Thursday, September 08, 2016

Beware Over-Spiritualizing the Cross

Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."
Matthew 16:24
The cross utilizes a political image of shame, humiliation, pain, social rejection, marginalization, condemnation, and death. Crucifixion, as employed by Rome, was a cruel means of execution (Tacitus, Ann 15.44.4; Seneca, De Ira 1.2.2; Josephus, JW 7.203 [“ most pitiable of deaths”]). It was not used for Roman citizens (Cicero, Pro Rabirio 9-17, except for treason), but for sociopolitical marginals such as “rebellious” foreigners (Josephus, JW 2.306, 308; 5.449-53; Philo, In Flaccum 72, 84), violent criminals and robbers (Martial, On the Spectacles 9), and slaves (Cicero, In Verr 2.5.162; Juvenal, Sat 6.219-224; Tacitus, Ann 13.32.1). Crucifixion in public places was intended to deter noncompliant behavior (Josephus, JW 5.550). Carrying the cross-beam (patibulum) to the place of execution could be part of the precrucifixion torture and humiliation (Plutarch, “On the Delay of Divine Vengeance,” Moralia 554B). For some Jews, crucifixion could be associated with the curse on those hung on a tree (Deut 23: 21;
Gal 3: 13; 11QTemple 64: 6-13).

Jesus' scandalous call, then, to take up the cross and follow (cf. 4: 18-22) is a call to martyrdom, to die as Jesus does (9: 15; 10: 4, 21, 28, 29; 16: 21). Such is the risk of continuing Jesus' countercultural work of proclaiming and demonstrating God's empire (10: 7-8). On another level, it is a call to a life of marginalization, to identify with the nobodies like slaves, foreigners, criminals, and those understood to be cursed by God. It is also to identify with those who resist the empire's control, who contest its version of reality, and who are vulnerable to its reprisals. It is to identify with a sign of the empire's violent and humiliating attempt to dispose of all who threaten or challenge its interests. To so identify is not to endorse the symbol but to counter and reframe its violence. As the end of the gospel shows, it is to identify with a sign that ironically indicates the empire's limits. The empire does its worst in crucifying Jesus. But God raises Jesus from death to thwart the empire's efforts and to reveal the limits of its power.

--Carter, Warren. Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading (Bible and Liberation) (Kindle Locations 10421-10439). Orbis Books. Kindle Edition.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Corrupting the Well-Adjusted in a Sick Society

He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.
Matthew 13:33
The small beginning effects a massive impact. The yeast/ leaven has worked quietly, invisibly, hidden away, over time. Rome and the religious elite do not see it at all. Disciples could wonder if it was there at all, or achieving anything. But inevitably all of it was leavened. The passive indicates God's action. The yeast/ leaven has done corrupting work in transforming the flour.

By comparison, God's reign works over time. In a similar way, it attacks the status quo. In doing transformative work, it shows that conventional life under imperial rule is unacceptable. God's ways are not human ways. God's empire is not the same as oppressive political, socioeconomic, and religious control. So Jesus heals the sick, casts out demons, eats with tax collectors and sinners, urges mercy, promotes access to shared resources, and constitutes alternative households. This is corrupting work in relation to the empire's status quo because it replaces an unjust hierarchical system which furthers the interests of the elite at the expense of the rest. But if a person is well adjusted in a sick society, corrupting is the only path to wholeness. In such a context, to be corrupted is to be transformed, saved, in encountering God's empire, in anticipation of its eventual completion in establishing God's life-giving reign over all things.

--Carter, Warren. Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading (Bible and Liberation) (Kindle Locations 8914-8924). Orbis Books. Kindle Edition.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Self: The Whole Evil of the Fallen Nature

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Matthew 16:24
“We need to know two things: (1) Our salvation consists wholly in being saved from ourselves, or that which we are by nature; (2) In the whole nature of things, nothing could be salvation or savior to us but the humility of God beyond all expression. Hence the first unalterable term of ‘Savior’ of fallen man: ‘Except a man deny himself he cannot be my disciple.’ Self is the whole evil of the fallen nature. Self-denial is our capacity for being saved. Humility is our savior.... Self is the root, the branches, the tree, of all the evil of our fallen state. All the evil of fallen angels and of men has its birth in the pride of self. On the other hand, all the virtues of the heavenly life stem from humility. It is humility alone that makes the impassable gulf between heaven and hell. What is then, or in what lies, the great struggle for eternal life? It all lies in the strife between pride and humility. Pride and humility are the two master powers, the two kingdoms at war for the eternal possession of man. There never was or ever will be but one humility, and that is the humility of Christ. Pride and self have the “all” of man, until man has his all in Christ. He only fights the good fight whose desire is that the self-idolatrous nature that he has from Adam may be put to death by the supernatural humility of Christ brought to life in him.” Adapted from William Law, Address to the Clergy, n.d., 52.

--Murray, Andrew. Humility: The Journey Toward Holiness (Kindle Locations 865-875). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.