There be dragons!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Today's Readings

This is the first reading from today:

Reading 1 Col 2:6-15

Brothers and sisters:
As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in him,
rooted in him and built upon him
and established in the faith as you were taught,
abounding in thanksgiving.
See to it that no one captivate you with an empty, seductive philosophy
according to the tradition of men,
according to the elemental powers of the world
and not according to Christ.

For in him dwells the whole fullness of the deity bodily,
and you share in this fullness in him,
who is the head of every principality and power.
In him you were also circumcised
with a circumcision not administered by hand,
by stripping off the carnal body, with the circumcision of Christ.
You were buried with him in baptism,
in which you were also raised with him
through faith in the power of God,
who raised him from the dead.
And even when you were dead in transgressions
and the uncircumcision of your flesh,
he brought you to life along with him,
having forgiven us all our transgressions;
obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims,
which was opposed to us,
he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross;
despoiling the principalities and the powers,
he made a public spectacle of them,
leading them away in triumph by it.

What strikes me about the first reading is the number of times the word "circumcision" is used.  Why is that?  And would Paul's audience, the Colossians, have squirmed under that word the way we do?  I think not.  First, their world was already far more closely attached to the physicality of existence, not yet removed by Protestant prudery from things of the body.  Second, and more to the point, the issue in Colosse was an advanced form of asceticism that seems to have looked at as foul all bodily functions.  The practitioners of such ascetic practices seemed to have looked down on those who still lived normal, fleshy existence.  Such practitioners engaged in an "empty, seductive philosophy" and were Manichean in their hatred of the body and their sense of superiority.  They lived "according to the elemental powers of the world" and "not according to (the very real, bodily, incarnation) of Christ."  Thus Paul's use of the word perhaps was meant to shock them in particular.  He repeatedly refers to a part of the body that they probably didn't want to even think about since it was "base".  In Christ, incarnate, fleshy dwelt "the whole fullness of the deity" as Paul points out and emphasizes "bodily" and man shares in this fleshy existence.  Ultimately it seems that what Paul is noting is that all those seemingly "base" aspects of our body, even the most base aspects related to the regenerative organs, were all circumscribed, cut away, nailed to the cross by Christ's sacrifice.  The baser elements of our existence, not just the nobler elements, were all sanctified.

This is the second reading from today:

Gospel Lk 6:12-19

Jesus departed to the mountain to pray,
and he spent the night in prayer to God.
When day came, he called his disciples to himself,
and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named Apostles:
Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew,
James, John, Philip, Bartholomew,
Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus,
Simon who was called a Zealot,
and Judas the son of James,
and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

And he came down with them and stood on a stretch of level ground.
A great crowd of his disciples and a large number of the people
from all Judea and Jerusalem
and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon
came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases;
and even those who were tormented by unclean spirits were cured.
Everyone in the crowd sought to touch him
because power came forth from him and healed them all.

The last lines are particularly of note; "Everyone in the crowd sought to touch him because power came forth from him and healed them all."  The Jewish people did not seem to view holiness as our modern sensibility views it.  We see holiness as something special, marvelous, loving and inclusive but this isn't anywhere near what the Jews perceived - it's the polar opposite, in fact.  Holiness for the Jews meant "set apart", "otherness" and normally implied terror, tremendous power, and arbitrary favoritism that seems anathema to our modern sensibilities of an all-loving and equitable God.  The stories of God's power and violence (the burning of the man who puts out his hand to steady the ark, the pustules and hemorrhoids visited upon the enemies of God, the razing of numerous cities opposing the chosen people) strike us as horrifying.  They fly in the face of what we want god to be, the loving understanding grandfather who gives out treats.  Not the Faulknerian father that drinks and laughs and dances and womanizes.  But this was the type of God the Jews conceived.  That ark and those tablets and that Sanctum Sanctorum held real and horrifying power.  So much so that the Jews didn't actually want to go up to the temple on a regular basis.  Holy days were obligation, but they weren't fun.

As J.N. Schofield puts it in "Introducing Old Testament Theology";
The basic meaning behind the Hebrew word translated ‘holy’ is uncertain, but is probably either ‘to shine brightly’ or ‘to be terrible’, giving, in the usage of the Old Testament, the sense of ‘brilliance’ or ‘separation’.  In primitive thought God’s holiness was a quasi-physical force that bound together everything belonging to God, like the powerful, electric potential in a high-tension wire which, if you touch it, you cannot let go; you do not simply get a shock but you are bound to it.

Thus when the line says of the New Law that is Christ, "Everyone in the crowd sought to touch him" it seems the author is making a direct trope and contradiction of the tradition of the Jewish God.  Here everyone in the crowd, not just one man, sought to touch him and mirabile they aren't burned like that other fellow but instead "power came forth from him and healed them all."  The New Law in Christ is not a power of destruction but of healing.  The author of the gospel, Luke here, isn't just exercise his medical interest in the recuperative properties of Christ's skirt but is instead making an incredible statement about the theological shift that is occurring in The Way as different from the earlier Jewish traditions.

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