Saturday, October 30, 2010

I, Scandal

I've been thinking about my penultimate post, "Rock."  I came across the quote I shared while working on a word study for a seminary class on the Greek word skavndalon, usually rendered "stumbling block."  The quote struck me because it opened up this story about Peter and Jesus in a fresh way and clarified how much I, like Peter, am offended by the cruciform nature of Jesus's mission.

In the story, found in Matthew 16, Peter swings wildly from being right on ("You are the Messiah") to being wrong wrong wrong ("This must never happen to you").  I have been swooning these past few years, ever since N.T. Wright switched me on to it, over the glory of the resurrection and the excitement of Christian eschatological hope.  It seemed the cure to what ailed me--namely the deep-seated unsettling I experienced as a history major learning about the cruelty and rampant injustice of humanity's past, present and future.  Not that the immediate nastiness of evil has been removed by this hope, but that we have the promise of a good king coming to settle the accounts.  Eschatological passages like Psalm 2 have become simultaneously chilling and thrilling, since the future they imply is both scary (the implication of God wreaking havoc on the kings of the earth seems frighteningly violent and chaotic) and wonderful (the kings of the earth are, by and large, power-hungry, greedy, murdering bastards--explicitly or implicitly).  Sorry, classical liberalism, I just don't buy your metanarrative.*

Yet, for all my trembling adoration of the coming king, I have suspected myself of not fully tangling with the cross.  It's convenient to exult in the righteous warrior (which I do not intend to cease doing) and easy to forget the suffering servant.  Any good Christology must embrace both, however discordant they might feel, and recognize they are inextricably and causally linked.**  Jesus has established the archetypal pattern for being fully human, for realizing the full potential of God's original charge that man might "have dominion" over the earth.  And that pattern is marked first and foremost by the cross:  self-sacrificing love for others as part and parcel of an unflagging commitment to God's purposes for humanity.

Like Peter, I find myself scandalized by this notion.  It's all well and good to state it as a concise bit of biblical theology as I just have, but quite another thing to wrestle with its full existential implications.  As the rogue once said, "Good against remotes is one thing.  Good against the living--well that's another."  And, honestly, I'd rather my cosmic judge conform to the classical, Greco-Roman hero ideal.  Aragorn trotting that horse passionately before the black gate.  Luke nailing the rat-sized exhaust port.  McFly with the left hook to Tannen.  Mr. Incredible flinging the car into Syndro's plane.  That satisfying comeuppance of evil which often caps off the hero's journey of training and self-actualization.

We do get that with Jesus.  He's coming back to tear down the kingdoms of this world and finalize his own.  But between now and then, he's calling his people to fulfill their creational mandate to be image-bearers, and he's calling them through the cross.  This is where I live:  enraptured by the dream of eschatological glory and filled with dread at the cruciform path which leads there.  With Peter I exclaim, "You are the messiah!" only to quickly remonstrate "This must never happen to you."  What I'm really saying, what I'm really pleading is "This must never happen to me."  I am a skavndalon to the purposes of God in my life, and I want to want to change.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me--a sinner.  Grant me your grace, strength and perseverance to tread the path you've laid out for me, to trust that you will vindicate me in the end if I will only follow you with all trust.  Deliver me from fear and timidity; make me the man you've always intended--enable me to realize my potential to bear your image and, through you and the power of the Holy Spirit, be a blessing to this world.

*That we can hope for political power to uphold justice and prevent chaos, to solve the basic problem of global human society.  But I voted for Obama and don't regret it, so chew on that.
**Philippians 2:5-11; Revelation 5:12.

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