JESUS AND DECONSTRUCTION

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Either Jesus will deconstruct us or we will deconstruct Jesus.  We must seek the former and flee the latter.  We must flee the possibility of deconstructing Jesus like the plague and long for Jesus to deconstruct us like the only vaccine for a plague that will otherwise wipe us out.

For some who may not be sure, to deconstruct is to understand something only in terms of the ideas and contexts we bring to it.  Thus, we understand the concept of “good” or “right” or “beautiful” as a function of what we assert is good or right or beautiful.  There is no such thing as “good,” for instance, apart from the content or definition I ascribe to it or bring to it.  Thus, to deconstruct Jesus would be to cast Jesus in our own image, to reimage Jesus to conform to whatever we hold to be true or right or good or whatever.  Alternatively, for Jesus to deconstruct us would be for Jesus to cast us into his image, to reimage us to conform to what Jesus holds to be true, right, good, and beautiful.

Again, Jesus will deconstruct us or we will deconstruct Jesus.  We must avoid deconstructing Jesus like we would the most virulent disease.  And we must pursue Jesus’ deconstruction of us as though it were our only hope.

I saw the sign pictured above recently.  It reads:

Obama is not a brown skinned anti-war socialist who gives away free healthcare…

You’re thinking of Jesus!

Some of us read this and are ready to “rend our garments” over what seems the near, if not, blasphemous nature of this sentiment (“rending” is the biblical custom of tearing your clothes in two out of abhorrence when someone makes a blasphemous or obscene utterance).  Some others of us, however, may be inclined to think that this expresses a rare but much needed shaft of light into the otherwise dark currents of popular political and cultural rhetoric.  I would submit that both groups are right and wrong.

Those of us who want to cry, “Blasphemy!” are right to protest the suggested simple link between Jesus and support for three of the main stratagems of President Obama’s Administration.  But we would be wrong to suppose a simple and straightforward link between Jesus and the views of our President’s opponents—that Jesus would certainly support all the current wars or would surely endorse the economic status quo prior to the President’s term.

Those who applaud the sentiment of this placard are right to note similarities between Jesus’ teachings and ministries and the grave concerns that wars cease, the poor are helped, and the sick and dying receive healing and care.   But they are wrong to suppose that the current proposals of parties in Washington D.C., even if they should be bi-partisan, easily or obviously reflect the values and agenda of the kingdom Jesus brings.

The fact is that people on the right and left and in the center of all these issues and challenges will tend to deconstruct Jesus in support of their cause.  All of us tend to do this.  And all of us must beware. 

Earnest followers after Jesus will be vigilant at this point.  We will know the Jesus story well enough to recognize how it was that everyone in Jesus’ day endeavored to deconstruct Jesus their own way and when they couldn’t do it, when Jesus refused to be co-opted in any way—everyone joined together in order to eliminate Jesus.  Yes, it was all and everyone!

Here are a few examples.  Jesus’ message of the kingdom was universally misunderstood and often the basis for attempts at deconstructing Jesus to serve some party agenda.  The sell out politicos, such as King Herod and his ilk, immediately understood what news of one born king of the Jews meant and sought to murder the Christ-child.  And years later, his kinfolk sought to be entertained by Jesus whom they regarded as the most illustrious illusionist of the day, and perhaps would co-opt his wonder-working to support Herodian policy.  But when given the chance Jesus refused even to utter one word.

To the faithful, Jesus’ proclamation of kingdom-come and his powers to provide for the people led them to draft Jesus to be their king.  They tried by force to install him as such.  Jesus refused on that occasion and consistently opposed any attempts to deconstruct his kingdom and his kingship in ways that made “sense” to the most popular expectations.  To the Pharisees, Jesus’ understanding of holiness grated against what everyone knew to be God’s will and way, redefining the holy and the clean in a way that placed the most “holy” of the day outside the kingdom and some of the most ‘sinful” of the day “first” or exclusive possessors of the kingdom.  To the Sadducees, Jesus insisted that the kingdom was not of this world and so kingdom talk and kingdom activism must proceed even if it unsettled the Roman authorities, even if as a result the Romans might come and take away the place and temple and the city that the Sadducees would protect by any means, even by accommodation.  To the Essenes and Ascetics of his day, Jesus’ refused to form his kingdom movement in isolation or as a form of holy quarantine away from the places and people who needed redemption.  And, to his dearest disciples who had joined him and followed him, even to them Jesus’ words and ways and deeds did not make sense and ran rough-shod over how they imagined the kingdom would come.

In the end, all parties to some degree endeavored to deconstruct Jesus, to pull part of what they liked about his message and ministry and refashion it in ways that inevitably thrust them into direct conflict with who Jesus truly is and what Jesus came to do.  And in the end, to some degree or another, all parties joined together to participate in the ultimate acts of deconstruction—rejection, betrayal, denial, injustice, condemnation, humiliation, torture, and death.

Earnest followers after Jesus have read this story and are learning its many lessons.  They are wary of the tendency and temptation to deconstruct Jesus, to make Jesus fit their program, their understanding, their plans.  They recognize this in themselves and all around them. 

Thus, for example, when they see this placard above, they will affirm that Jesus cannot properly be called a socialist or a capitalist.  He predates and transcends both.  Stunningly, sometimes Jesus may seem like one and at other times like the other.  Likewise, Jesus does not wage war—that is, not the kind our world so frequently wages.  Yet, that doesn’t mean force can never be used.  He would appear to be a peace-monger, not a war monger.  Even so, there are likely some expressions of evil or some degree of malevolence that would draw from Jesus an old fashioned “smiting.”

 

Earnest followers of Jesus are eager to submit their views to the Master, and anticipate having their views pulled apart, weighed and evaluated, purged and fortified from above, and refashioned into ways of thinking and acting that are quite different than they would be otherwise.  They anticipate that when Jesus deconstructs them, what they become may be just as odd and enigmatic as Jesus was to his contemporaries.  They will resist the pull to reconsider and re-conform to their former status quo, and that of their friends.  They will continue to follow.  They will keep at it, even if it brings them to a cross.  They will insist that Jesus deconstruct them and everything about them.  And on the third day, what Jesus has done will be very good.

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    Thank you Dave. My prayer Lord refashion, remold me in your image so that I can be more fit to help people come to faith in Christ. Not just thousands, but only one at a time until I depart for heaven where I can rejoice with Him at the one lost sheep who was returned to the fold.
    Amen an Amen.

    I am praying for you,Son that your ministry will result in Kingdom building here on earth so that the Lord will greet you with the message . Well done thou and faithful servant. Enter in to the royal presence of our King of King and Lord of Lords.

    DAD

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    Great article! I wonder if you have been reading some John Caputo or if you just came up with the title yourself. If you have not read his book on Jesus and Deconstruction, or any of the Church and Postmodern Culture series, you should definitely pick it up. Thanks again for some solid scholarship and writing.

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    Excellent! Thank you for stretching my mind and heart today. I especially like this sentence near the end: “Earnest followers of Jesus are eager to submit their views to the Master, and anticipate having their views pulled apart, weighed and evaluated, purged and fortified from above, and refashioned into ways of thinking and acting that are quite different than they would be otherwise.”

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    Thank you for this message, Bishop Kendall. It was very thought-provoking. I’ve begun to realize that Jesus is not only out to help me obey his laws and conform to his image in the way that my culture generally understands and accepts, but that he’s more about challenging and transforming the core of my very worldview. May we all become odd and different to the world as we allow Jesus to deconstruct us!

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