Monday 25 May 2009

Pulling Out a Plumb Sermon

For various reasons the sermon on Sunday morning was not completely audible and easy to follow, which is a reason it can go on the web, but in as much as I followed it more questions were raised than within the sermon. It was delivered by retired priest Gordon Plumb, more likely to be seen on the Internet for his photography.

The sermon is at that bit of the Church year where the eleven disciples have an election and choose the twelfth, in order to restore leadership for the coming restoration of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Gordon thus looks again at Judas, who we assume has killed himself, though the Bible gives two versions of a death. I wonder: it is quite possible he went off and joined another active group and left the Jesus as Messiah returners to themselves, and thus was given an account of a death, and a good old Jewish label of scapegoat (that's biblical, by the way).

Gordon's reading of:

I guarded them, and not one of them was lost, except the one destined to be lost, so that the Scripture might be fulfilled. that the disciples read their scriptures and found the passages that related to events, and then assumed that these will have been predictions adding authority to the events. This is because Gordon wants to preserve choice for Judas in doing what he did. When Judas does what Judas could only do, like mechanically, then it loses moral purpose.

The chance then must be that Jesus might not have been arrested, might not have been killed, and that rather changes Christianity. The sort of cosmic plan in classical evangelical Christianity of God sending his son to die upon the cross is, well, God sends his Son who might die thanks to the cruelty of the regime that happens to be around at that time and thanks to an unreliable disciple. The assumption in classical evangelical Christianity that Jesus has perfect knowledge and so he picked Judas
(considered by anyone else a bad choice) knowing he would be do the deed necessary turns into a bad choice, a mistake made by a leader.

The whole business of Judas with the money and the betrayal found in the Hebrew Scriptures is something Gordon thinks happened by the remaining eleven, but why should that be so? Why would not Jesus read the same scriptures first and fashion his own ministry on that of the suffering servant in the context of what is likely to happen to someone upsetting the cruel foreign power in the land? If Jesus is saying to his God, send in the Kingdom, Jesus has to act, but presumably has to act according to the scriptures. Which then has Jesus himself arranging with Judas to pay some money according to the scriptures and get Jesus betrayed. It looks like betrayal then, but this is even dodgier. In this case, the set up is Jesus's own, and it is a con. Jesus is setting himself up to impress God to bring about the Kingdom (I'm not pursuing trinitarian theory here, but Jewish messianism). So Jesus gives Judas the nod to get on with it.

Of course then Judas would hardly have committed suicide, other than the disaster of Jesus being killed. But such might have been expected (though not from the Jewish authorities alone, and to be the Son of Man etc. is no blasphemy) if the Romans are systematic about cutting the heads off potentially popular movements.

Of course there is another possibility, and it is that Judas was taken off and murdered for doing what he did, or to be told to clear off out of it and it taken that he was dead (it rather looks like hearsay that he killed himself). The issue of Jesus as first of the resurrected has to be connected with the eleven and the expectation still of the end, and Jesus being the first of the rising of all.

It is quite possible that Judas was frustrated, but this assumes that Jesus was seen as a Messiah while he was alive. I personally don't think that at all, that Jesus is there to bring about the coming of the Messiah that might be Jesus transformed or someone else. Jesus is rather a trigger for God to send the Messiah. The twelve become the leaders of the twelve tribes, after all, only after the Messiah has come. So all Judas is doing is giving history a push, to bring about the Messiah, and Jesus himself is as interested in giving history a push as Judas.

In the end Gordon's speculation is just that, and whilst I agree with the method of speculation my own view is that the Judas story never makes sense. It doesn't matter which way you run it, it is morally and ethically inadequate. It is so if mechanical, it is so if Judas is frustrated, it is so if Jesus and Judas manage a put up job. One solution is simply that Judas had had enough, and hadn't agreed that Jesus would return, and went off to find another leader who might yet be messianic, or at least have a fight. The possibilities are endless, and in the end pointless.

In the evening a sermon from the priest in charge David Rowett asked about the ten days between Ascension and Pentecost, but of course these are ten liturgical days (though, as he said, John's gospel rams it all together in one go). It wasn't ten days. What we have is a Church particularly of Gentiles who want a monotheistic faith and have hung around synagogues for too long, and have remained after the Jewish Christians met the same fate as other Jewish groups around 70 CE. Rather like a universe looking back to its big bang, Pentecost becomes the Church's birthday, and thus a Holy Spirit that is a guide from then, that is Jesus added to, that is thus Jesus no longer resurrected as such and present in that sense (and so has to come back), and thus the resurrection was for a fixed time, to be continued later.

To me it is all a construction, and why when Gordon can exclaim 'Christ is risen' and lots of allelulias then I haven't a clue what he is on about, except as a piece of construction at a time when people believed these peculiar things. It is why I do not join in. It is why I am roughly in agreement with the authors of Essays and Reviews and their radical reinterpretation of the heart of Christianity, though even that is a construction.


The lady in Red said...

Very different and interesting blog and post!
Best wishes,

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Thank you and I appreciate the art work you highlight on your own blog.