is not only of Judah and Israel but is of Jesus and the Apostles and it precisely this proximity to Jesus that serves to identify the gravest depth of sin: “he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.”

Judas is participating in the last supper with the other Apostles when Jesus makes it clear that the worst form of guilt is that of the betrayer: “But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table. For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!”[3]It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”[4] It is odd that this great sinner, this one who sums up the worst sort of sin as the betrayer, is so much a part of the apostolic band that they cannot distinguish him. When Jesus notes that the betrayer is among those with whom he is breaking bread, the Apostles “began looking at one another, at a loss to know of which one He was speaking.”[5] Mathew pictures each of the disciples as vocally questioning if they personally will betray him: “Being deeply grieved, they each one began to say to Him, ‘Surely not I, Lord?’”[6] They seem to each see within themselves the possibility which resides in Judas.

It is in conjunction with this disclosure that Jesus washes the disciple’s feet. When Peter protests, “Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’”[7] When Peter insists upon a complete bath, Jesus explains, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.[8] The wholly clean still need to have their feet washed and what they are washed of, the uncleanness which still resides among them, is represented by Judas. Jesus cleanses their feet – they are wholly clean – yet they will have to continue in this service which Jesus renders to remain clean. That is, this service and what it represents directly addresses the Judas’ orientation of which they all need cleansing. The uncleanness of Judas, as it exists among all the Apostles, is particularly represented in the story by Peter.

Peter’s denial of Christ indicates a failure, not only morally like that of Judas, but a similar failure of comprehension.  All of the apostles are included in the foot-washing and Peter’s and Judas’ failure both unfold from this point in the story. The specific element which both Peter and Judas fail to recognize, maybe from different ends of the same spectrum, is that Jesus intends the foot-washing to symbolize or foreshadow his self-giving in death. The threat of death has been hanging over the disciples from the time they all went up to Bethany and Jesus raised Lazarus. Death is on all of their minds, following the fatalistic lead of Thomas, who determined for all of them to “go, so that we may die with Him.”[9]  He has already explained that the foot-washing is a model of humble service, but this is something Jesus explains to the disciples immediately (13:12-17). The foot washing is incomprehensible to them because they have yet to link sacrificial service to death. It must be death as part of this self-giving to which Jesus refers when he tells Peter he will only comprehend the action later (13:7). Peter would block Jesus from going up to Jerusalem to die and Judas would bargain his way out of being counted among those who would die. They are consistently uncomprehending or unwilling to grasp what it might mean for Jesus, let alone themselves, to take up the cross.

After the foot-washing, Peter seems eager to press the point and to show that he has made the connection: “Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.”[10] We know from Peter’s actions at the arrest of Jesus that he would lay down his life in battle – taking as many ears as he can in the process. He would die the death of any good zealot – perhaps in the sort of final battle Judas and all the apostles imagine for Jesus. Peter’s words parallel those Jesus has used earlier, not once but twice, when describing his own role as the good shepherd (“the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” – Jn 10:11,15). Jesus answers Peter by repeating Peter’s words as a question: “Will you lay down your life for Me?” (13:38). Peter’s claim reflects a reversal of the shepherd-sheep relationship Jesus has outlined earlier in the Gospel. Peter will fall into the hired hand category despite his best efforts: “He who is a hired hand . . . sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.”[11] The note of irony in Jesus’ voice must have been obvious as he repeats Peter’s words: “Will you lay down your life for Me?”

Judas, meanwhile, is fulfilling the treachery depicted in Zechariah 11, in which the sheep of Israel are pictured as standing in solidarity against the Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd, God himself, is sold for thirty pieces of silver and the people of Israel and Judah are handed over to the shepherds which would bring on their slaughter.

Judas is consistently depicted as devil possessed or as the devil himself and his work is associated with the darkness.  After the morsel of the last supper is handed to him, “Satan then entered into him”[12] and “after receiving the morsel he went out immediately into the night.”[13] Paul too will connect his deed to darkness: “in the night in which He was betrayed.”[14] Jesus calls him “the son of perdition”[15] and “a devil.”[16] On the other hand, Jesus identifies Peter with Satan – precisely when Peter would obstruct Jesus from going up to Jerusalem to die (Math. 16:23).

So, the sin of handing over Jesus is focused on Judas, but Peter and the Apostles, Israel, Judah, and the Jews, have all played their part in this handing over. Judas seems to represent what Israel has always done: the Israelites would hand Joseph over to death, they would, like Esau, sell their birthright for a mess of pottage. In the midst of the trial they would not only buy and sell the Messiah but proclaim their true king is Caesar. As Jesus says, the tradition (παράδοσιν – that which is handed down) has nullified their religion. Theirs is Yahweh religion in which Yahweh is nullified; it is messianic religion which would kill the messiah. But this sin of the Jews distilled in Judas is precisely that addressed and undone in the economy of salvation.

The very point and substance of salvation is found in God’s handing over of Jesus, not as an extension of darkness and evil, but to dispel the darkness, to overcome death, to free the captives who Paul describes as being themselves “handed over” to their own lusts. “God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie.”[17] The lie and lust of the first couple is repeated in their progeny and this seems to have culminated in the “son of perdition” who would sell Jesus for 30 coins. It is precisely in the midst of this handing over that God also “delivered Him over for us all.”[18] That is the confrontation between Jesus and Judas is precisely the point where the light confronts the darkness, where the devil would do his worst, where evil would kill the Son of Glory, and where God would absorb this handing over, defeat it and reverse it. As Barth describes it, the situation between Jesus and Judas is only a heightened form of the situation between Jesus and all men. This is illustrated in the one who would continue the apostleship of Judas.

The place of Judas is taken by one who was handing over (παρεδίδου) Christians to be imprisoned and killed (Acts 8:3). This one who takes Judas place begins where Judas left off.  He counts himself “the chief of sinners” due to his persecution of the Church. Though the fate of Judas is not spelled out, the one who considers himself as guilty or guiltier than Judas also counts himself a worthy Apostle. The one who is rejected, the one who is handed over to sin, through Christ’s being handed over becomes the one who would deliver Christ to the Gentiles: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”[19] How one is oriented to this deliverance is determinative of whether he stands with Jesus or Judas.

The difference between the sin of deliverance and the salvation accomplished through deliverance is found in the subject and object of the deliverance. Where Christ is the object separated out and delivered to be killed, this is the work of the betrayer. This one separates himself out from the death of Christ and refuses to take up the Cross. A theology founded on this sort of betrayal would say “Christ died so that I do not have to.” The one who delivers Christ in the Gospel identifies with what is delivered. This one would “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”[20] Paul pictures himself as dying daily, as completing the death of Jesus in his own body, that he might deliver Christ to the Gentiles. The “I” that stood with Judas so as to deliver Jesus to death has itself been delivered up to death: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”[21]  

(The course on John with PBI will open for Registration in one week on May 31st.)

[1] See http://forgingploughshares.org/2018/05/03/only-one-king-can-judge-jesus-trial-as-the-suspension-of-sovereign-judgment/

[2] See volume II 2, 35.4 of the Dogmatics for Barth’s treatment of Judas and “handed over.”

[3] Lk 22:21–22

[4] Mk 14:21

[5] Jn 13:22

[6] Mt 26:22

[7] Jn 13:8

[8] Jn 13:10

[9] Jn 11:16

[10] Jn 13:37

[11] Jn 10:12

[12] Jn 13:27

[13] Jn 13:30

[14] 1 Co 11:23

[15] Jn 17:12

[16] John 6:70

[17] Ro 1:24–25

[18] Ro 8:32

[19] 1 Co 15:4–5

[20] Jud 3

[21]Ga 2:20

Two Concepts of Truth: Truth as the Power of Death or the Power of Life

Pilate pronounces what Friedrich Nietzsche called the “most subtle witticism of all time.” With his question, “What is truth?” Pilate “annihilated the New Testament,” according to Nietzsche.  The strong “revel in ambiguity” while the weak cannot “afford uncertainty and so demand a clear dichotomy.” The strong man must take a stand “beyond good and evil” and presumably Pilate, with his question ventures beyond mere morality and religion. The superman braves subtle shades of grey and refuses the dictates of a determinate notion of truth. Jesus, in Nietzsche’s scheme, is the subject/slave of truth – his life depends upon a determinate truth while the judge and executioner can allow for “subtleties” or “contingencies” in truth. Continue reading “Two Concepts of Truth: Truth as the Power of Death or the Power of Life”

The Trial of Jesus as a Trying of Human Law, Justice, and Truth

The trial of Jesus serves as a marker of two types of interpretive frames and two types of theology. A theology built upon abstraction will interpret the trial such that it cannot discriminate between the intent of Pilate, the Jews, and Christ, so that good and evil are fused into a singular purpose. In this understanding, Roman law and God’s law are united to bring about the death of Jesus. God is simply working out his providential intent to punish Jesus under the law so that he might be punished for all. Rome, with its god-Caesar is not being judged, but Rome’s law and justice are perfectly adequate for God’s purposes.  After all, Rome and the Church will unite under Emperor Constantine and this Constantinian Christianity imagines that human law, justice, and government, are in accord with God’s purposes in Christ. In this understanding the economy of salvation works with the economy of human cultures and nations so that salvation comes through Constantinian Rome – or Christian America. As Dante will describe Jesus’ trial, it was under a lawful procedure bringing about a just punishment, therefore, one cannot pronounce its proceedings evil.  Continue reading “The Trial of Jesus as a Trying of Human Law, Justice, and Truth”

Only One King Can Judge: Jesus “Trial” As the Suspension of Sovereign Judgment

In the trial of Jesus in the Gospel of John no judgment is ever formally declared. Beyond this, there is an ambiguity as to who is acting as judge. Jesus is not being judged by Pilate, at least in any formal sense, as Pilate is going to refuse to pronounce judgment.  Pilate attempts to follow his wife’s advice, to “have nothing to do with this man,” and so he “washes his hands” of the affair by simply turning the matter over to the Jews. He suggests to the Jews, “Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him” (19:6, NASB). This is more of a taunt on the part of Pilate, for he knows they have no power to crucify and are precisely forbidden by Roman law to try capital cases and their own law forbids crucifixion.  Pilate claims there is “no case” against the man and so he cannot pass judgment and there is to be no trial. When the Jews begin to yell, “Crucify him,” Pilate reiterates that there is “no case” against the man.  The Jewish leaders then suggest that, though he may not have broken Roman law, Jesus has broken Jewish law by claiming to be the Son of God.  For Pilate, this is one more turn of the screw, he becomes “even more afraid.”  Pilate, as I build the case below, seems to suspect he is the one undergoing trial and judgment.   Continue reading “Only One King Can Judge: Jesus “Trial” As the Suspension of Sovereign Judgment”

Emergent Freedom Versus Hellish Sovereignty: With Michelangelo

Between Calvin’s notion of double predestination and the idea of a fully developed human agency freely choosing (either heaven or hell), is the biblical picture of humans emerging in their fullness only in and through the work of Christ.  Michelangelo’s sculpture, Awakening Slave, in which a human form appears to be emerging from stone, illustrates the biblical picture of this slowly emerging humanity. The slave is missing his head and the stone itself seems to have imprisoned the man. The dust (adamah), like the stone from whence the slave emerges, is both the substance and that which constrains Adam (humankind) – the tendency or pull is one of return to dust. Just as the sculpture is incomplete, Adam is declared incomplete apart from Eve yet, Eve is the foreshadowing of an emerging new humanity (the Church). The completion of man by the creation of woman, means creation is an open-ended process in which the whole inner basis of humankind (contained in the name Adam) is an ongoing realization. The Second Adam completes the emergence of the human capacity for image bearing but the dust constricts, in varying degrees, those passing from the first Adam to the Second. Paul pictures it both as an accomplished fact (“through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men” (Ro 5:18, NASB)) and an unfolding process (“through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous” (Ro 5:19)). Continue reading “Emergent Freedom Versus Hellish Sovereignty: With Michelangelo”