>Harold posted an amazing thought (from Wendell Berry) on the Facebook discussion and I wanted to follow up on it.
I had asked: If someone came out with the Magnificat today, do you think that it would be disregarded as a John Lennon style “Imagine” daydream, or dismissed as socialist utopian propaganda, or even disparaged as a Liberal agenda?
Harold responded: I was reading “The Burden of the Gospels,” by Wendell Berry the other day ( http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=3248 ), and he put forth a similar, thought-provoking question:
To be an honest taker of this test, I think you have to try to forget that you have read the Gospels and that Jesus has been a “big name” for 2,000 years. You have to imagine instead that you are walking past the local courthouse and you come upon a crowd listening to a man named Joe Green or Green Joe, depending on judgments whispered among the listeners on the fringe. You too stop to listen, and you soon realize that Joe Green is saying something utterly scandalous, utterly unexpectable from the premises of modern society. He is saying:
“Don’t resist evil. If somebody slaps your right cheek, let him slap your left cheek too. Love your enemies. When people curse you, you must bless them. When people hate you, you must treat them kindly. When people mistrust you, you must pray for them. This is the way you must act if you want to be children of God.” Well, you know how happily that would be received, not only in the White House and the Capitol, but among most of your neighbors. And then suppose this Joe Green looks at you over the heads of the crowd, calls you by name and says, I want to come to dinner at your house.
“I suppose that you, like me, hope very much that you would say, “Come ahead.” But I suppose also that you, like me, had better not be too sure. You will remember that in Jesus’ lifetime even his most intimate friends could hardly be described as overconfident.”
Definitely makes one think.
Joe said: It seems we most often assume we’re one of the people trying to really understand his teachings…but I think we would do well to place ourselves in the shoes of the Pharisees (trying to discredit and disagree at every point) or the Roman guards, looking over the crowd of peasants and trying to determine what to do if they get out-of-hand. I think in subtle ways we often take on one or both of those roles.
I wanted to add two points: I have heard it said (and I wish that I could remember who said it – I am suspicious that it was Peter Rollins) that we need to be careful when we read a parable to find ourself in the story. If , for instance we are reading the parable of the Good Samaritan and we cast ourself in the role of the Good Samaritan… we are reading it wrong.
If on the other hand we see ourself in the religious leaders walking by or in the wounded traveler (or god forbid in the robbers who did the harm) then we are hearing what Jesus was saying.
We have to be mindful of our privileged perspective and remember that the Gospel that Jesus came to preach was good news in a specific direction. (see Luke 4:16-21)
Secondly, I run into this odd line of reasoning with people who Major in Church History. There seem to be a weird attraction to defending people of the past by dismissing any bad behavior as simply “a product of their time” and stating confidently “if you had lived during that era – you would have done exactly the same.”
This line of reasoning seems to fly in the face of a two evidences to the contrary:
A) There were people at that time who did differently and spoke out against the way things were! So apparently it IS possible to have historically deviated from the ‘spirit of the Age’ and actually thought for oneself and followed ones conviction! (I have a Podcast on this coming out in January called “the Minority Report”)
B) IF you do not hold opinions in opposition to your government, protest agains the economic oppression of your era, or buck the dogmatic stance of your denomination today… then “no” I don’t suppose that you could have been expected to do any different than was done by the majority in any period of history. IF however you exhibit resistance now and demonstrate a prophetic stance in our current era – then I think it is fair to at least entertain the possibility that you MIGHT have done differently had you lived in the past.
The simple fact is that we will never know. It is all speculation – we are not in charge of which era we were born into. However, what we are in charge of is what we stand for and how we counter-culture in our actual era.