A Respectable Suburban Jesus

Doing some reading this morning as part of my dissertation and got distracted by an article by Jim Perkinson in which he discusses the incarnation in provocative terms. I think it’s worth quoting at length.

My understanding of the God “of incarnation” is not that his death was primarily a cosmic plan, all worked out up front, as a “done deal” from before the beginning of time based on “insider information”, satisfying the debt-plus-interest owed by every human being ever created. Nor is it my view that in his resurrection, he now stands meekly calling at the threshold like a good little shepherd talking to the good little “sheep” in sheep-talk who will then themselves forever after stay quietly in the the nice cosy suburban “corral” surrounded by state-of-the-art security systems, “bleating” over hi-tech sound systems, pooping in all the right places, and “giving wool” at the right hour.

My understanding is that, initially, this incarnate God spoke loud and long as a prophet (Luke 7:16-17, Matt 21:11; Rev 3:14), immersed in the harsh everyday world of tenant farmers and tax collectors and wage labourers and HIV-leprosy sufferers and guerrilla fighters and poverty hustlers and dolled-up, street walkers. He learned his message from bombastic, uppity women who would not keep quiet in the courtroom (Luke 18:1-8), would not take “no” for an answer when he was “underground” and trying to hide from the authorities up near the city of Tyre (Mark 7:24-30), and would not refrain from wiping him with their hair at hoity-toity dinner parties (Luke 7:36-50) or contaminating him with uncleanness by touching him in the market place (Mark 5:24-34), would not even consult their husbands when deciding to “have” him, as a baby, by somebody else! (Matt 1:18-24; Luke 1:26-28).

This God continued to speak even when he was no longer invited to read the bible in nice, respectable “churches” (John 7:11; Luke 4:16-30; John 11:54), pray for the nice, sick daughters of the wealthy and their nice dying servants (Mark 5:21-24, 35-43; Luke 7:1-10), or give nice opinions on local events (Luke 13:1-5), because so much of what he had to say did not sound so nice to well-washed and perfumed ears (Matt23:1-39; Luke 11:37-54). He spoke even when accompanied by crowds who smelled (John 11:39), who were presumed to be thieves (Luke 19:1-10; John 12:4-6; Mark 11:17), who organised parades on pretenses (Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:39) and misunderstood everything except that their own exploiters and oppressors were getting a public comeuppance in this guy’s words (Mark 12:37).

He spoke even when the CIA lurked (Mark 7:1), when the FBI jerked his chain (Mark 3:6; Matt 12:14), when the spin-meisters sought to catch him in damning sound-bites (Mark 12:13; Luke 11:53-54), when the police threatened arrest after a day-long takeover of the national shrine (Mark 11:18; Luke 19:47-48). He only ceased speaking when the kangaroo court demanded that he speak (Mark 14:60-61).

Then, in a final moment, far from a quiet, complacent passing on, in full control of pain and pathos like some god-in-human drag, “slumming” for a brief season, among such poor wayward creatures, this God yelled, yowled, cursed, swore, cried out, groaned, moaned, made it plain this blood-letting was a divine abomination, and even, like Job, finally dared to put God “himself” at issue, if such things as this were “the father’s will” (Mark 15:33-39). That is to say, I understand this death not to have been primarily or in the first place substitutionary, but solidarity. It did not so much go bail for us, so we would not have to suffer that way, as it did invite any who would be followers-even racalcitrant and frightened absent ones, like most of his male friends-to join in the same mission (Mark 8:31-35; John 15:18-27; Matt 10:24-39). Those “trepid” ones were (and are) invited to join the spirit of resurrection in confronting injustice, unmasking the powers’ mimicry of divinity, confronting the theological “common sense” of the day as just another name for complicity with teh oppression (Matt 10:5-39). And they are to expect the same treatment and the same end as himself (John 12:10; 16:1-4).

Troubling words. Though also a stirring call to higher things.

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