Thursday, 8 December 2011

Paying for Utopia

My attention came to Isaiah 61 today. Jesus quotes from here when he announces his mission in the synagogue. "The spirit of the Lord is upon me..." and so on. Typically, the idea is that when someone quotes from a passage, they invoke the whole passage. The exact parameters of a passage of text are hard to define, but that's the point of exegesis and argument.

I looked a little further in the chapter, to read this:
Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks,
foreigners shall till your land and dress your vines;
but you shall be called priests of the Lord,
you shall be named ministers of our God;
you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations,
and in their riches you shall glory.
Because their shame was double,
and dishonour was proclaimed as their lot,
therefore they shall possess a double portion;
everlasting joy shall be theirs.
To be clear, "they" refers to the captives and the mourners and "you" refers to "Zion, the City of God" as the place and the people who live there. So, because the Zionites (not Zionists) were beaten down, they'll be raised up again, to the point that Zion will be exalted. What an amazing city it'll be! People won't have to work hard because they're enjoying riches!

But whose riches? Strangers. Foreigners. The people who will do the work are strangers and foreigners. Ironically, that's probably why Israel was invaded by the larger powers around them in the first place (despite the judgements proclaimed in the texts). The other powers needed slaves, a lower class to do the work. In this Isaianic utopia, all the wealth comes from foreigners to make life easy for the Israelites.

We can't use this kind of text to generate a vision of an equitable society. What it shows is an inverted society, where oppressors are oppressed. The sense of social justice in this passage is to treat people as they were treated; an eye for an eye, an exploitation for an exploitation. This vision demands vengeance as part of the restoration of the world. Tomorrow's utopia will be paid for by today's bourgeoisie, but will turn today's workers into tomorrow's oppressors. The dark side of this vision is that it requires someone to be the future oppressor, enjoying the utopia at the expense of others.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Faith and Reason

Last week was the feast of Andrew the Apostle. Maybe because I share his name, or maybe not, I had a discussion about him that day, feeding off Ecclesiasticus 14:20.
Happy is the person who meditates on wisdom
and reasons intelligently
We all worked through some of the pros and cons of privileging faith or reason, and I brought up the tradition of faith seeking understanding. Eventually, it came around to Andrew. The key question I asked was about his initial encounter with Jesus, way back before signs or crucifixions or resurrections.
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed*).
I'm going to impose some titles here to help bring out my question.

Andrew starts with Rabbi John, then spends an afternoon with Rabbi Jesus, and finishes his afternoon by bringing his brother to meet Messiah Jesus. What was the reasoning that took place to change Andrew from calling Jesus a teacher to calling him the Christ? He went to Jesus looking for rabbinic reasoning, but got more than that.

We'll never know, of course, because no one took minutes of the proceedings. So it's just speculation and hypothesis for us, with a healthy dose of reasoning intelligently.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Early Church Soap Opera

WARNING! I'm about to ignore scholarship.

The lists of the Twelve are slightly different from one gospel to the next. Traditionally, we've dealt with this by saying things like, "Thaddeus, also known as Judas (not the Iscariot one!)."

But I wonder if it was symptomatic of a fight, or a disagreement about who Jesus called the Twelve. Was there a thirteenth wheel in the group?

It's all soap operatic speculation to while away a Friday afternoon.