Saturday, 2 May 2009

agenda nailing, scapegoats and Matthew 16

I'm revisiting some thoughts stemming from reading and discussing Matt 16:21-28 -

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem
and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes,

and be killed,
and on the third day be raised.
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying,
‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’
But he turned and said to Peter,
‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me;

for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
Then Jesus told his disciples,
‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father,
and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.

Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death
before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’

In particular, just wanting to note a line of thought I'm still processing and pondering with regard to the cross:
does the cross stand in need of redemption?

Mary C. Boys has a superbly thought-provoking essay which has from time to time wandered into my mind. On the basis of this, my own garbled stream of consciousness....

What is the cross we are asked to take up?
Conversely, what are the agendas we nail to the cross and which we raise and carry before us?

Paul Ricouer's work on signs and symbols, and how they are perceived comes to mind: the cross is a hugely powerful symbol, but there are many ways in which it can be interpreted. What I mean by, or how I think of, the cross and how it affects me as a symbol will not have the same meaning or symbolism for others.
There are multiple layers of meaning.

In light of this, can the cross be redeemed from some of its more negative historical associations?
Can it be redeemed from the looong shadow of the Crusades, for example?
The long shadow so evident in the language used by George W. Bush after 9/11? In language both apolcalyptic and dehumanising, he proposed a new crusade against the so-called 'axis of evil'. Certainly, in this instance, the manner in which Bush jr. took up the cross via the language of crusade would have been perceived in many quarters as symbolic of Western 'we are right by our might' imperialism.

There are other agendas we nail to the cross.
The agenda of misogyny.
The cross used to marginalise and exclude women - preventing them from preaching, teaching and service in the church; blaming them for bringing evil into the world; telling them to endure the suffering of domestic abuse... as Jesus suffered on the cross.

The agenda of racism and anti-Semitism.
The cross used as justification by white supremicists and Nazis to justify slavery and genocide.

And thinking of my previous blog: the agenda of homophobia: has this been nailed to the cross and carried around in the pursuit of excluding LGBT folk from a place at the table?

The cross has been used to justify exclusion and violence borne out of the brutal fear-filled ugliness of prejudice. Rene Girard's theories are pertinent here: the downward spiral of violence continues as does the need for, and practice of, scapegoating.

Wittingly, and unwittingly, have we taken on the violence of the cross, mimicking those who used violence on Jesus, rather than mimicking the active non-violence of Jesus? Down through the centuries, have we repeated the pattern of violence, rather than repudiated it?
Have we been too 'of the world', setting our minds on human and not divine things?
Have we used violence on those we deem 'other' as scapegoats for our own failings and lack of faith?

Again, the question arises:
What cross are we choosing to take up?
What are the agendas we nail to the crosses we choose to carry?
How can we redeem the cross from our agendas and choose to accept it as a powerfully liberating symbol of total, utter love?

'The scandal of the cross consists in this:
Christians in their history have made it a sign of conquering hate rather than sacrificial love. It is now time to ask whether the cross itself can be redeemed'
Mary C. Boys.

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