October 14, 2011

The Place and the Power

My experience at the conference I've been attending in Durban, South Africa, has been incredibly rewarding. To sit and share in scripture, worship, reflection and dialogue with so many wonderful people from many parts of Africa and the US (and New Zealand and Sweden!) was a rich banquet which it will take some time to digest. This was, in part, my job, as I was a member of the "listening team" charged with collecting and distilling some of the wealth. An official report will be available in due coure, but I wanted to share something of the Bible study, to which I was also able to contribute some observations. Even though a "listener" I was instructed to operate under the "no muzzling the threshing ox" rule and was encouraged to participate fully even while taking notes!

The two major Bible studies were on the woman with the ointment in the house at Bethany (Mark 14:3-9) and the stilling of the storm on the lake (Mark 4:3541). What struck me in both stories was the location. The house of Simon the Leper in Bethany is a key place, as is the house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus (if indeed these are two different houses). Jesus expends a significant portion of his ministry in Bethany -- one meaning of which is "House of the afflicted." And it struck me that all of the really important things in Christ's ministry happen not within Jerusalem, but outside it -- at the margins with the poor and the outcast, not just spiritually and economically, but physically. Bethany is a place of lepers and irregular households, yet Jesus is at home there. The great crescendo of saving acts performed by this marginal man (uneducated and of questionable birth) -- the Crucifixion, Burial, Resurrection and Ascension -- all take place in the liminal and marginal world surrounding, but not within, the "Holy City."

And yet the church it seems so often wants to see itself as trhe Temple, the place of security and pomp and circumstance, rather than to be in the place where Jesus is -- on the margins in the home of the afflicted. As one of the presenters at the Conference, Sathi Clarke, put it, it is the bonds of affliction, not of affection, that truly bind up the church in the paschal mystery. Anglicans in particular seem to want to be -- and to be seen to be -- safe and secure, content in the Temple, rather than risking all on the edges.

And this brings me to the second study. We are so accustomed to reading the story of the calming of the storm as if that was what Jesus wanted to do. In fact it is what the disciples wanted done for them. Jesus' goal was to reach the other side. Perhaps Jesus wanted them to make use of the storm and their skill to reach that other shore. I can imagine Jesus saying, implicitly responding to their lack of faith, "I gave you the storm; I gave you myself. Was that not enough for you." Jesus was with them, though asleep, in the midst of that tossing sea and blowing wind, and he taught them a hard lesson by brining a calm which would give no wind to their sails.

Again, the church so often wants to be "safe and secure from all alarms" rather than to make use of the energy available and the skills at hand. Jesus says to us as well, "I give you the storm; I give you myself; what more do you need, you of fear and not faith?" Perhaps in the end, God has given us the gifts we need, the challenging two edged sword of his Word rather than an earthly peace that would diminish or constrain the powerful wind of the Spirit.

Tobias Stanislas Haller


June Butler said...

Thanks for the preliminary report, Tobias. I look forward to hearing more. You say:

And it struck me that all of the really important things in Christ's ministry happen not within Jerusalem, but outside it --

Would 'most' perhaps be better than 'all'? You know me, the contrarian and even somewhat of a literalist. Important events in Jerusalem immediately came to mind. Jesus reading from the Isaiah scroll, the cleansing of the temple, the widow's mite.

However, I do agree that Jesus spent the greater part of his time, some might even say an inordinate amount of time, with those on the margins, the afflicted, the outcasts, the sinners.

I guess it depends upon what you mean by 'important'. ;-)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Mimi, as I tried to make clear later in the paragraph, by "important" I meant the "saving acts" -- and I could add his birth in Bethlehem, but was focusing more on the Triduum. The Isaiah reading was in Nazareth; and I do think the various teachings delivered on the temple mount, and the cleansing, are important -- though not as important in the way I intended. On the whole, Jerusalem seems to be a place wept over, almost despaired of -- and the real grace is to be found outside. This may refect some influence from Qumran's community, which had totallyy given up on Jerusalem.

I'm now in London, catching up on things. And grabbing a wee rest before the next round of meetings!

June Butler said...

Yes, the Isaiah scroll was in the synagogue. I stand corrected there, and Nazareth would certainly have been on the margins! Your explanation well satisfies the contrarian.

You're very much the world traveler, but I'm so pleased that you're included in the conversations.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks again, Mimi. The travels are fascinating, and I'm blessed to be part of these conversations, which from this recent conversation I know will move things forward.

Your comment got me thinking, though. Luke, of course, has a particular agenda in mind: the oveerarching theme of movement from Galilee to Jerusalem, to Rome. But all of the Gospels attest to the Last Supper being in the City. In a way, it represets the ultimate rebuke to the Temple -- even more than the cleasing -- as it overthrows and supplants the law of sacrifices on which Temple worship centered. So in a way, the New Rite had to be established in [the] "place" of the old.

About to head off to Sunday morning worship...

June Butler said...

Exactly, Tovias. What was in my thoughts, too, when I made my original comment was that Jesus had to make plain the connection between his roots in Judaism and the new covenant, which was a summing up of the old covenant, which connection would be best illustrated by appearances in the temple and in Jerusalem. And then his many appearances on the fringes made plain that his message was not only for the Jews and, most certainly, not only for the leaders and the elite amongst the Jewish community.

June Butler said...

Sorry about 'Tovias'. :-)