I’m over at Stand Firm this morning.
The Anglican world is well into its second (or is it third?) week of controversy over the question of sexuality. Under discussion yet again are the boundaries of sexual behavior for the Christian, how to think and talk sin, concupiscence and orientation, and the “real meaning” of the 39 Articles. This latest flap, however, has a new layer—well, perhaps not new, but at least more on display than at other times. It is the question of obedience.
I thought it was interesting, just to leap straight in, that the person who wrote the Dear Gay Anglican letter, when asked to take it down, did so in such a way that he reiterated the substance of the letter in the announcement of his obedience. He professed to be doing what he was told in the act of not doing what he was told. It was like unto those many occasions when I tell my children not to do something, and they say, “ok I’ll stop doing it” but they keep doing it even as they say they are not doing it.
I try never to put myself into the place of Jesus when I’m reading the Bible, but sometimes I feel that I do know what it must have been like for him to be always speaking plainly, except when he was teaching in parables so that they wouldn’t understand, and yet have everyone either not comprehend what he was saying, or, when they did, explain to him that he was wrong. It happens yet again in this morning’s gospel:
And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
Because, don’t you know, death is bad, and Jesus is young and at the height of his popularity. He is not going to die, he is going to become an important political personage, or at least an influencer whose voice is needed at this crucial time. The last thing he’s going to do is die. Peter will ‘splain him—forcefully—saying it over and over again as if Jesus has just said something so unacceptable that he will lose all of his audience and all of his brand.
In response to Peter’s correction, Jesus tells Satan to get behind him. Peter falls back in a sulk (I imagine) because he is not trying to be #literallySatan but, out of love, to point out to Jesus that he, Jesus, is #literallyruiningeverything. Imagine it as a set of tweets, with all the crowds looking on, and you can feel how tense and unpleasant the whole exchange is.
But then Jesus turns to the disciples and doubles down. Not only is Jesus himself going to die—in shameful and brutal humiliation—the invitation to die is for everyone who is Jesus Curious. He calls “the crowd to him with his disciples,” so that not just the inner circle will hear this, but everyone, which ultimately includes me and you. This isn’t just for the elite and especially holy churchgoer. For the religious fanatic who will do anything to please his God. For the dumb-brick conspiracy theory aficionado who thinks that everyone is out to get him. The thing that Jesus says here is for everyone who will believe.
And the problem with it is that it is so simple—and yet so impossible. There is nothing within the realm of the Christian life that falls outside of the stark choice he sets down. In a time where binary choices are so problematical, where you are forced to choose between two things that might very easily go together—like everything having, for example, to do with the coronavirus—Jesus apparently doesn’t fear the possibilities of human ruin on the shoals of dichotomous thinking. Is he insane? Does he not know that we already have the inclination to think in too tribally exclusive ways? Doesn’t he want us to stop catastrophizing about everything? On the surface, it sure doesn’t look like it…read the rest here!