A sketch in time…

September 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

This post will be like a sketch.  Lines in ink, which hint at the pregnant spaces between them.  For topics I’ve been mentally circling.  Which I could never adequately address.  But before I move on, or until I can deal with them in greater depth, it seems necessary to leave an outline:

Somehow, to me, there are important connections between the following:  the foot-washing of John’s Gospel; the burning bush (God’s SELF-revelation) in Exodus; the three angelic visitors in Genesis; the appearance of Jesus to the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke’s Gospel; and this inner priesthood we are immersed in from our Baptism.  Plunged into Divine Life as partakers of Christ’s Incarnation.   That’s the sketch in its briefest form – like a kind of koan: If we meditate on this long enough, we’ll be enlightened.

But to flesh it out just a bit more.  I’ve become convinced that the foot-washing makes sense as a kind of midrash on parts of Deuteronomy and Joshua, specifically as a means of calling for unity (not excluding being a parable on God as both hospitable and humble as part of that calling).   And what clued me into that was Peter’s initial refusal to have his feet washed and Jesus’ enigmatic answer that,  “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”

Sometimes a “word” sets me on a search.  And this one has been very fruitful.  For the farewell discourse can be fruitfully read within the context of Deuteronomy, where Moses is, as it were, giving a long farewell sermon, while urging faithful following of the One God who resides among those to whom he has revealed Himself.  A sermon Moses appears to be giving both in person and as well as in the form of a written Testament, to be revered as the very word and continuing presence of the Divine in our Midst.

If you do a biblical search for the word “share” you will see that it relates to “portion” or “lot” (as in food or land or heritage/inheritance or as an aspect of communal belonging).  This is easily evidenced in the psalms, but let us look at one phrase of Deuteronomy, which provides an excellent example for where I am going with this:

the Lord’s own portion was his people,
Jacob his allotted share.

Portion as an allotted share. The sense of God’s identification with His chosen people.  And the sense of this “people” as being one, through the Jewish use of a “corporate unity” – one name, one person incorporating (standing for) the whole community.   (As in Jacob, also named Israel for Judaism; as in Jesus, also named Christ for Christianity.)

The meanings of “portion” and “share” seem to overlap the most, at least in biblical terms, when it comes to the sense of heritage or inheritance, the passing along of something valuable – which is not only a means of preserving one’s attachment to a person or tradition, but also signifies the value of what is thereby entrusted – as a witness to the very relationship inhering in what is passed along.  (For example the Holy Spirit – poured out, shared, a witness, guaranteeing our “share” in Christ.)

Now, just as Deuteronomy reads like a last speech and testament of Moses, so Joshua has chapters related to his own passing along of this same testament to the people who have now inhabited the land.  And both books, just as in the farewell discourse of John’s Gospel, address not just the passing on of share in a testament/testimony, but equally or even more importantly of a unity among those to whom it is passed.  So it’s like saying, “You can have this inheritance, so long as you share it.”  Or else like saying, “Your inherited portion is only as valuable as the whole in which it partakes.”  Or again, on the New Testament level… it’s like saying:  “What I’m leaving behind is a kind of communion – in Myself/Divine Life – and in each other.”

And I think all of this is prefigured, gains richness, when you consider the earlier scriptural witnesses in story, poetry, imagery.  For you could think of the bible like you think of neural networks.  Where cross currents “light up” linkages, reflecting one upon another.  Illuminating and penetrating more deeply into the mysteries and the unfathomable depths, which are only hinted at in word and image and even silence.

So let me turn to one place where someone uses a term, so akin to the way Jesus uses “share” when he speaks to Peter’s intransigence.  This occurs in the 22nd chapter of Joshua – in an enigmatic story where some Hebrews, living on the desert side of the Jordon, across from the main body of Hebrews who have settled within the promised land, have set up an altar.  And this altar, to the minds of the majority (living within the land of promise), seems such an affront to the approved worship of the one God, that they are ready to do battle and destroy the apostates.   (For they had a view that God could only be worshiped in one designated place… as if the holy were bound to that place alone.)   So in verses 16 and 18, we hear something like a case for the prosecution.  Where the builders of this altar are questioned, following a warning regarding the gravity of their supposed sin:

“What is this treachery that you have committed against the God of Israel in turning away today from following the Lord, by building yourselves an altar today in rebellion against the Lord?… If you rebel against the Lord today, he will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel tomorrow.”

Followed by case for the defense – an explanation for the altar as a historical witness of inclusion in Israel, as having a “portion” in the Lord.  First an appeal to God as witness to their truth claims:

22‘The Lord, God of gods! The Lord, God of gods! He knows; and let Israel itself know! If it was in rebellion or in breach of faith towards the Lord, do not spare us today 23for building an altar to turn away from following the Lord; or if we did so to offer burnt-offerings or grain-offerings or offerings of well-being on it, may the Lord himself take vengeance.

Next an appeal to the historicity of what they’ve done, in building the altar:  An effort to ensure that their children are included in the common inheritance they all share:

24No! We did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, “What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? 25For the Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you, you Reubenites and Gadites; you have no portion in the Lord.” So your children might make our children cease to worship the Lord. 26Therefore we said, “Let us now build an altar, not for burnt-offering, nor for sacrifice, 27but to be a witness between us and you, and between the generations after us, that we do perform the service of the Lord in his presence with our burnt-offerings and sacrifices and offerings of well-being; so that your children may never say to our children in time to come, ‘You have no portion in the Lord.’

And further reflection upon the need for a guarantee of unity.

28And we thought, If this should be said to us or to our descendants in time to come, we could say, “Look at this copy of the altar of the Lord, which our ancestors made, not for burnt-offerings, nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you.” 29Far be it from us that we should rebel against the Lord, and turn away this day from following the Lord by building an altar for burnt-offering, grain-offering, or sacrifice, other than the altar of the Lord our God that stands before his tabernacle!’

I’d like to say, “I rest my case.”  But other than demonstrating the linkages, I’m still in the state of pondering.  For this is just one tiny bit of the foot-washing story.  And there are so many other revelatory allusions in just this one story.  The word God, for example, comes from a root which means “poured” – as in a libation.  And Jesus is performing service as a Divine Host at a banquet.  An outpouring of humility and wisdom.  But like reverence in reverse!   Similar to the Divine Hospitality of the Rublev Icon of the Trinity, an image of Abraham’s banquet for the 3 angelic strangers, where the guests are understood to be the TriUne Hosts in a heavenly banquet.  And for further evidence of the depth and power of biblical allusions, piling one upon another, the story of the Road to Emmaus:   The disciples meeting a stranger at a time of crisis – who provides so many connections between word, deed, collective memory in scripture and an experience of communing with the Divine (ultimately recognized as Jesus in their midst), that they are compelled to rush back to the Apostles in order to spread the Good News, their hearts burning within them as indeed the bush burned for Moses, making even the ground (we walk on) holy.

Mercy and truth meet; justice and peace embrace. (Ps. 85:10)

I know it’s a pretty long “sketch” – maybe it’s like a series of them.  But sometimes it’s way better to lay out the markers.  And leave the discoveries to reveal themselves – like neural networks holding light bulbs of insight – ready to be set off – to sparkle like fireworks in mind and heart.


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