bible blog 1385

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:



45 After midday a darkness came over all the country, lasting until three in the afternoon. 46 About three Jesus called out loudly: “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabacthani” — that is to say, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ 47 Some of those standing by heard this, and said: “The man is calling for Elijah!” 48 One of them immediately ran and took a sponge, and, filling it with common wine, put it on the end of a rod, and offered it to him to drink. 49 But the rest said: “Wait and let us see if Elijah is coming to save him.” {Some early manuscripts add: However another man took a spear, and pierced his side; and water and blood flowed from it.} 50 But Jesus, uttering another loud cry, gave up his spirit. 51 Suddenly the Temple curtain was torn in two from top to bottom, the earth shook, the rocks were torn asunder, 52 the tombs opened, and the bodies of many of God’s people who had fallen asleep rose, 53 and they, leaving their tombs, went, after the resurrection of Jesus, into the Holy City, and appeared to many people. 54 The Roman captain, and the men with him who were watching Jesus, on seeing the earthquake and all that was happening, became greatly frightened and exclaimed: “This must indeed have been God’s Son!” 55 There were many women there, watching from a distance, who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee and had been attending on him. 56 Among them were Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

chagallTo get some idea of what Matthew is doing here, the reader should look at his source, Mark chapter 15. Mark gives Jesus’ cry of abandonment and his death cry. He also mentions the tearing of the temple curtain and the words of the centurion, which are two forms of commentary on Jesus’ death. The tearing of the curtain means that God’s holy of holies has been violently opened to human eyes in Jesus’ crucifixion; and the centurion’s words echo the words of God at the start of the gospel, “This is my dear son.”

For Mathew they function in a similar way, although his addition of earthquake, and physical resurrection of the dead, mean that the centurion’s words are a response to miracle rather than to Jesus’ death, and proceed from fear rather than admiration. He may also have seen the tearing of the curtain as the signifying more the end of Judaism and its temple than the revelation of the God’s presence in Jesus.

Both accounts however present Jesus’ death as an “apocalyptic” event, that is, the sort of event that Jewish believers expected at the “end time” of the present evil age and the beginning of the age to come. Doubtless Matthew still looked for an event of this sort in the future, but for him and his community, the decisive event was the death-and resurrection of God’s son Jesus. And whereas the resurrection is a private event which reveals that Jesus is God’s son and is alive forever, his death is a public event which reveals that God’s son offers his life so that God’s goodness may be real for all.

The women are there, reminding the reader that the male disciples have deserted. Even the women are mere onlookers. Jesus suffers and dies in their place, as the only one faithful to God’s Rule in the face of the rule of corrupt religion and brutal imperialism. One way into the story of Jesus is to imagine myself as one of the disciples, learning gradually that Jesus is always where I ought to be and long to be- healing, forgiving, teaching, confronting, suffering and dying- so that only by uniting my life with his can I make the offering to God and to my neighbour that is my reasonable service. chagal2

The cry of abandonment is near the centre of my faith. I do not believe God intervenes to right worldly wrongs and tragedies. God works by persuasion and needs human partnership to alter anything in the world. So many human beings feel the same abandonment as Jesus as their lives trickle out into insignificance. Today it is the children and adults of Gaza, tomorrow the victims of the ebola virus. God will do nothing for them except through human peacemaking and human medicine. But Jesus is their brother who asks their question, “Why?” In this sense Jesus is not “the answer” as pious people say, but rather the question to which only God can provide an answer.

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