Paradoxical Christianity:  A way the Gospel confronts common sense and conventional morality

Paradoxical Christianity: A way the Gospel confronts common sense and conventional morality

A while back, years and years in fact, my brother wrote a piece that revealed the sharpness of his hermeneutical sword.
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He used to blog at Swivel Chair Theology; I wish he still did (sad face).  You can DuckDuckGo his blog if you want (I Googled alternative search engines – a little victory I suppose), or click here if you’re not feeling adventurous!
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Anyway, here’s a tasty morsel of paradoxical Christianity:
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Mark 14:3-10
While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.
“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them.11 They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him the money.
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This story has intrigued me since I first read it years ago.  A couple of things:
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Firstly, her action with the nard was outrageously extravagant to the point of being offensive.  A tiny amount would have produced a very nice effect at more than half the cost.  
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Secondly, Jesus seems to become suddenly blase about the poor.  His words are suggestive of an ideological stance that willy-nilly accepts the socio-political and economic constructs that support mass poverty.
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Thirdly, why should this story, above all stories, be one that is remembered in connection with the spread of the gospel?  That is, there is very little to be found in the story of forgiveness, or of helping one’s neighbour, or speaking in tongues, etc.  
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Fourthly, the comments of those present (whom John informs us were led by Judas Iscariot) actually make good common sense.  Jesus didn’t need a years wages worth of perfume poured on his head, and the money raised could have helped a lot of people.
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I think that the reason why this story is so closely associated by Jesus with the spread of the gospel is that it exposes us very strikingly to the way in which the gospel is offensive to both common sense and conventional morality.
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Mary’s act of generosity flies in the face of even the most generous human action through being so excessively wasteful; it’s the gift that gives over and above any conception of need.  As perfume it is wholly a non-essential luxury product, and as a consumer product it is worth a fortune.
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Lavishing such a non-essential, expensive good even on Jesus exposes the cramped meanness at the heart of much that passes for generosity in human terms.  I’m not just referring to a few quid in the collection plate, or tithing, or whatever.  Mary’s act must have come from the Holy Spirit himself, poured out in her heart.  It was a supernatural, superabundant act of which she would have been incapable, no matter how much she loved Jesus from her natural self.
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That is precisely why it is a GOSPEL act; it does not represent how much she loved him, or how generous she was, etc; but rather it represents Mary being caught up in the love of the Father for the Son through the Holy Spirit.  The gospel is the invitation to become a participant in this extravagant movement of love.  A little sprinkling of oil would never do.  Not least, more evidence that Mary was acting under the Holy Spirit’s guidance is that her action was likewise prophetic of Christ’s impending death and burial.  That her action should be prophetic of the cross, Christocentric, and offensive to good manners/sense to boot means that what she did was done from within the very heartbeat of the gospel.
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Incidentally, while the last verse makes Judas specifically look bad, it also casts judgement on the kind of human-inspired generosity that purely human love and understanding veer towards.
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This is a guest post by Dr David Matcham
over at the rather dusty swivelchairtheology blog

Revelation 3:20, Original Autograph

Jesus said, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone is dumb enough not to open it, while Andy and Jim cover the back, Pete will use the Big Key – bam! – and I’ll be coming in to party with a takeaway and a six-pack.”

Revelation 3:20, Original Autograph

Kim Fabricius

Right Pitching in Preaching

“I remember one minister for education urging that ‘Britain was the only nation on earth where cleverness was despised’. In other European countries, for example France and Germany, cleverness is sought after and prized. The glorification of educational backwardness, then, is part of a localised British decadence or hedonism that is inconsistent with biblical Christianity.

On this point the stress on ‘right-pitching’ from the pulpit in our churches is potentially confused with the rebellious suppression of the truth which Paul speaks about in Romans 1:18, or with ‘keeping the congregation as babies’ in line with sinful parent-child models of leadership. Right pitching always seeks to ‘move on’ those in the congregation to the next level of understanding. If ‘pitching’ always remains low, then people are not prepared for the complexities of the trials they face in life. When trouble comes, the ‘cartoon’ Christianity they have been fed proves to be hopelessly inadequate and they often fall away. The excuse is often given by ministers that ‘people will not understand’, but this is often nothing more than a patronising assumption that people are stupid.

 

Some, of course, want to remain ‘as babes’ because they do not wish to be alerted to subtle distortions in their own relational patterns. Right pitching, however, combines intelligibility with the introduction of the new, the more advanced, the ‘not completely understood already’. As the famous philosopher Wittgenstein said, in order for learning and growth to occur, more than mere ‘information’ is required. There has to be a gradual increase in the sophistication of the very categories by which people process ‘new information’.

In my second year at Junior school (age 8-9), we did maths using the ‘A2’ textbook. I remember looking at the ‘A3’ text book and thinking ‘flippin’ ‘eck, that looks difficult!’ Yet, in no way was it ‘unwise’ for me to progress from A2 level to A3 level. In no sense did my teacher think, ‘hmm, yes – we’d better keep the class at A2 level because that’s what they can understand’.

In other words, advancement into the ‘at-present-unintelligible’ was right and normal. And that’s for children, let alone adults. Just as we are born, and require education, so when we are born again, we require re-education. Just as it would be wrong to prohibit education beyond 8-9 year-old level, so it is wrong to prohibit biblical re-education beyond ‘spiritual baby’ level. It may be culturally fashionable, but it panders to parent-child patterns of leadership control that are inappropriate for those progressing towards spiritual adulthood.”

Dr Robert Knowles

 

The Atheists Are Revolting

The Atheists Are Revolting

I came across a National Post article recently about atheists, agnostics and non-believers rallying, or, if you prefer, revolting, against “religion.”  Headlined by the UK’s very own Richard Dawkins, the high priest among the “evangelists of unbelief”, who told atheists, “We are far more numerous than anybody realizes.”

Apart from adding a “So what!” to that slightly insecure posturing, I want to go through the article and poke it a little.

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What Easter is and isn’t

What Easter is and isn’t

Three years ago (2015), the then Prime Minister wrote an article for Premier Christianity magazine, giving, as it were, his Easter message to the Christians of the UK.  This is definitely a step up from the “We don’t do God” politics of the Blair/Campbell era of the late 1990’s, and this in spite of the viscous rhetoric of the so-called “New Atheists,” particularly since the 9-11 attacks, Cameron’s willingness to advance a smarter politics by engaging the UK’s Christians.  That is to be commended, but.

I’m just suspicious of it all never-the-less.  At least the UK lad and ladette culture of rampantly secular and materialistic 1990’s meant that senior politicians would never get away with a nod to the UK’s diminishing religious groups.  It was open season on those silly people of faith.

However, what Cameron said was of a generally sufficient vagueness that might fool some of the people some of the time, but not me . . . three years after the event!

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Heaven: ‘The deeper tale about a bloody King who won the holy war’

Heaven: ‘The deeper tale about a bloody King who won the holy war’

mezcovI’ve walked down the road where the devil’s been;

Where the kids have seen things they should never have seen.

And the ancient stone that knows the deeper tale;

About a bloody game, they call the holy war.

 

Heaven is my home and they’ll be no shame.

 

I’ve walked down a road where the angels been;

Where the kids have seen things that we never have seen.

And the ancient stone that knows the deeper tale;

About a bloody King who won the holy war.

 

Heaven is my home and they’ll be no shame to bear;

Heaven is my home and they’ll be no refugees.

 

© 1999 Smith/Garrard. Curious? Music UK/EMI Publishing

 

 

 

 

The Donkey

The Donkey

When fishes flew and forests walked
   And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
   Then surely I was born.
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With monstrous head and sickening cry
   And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
   On all four-footed things.
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The tattered outlaw of the earth,
   Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
   I keep my secret still.
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Fools! For I also had my hour;
   One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
   And palms before my feet.
By the genius that is G. K. Chesterton, from The Collected Poems of G. K. Chesterton, 1927

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