I thought I’d post today on the need for repentance and forgiveness, but instead I want to posit another way of looking at our problem — and it is a problem for whole Church. My contention is that the gospel comes to create the order designed by God — a kingdom order, an ecclesial order, a practicing Pentecost order. The gospel is more than the resolution of judicial bankruptcy, though it is that. It is designed to restore Eikons to their former and intended glory so they will be in union with God and communion with others, for the good of others and the world.
Let’s begin with Matthew 8:5-13:
Matt. 8:5 When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him 6 and saying, â€œLord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.â€ 7 And he said to him, â€œI will come and cure him.â€ 8 The centurion answered, â€œLord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, â€˜Go,â€™ and he goes, and to another, â€˜Come,â€™ and he comes, and to my slave, â€˜Do this,â€™ and the slave does it.â€ 10 When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, â€œTruly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.â€ 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, â€œGo; let it be done for you according to your faith.â€ And the servant was healed in that hour.
How, I ask, would the following “hear” this text?
1. A charismatic.
2. A white suburban evangelical.
3. Jesse Jackson (he’s easy to predict).
The answers, again dealing with stereotypical answers?
1. Charismatic: Jesus can do miracles even today.
2. White suburban evangelical: Salvation is by faith alone.
3. Jesse Jackson: Ethnic integration.
No one of us should dispute that each is justifiable, but what is the emphasis of the text and of Jesus’ ministry? Jesse Jackson is closest to the intent of the text.
Now, the point we have to learn about is this: we need to learn how to read the text from a Kingdom perspective instead of just from our own perspective. (This, of course, challenges simplistic postmodernity, for pomo types might say it can mean whatever you want it to mean.) One of the nice points of Bob Robinson’s recent posts is that pomo leads us to listen to the voice of the marginalized. We need to learn to be critical of our own readings, to see if our readings are culturally-enmeshed to the degree that we are simply passing off as gospel the powers that be rather than the Power who is to Be.
Now here’s a suggestion. If you haven’t read it or even heard of it, get yourself a copy of Brian K. Blount’s Then the Whisper Put on Flesh, and read about how an African American context can shape what is seen in the ethics of the New Testament. You may not agree with everything he says, but I promise you’ll see things you’ve not seen before. Brian teaches at Princeton, and I’ve never met him. I hope I do someday. We have e-mailed, and I told him how much I appreciated his book. My Jesus of Nazareth students read it last Spring, and we had a good discussion, which is a bit of an accomplishment for an 8am class.
He suggests that the whisper has put on “white flesh” (15) and that it deserves to put on a “flesh of color” (16).
Let me also posit another hermeneutical suggestion: Blount challenges the justification-as-judicial-redemption hermeneutic and summons us to a hermeneutic that is much more in line with Kingdom and therefore liberation (I’ve posted on Kingdom plenty, but my thread is Benedictus/Magnificat/Inaugural sermon/Beatitudes/Reply to John and the early chapters of Acts and Paul’s analogy of the Church as a Body of unity). Blount is not far from this.
African Americans have learned to read the Bible, not so much through the lens of Paul, but through the lens of Moses and the Exodus and Jesus and the Kingdom.
How are we reading the Bible? Are we reading it through a single lens only? Do we know which lens we are using?