Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The parable of the Good Samaritan: the unexpurgated postscript

… And Jesus concluded, “Which one of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Jesus’ interlocutor (whose name was Monty) said, “You mean, be kind to those in trouble or need?”

“Exactly,” said Jesus, “whoever they are, whoever you are.”

“Ya think?” Monty said. “You finally land the plane, and that’s your point?”

“Don’t you think it’s rather provocative,” suggested Jesus, with a teacher’s indulgence, “that it was a Samaritan, of all people, who showed kindness?”

“And why shouldn’t a Samaritan show kindness?” Monty demanded. “You got a problem with Samaritans?”

“No, of course not,” Jesus replied, a little defensively it must be said. “Don’t you see that …”

“Next you’ll be protesting that some of your best friends are Samaritans,” Monty interrupted.

“No, I was …”

“So you don’t have any Samaritan friends?”

“Well, yes, actually, I do,” countered Jesus. “There’s a woman I met at a well.”

“What’s her name?” Monty asked.

“Er,” hesitated Jesus. “To be honest, I can’t remember. I didn’t ask.”

“You didn’t ask? But you hang out together?” Monty pressed.

“Well, no, not exactly,” Jesus conceded.

“So you met this Samaritan woman, you don’t know her name, you don’t hang out together, yet you say she’s a friend of yours?” Monty smirked.

“Well, okay then,” Jesus backtracked, “she’s an acquaintance.”

“Just as I thought,” Monty declared. “Anyone else?”

“Well,” Jesus replied, trying to regain the initiative, “I recently healed a Samaritan – of eczema, as I recall. I saw him twice.”

“Twice, is it? As a patient? I guess that makes him a bosom buddy,” said Monty, ratcheting up the sarcasm.

“Well, no, but …”

“Another ‘acquaintance’ then?” Monty was relentless.

“Well, yes, but look,” an exasperated Jesus began to explain, “what I was doing was telling a story about a Samaritan to make a point about kindness and prejudice.”

“So it never happened. It’s fake news.” Monty was merciless.

“No, no, no” Jesus said shaking his head, “you’re making a category mistake.”

“A what?”

“A category mistake,” repeated Jesus. “It’s a semantic error in which …” he continued, then paused. Looking up from the bottom of a huge hole, he decided to stop digging. “Never mind,” he said.

“Okay, okay, tell me this,” Monty asked, going for the jugular. “Are any of your disciples Samaritans?”

Now completely discombobulated, Jesus sighed, “No, but …”

“Yes-but, no-but,” mocked Monty. “So you’ve got no friends who are Samaritans, and no disciples who are Samaritans, yet you bang on about a good Samaritan in a made-up story. You’re all mouth, aren’t you, Jesus? ‘Samaritan Lives Matter’.” Not to mention that you have a go at two fellow Jews in your little fable – two Jewish clerics – low-hanging fruit, or what? I mean talk about ethnic and religious profiling. What, are you some sort of self-loathing Israelite?”

“Now hang on …” Jesus remonstrated.

But Monty stopped him again. “I suppose the next thing you’re going to tell me is that you know some Roman who, iconically, has great faith.”

“Well, now that you mention it …”

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Holy feet

I have today been required to reconsider every word I have ever spoken against natural theology. The reason? I have been reading scripture. One single verse of scripture can send shivers down the spine of any volume of dogmatics. Entire shelves of theology flee to cower in the darker corners of the library when confronted by an isolated pericope. Old Karl Barth thought that scripture upsets our inherited knowledge of God and morality, but my reading today has merely confirmed that which every Australian child knows: the perfection of bare feet.

In scripture, the highest theological idea is revealed in the lowest human extremity. The bare foot is the essence of human innocence. It is surprising to the point of embarrassment that I should even have to write this out, for the truth lies deeply embedded in our language. A shod foot is but one syllable short of being shoddy. It is only certain other Germanic languages that are confused on this matter, with the infernal similarity between the Dutch schooen (shoe) and the German schön (Is it any wonder that this was the language of Heidegger and Nietzsche?).

One could derive the entire doctrine of holiness from the unshod feet of Moses. Origen suggested that we interpret scripture allegorically when the plain sense is problematic. One may allegorise the Mountain, the Golden Calf, Moses’ shining face, but the one element of the narrative impossible to allegorise or demythologise is the perfect bareness of Moses’ feet. Calvin provides the correct interpretation: “If any prefer the deeper meaning (anagoge,) that God cannot be heard until we have put off our earthly thoughts, I object not to it; only let the natural sense stand first, that Moses was commanded to put off his shoes, as a preparation to listen with greater reverence to God.”

Moses could hear the voice of God only in his natural edenic state, unshod. This, of course, is the great scandal of humanity’s alienation from paradise: when Eve and her husband wished to hide from the garden-wandering God, they covered themselves. Genesis is silent on the precise nature of their covering only because it was so very obvious: they covered their feet.

The encased foot is humanity’s attempt to demarcate the natural from the human, to form a protective layer around the human soul. But in doing so we have trapped ourselves inside a claustrophobic space, sweaty and putrid. The evangelist goes to such lengths to describe the pavement of the heavenly city in the Apocalypse, because his hearers imagined themselves casting off their fallen footwear and running into God’s holy brightness. How else are we to enter the kingdom, after all, but as children at play?

Friday, 14 July 2017

Sydney conference on sin and grace: Theology Connect 2018

The next Theology Connect conference will be coming to Sydney in July 2018. The theme is sin and grace in Christian theology, with keynotes by Kelly Kapic, Alan Torrance, Simon Chan. There's a call for papers, so why not come visit our nice little town and give us a paper? If you bring your bicycle I will even give you a free guided tour!

If you haven't heard of Theology Connect, there's a review and some pictures of the last one, and a while back I did an interview with Chris Green about the conference series. It looks like they've traded the uber-funky industrial setting for a church venue; but apart from that I'm sure it will be an excellent event. Personally I would go just to hear Simon Chan whose work I admire very much. I'm using his book on Grassroots Asian Theology in my contextual theology seminar this semester (I reviewed it here in case you're interested).

Here's a promo video for the conference:


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