THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST ( YEAR C )
THE SECOND SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY ( YEAR C )
1 Kings 17:17-24
Are you impressed by God's raising of Jesus Christ from the dead?
I am not.
A God who is responsible for our very creation is hardly going to find bringing one man back to life a difficult thing to do. It is hard to view it as anything more than a magic trick, albeit it a very good magic trick performed by one heck of a magician and, as the much-loved, former bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, notoriously observed once, "a conjuring trick with bones proves only that somebody's very clever at a conjuring trick with bones." In other words, it is entertaining but not life changing, except for the person who is brought back to life, of course.
So, what was the point of the death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus Christ? Was it just to show those who observed it that the God they already believed to be all-powerful was all-powerful? Maybe gentiles were convinced of the reality of the God of the Jewish people by this show of power which was greater than anything they had witnessed Zeus and his pantheon doing, but the Jews, those who formed the early Christian community, did not really need such convincing as their God had a proven track record for performing the spectacularly miraculous. At the end of the day was it just God showing off, a purely arbitrarily chosen act of divine oneupmanship?
I do not think so. Furthermore, I think that anyone who views it as such has simply not got the ministry of Jesus Christ. They are members of the audience who have marvelled at and applauded all the visual genius of Jesus Christ but who did not listen to a single word he said.
Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh. By his very nature everything he is , everything he does, everything he says is Word based. And Christ is the performative Word incarnate, the story as reality writ large. We all know that the parables he told were stories containing important truths, mostly about the Kingdom of God. I suggest to you that they were more than fables, that they were prophesies and, even more, that they were performative prophesies. Their telling by the Son of God turned them from being a fiction into being part of the reality of what will be God's new creation, part of God's new covenant with his people, an outworking of God's new commandment.
For example, the parable of the Good Samaritan tells us a lot about the hypocrisy of those who considered themselves holy and important. It tells us a lot about the general lack of awareness we all have for the suffering of others and our reluctance to get involved in anything that might distract us from our intended plans. It tells us that in life we should expect the unexpected. But it is also a story about restoration and inclusion. What is more, because the words of the Word, Jesus Christ, create reality (all things come into being through him) this parable turns hoped for restoration and inclusion into two, very real, mainstays of the Kingdom of God if not, sadly, the Church of God.
It is my belief that parables are at the centre of Christ's ministry and I do not think that the parables of Christ are restricted to just words that are spoken by Christ. To me it is obvious that many of his actions are parables too. Although the crowds who followed Jesus around cried out for proofs of his power, when Jesus did employ the miraculous it was not to show off his divine power. I believe that the miracles of Christ were also parables and parables that created a new reality within the Kingdom of God in the same way I believe that his spoken parables do.
The miracles of abundance, such as the feeding of the five thousand, are parables about the abundance of good things that await us in the Kingdom of God and how we will be sustained forever by God. The miracles of salvation, such as the stilling of the storm, are parables about how we will be saved from all the danger and crap of this world and brought into the safe harbour that is the Kingdom of God. The miracles of healing are parables about the healing of our battered souls and bodies that we will experience when we move from this world into the Kingdom and may well experience, to an extent, in our present existence. The miracles of resurrection, such as the incident reported in today's gospel reading in which Christ brings a widow's only son back to life, are parables of new life, of how we will be raised to new life in the kingdom of God.
Let us then take this train of thought to its ultimate destination. If the words of Jesus Christ are parables of the kingdom and the miracles of Jesus Christ are parables of the kingdom then why should not the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ also be one, big, performative parable of the glorious world to come? It would make sense of a lot of things.
For a start it raises the resurrection of Christ from being a mundane conjuring trick with bones into the action that both describes and makes real the promise of our own resurrection when we die. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is about Jesus Christ but it is more so about us. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the great parable of the Christian faith. It's message is about our salvation and its performance by Christ makes that salvation a reality. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a trick it is the real thing. We are not to be simply impressed by the resurrection of Christ we are to be changed by it. By the resurrection of Jesus Christ we are born again.