Molong cloudset, NSW 2011

Light, or smoke and mirrors?

Although the reading is set as vv 20-33, I have begun with verse 19 and gone on to verse 43 in order to draw out the sense.

19The Pharisees then said to one another, ‘You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!’

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ 22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.

27 ‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.28Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ 29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’30Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.31Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. 34The crowd answered him, ‘We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains for ever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?’ 35Jesus said to them, ‘The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. 36While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.’

After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them. 37Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him. 38This was to fulfil the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

‘Lord, who has believed our message,
   and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ 
39And so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said, 
40 ‘He has blinded their eyes
   and hardened their heart,
so that they might not look with their eyes,
   and understand with their heart and turn—
   and I would heal them.’ 

41Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him.42Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; 43for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.

First Impressions 

19The Pharisees then said to one another, ‘You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!’ Even the urbane and sophisticated "Greeks," the Hellenised Jews from the Diaspora, were flocking to see this Jesus whom John subtly reminds springs from among the naïve religious outsiders: "They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’"

20180318-dreaming-light

And so last night we joined the Festival thousands along the footpaths of North Terrace, marvelling at the light shows projected upon the sacred old buildings of white settlement. We began at the city's "first cultural centre [which] has been a library, art gallery, museum, society meeting place and offices, place of adult education, administration headquarters and information centre." This is the South Australian Institute Building. In a great irony the real first culture projected its own dreaming over the façade of the building of the invaders in a technical and aesthetic masterpiece.  This irony was enriched when I read this morning that

There once was a significant men’s cultural lore site Tarnda Kanya – Kangaroo Rock – where the men would gather for ceremony and rites of passage for the young. This sacred rock was mined and sits today in the foundations of all the significant institutions of the incoming culture, such as Parliament House, Government House and the Holy Trinity Church.

It's believed that Tarnda Kanya now sits under The Festival Theatre.

20180318-the-facade

The 99.9% non-Kaurna crowd erupted with applause at the end of the cycle. I wondered how much it was applauding the technique, but not understanding the message. For near the end, an artist's rendition of the building was projected over the actual building, and then Kaurna hands tore holes in that façade.

20180318-kaurna-hands

The story of the land remained.

20180318-we-remain

I wondered how much a piranpa1 like me can ever understand the culture displayed here; a culture living in much closer harmony with the creation instead of living in a technological conceit which thinks it is in control, and which then walks on down to the next installation; a culture entertained by the primitive art of the Kaurna, but unseeing and uncaring of the deeper messages.

After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them. 37Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him.

We walked on to the next Word to the city.

20180318-smoke-sarah

We piranpa can never understand the culture which came before us, because we are not part of it. Culture, and religion, is never really understood from above. Like art, it must be entered into. We must stand under it, be interpreted by it, rather than interpret it.  Our anglo conceit is to use the word understand when, in fact, we stand over, the things we observe.2 We enforce our already existing world view upon the things we meet, especially those which challenge us. And so the world risks being "smoke and mirrors," a light show with smoke machines and infinity boxes, but nothing which truly touches us.  It may be, as Max Harris once said of the Adelaide Festival, merely "a flurry with a fringe on top." And then our life is a place like this:

38This was to fulfil the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah:
‘Lord, who has believed our message,
   and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ 
39And so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said, 
40 ‘He has blinded their eyes
   and hardened their heart,
so that they might not look with their eyes,
   and understand with their heart and turn—
   and I would heal them.’ 

This ancient Jewish sensibility understands that unless we "believe in him," even though he perform many signs in our presence, he remains hidden. Life is simply smoke and mirrors. We "love human glory more than the glory that comes from God." (John 12:37-43)

Understand that I am saying nothing particularly religious or Christian here. If any of us remain at the surface of things, and will not accept our essential ignorance and vulnerability; that is, our powerlessness in life, and before the fact of death; if we simply go back to the two dimensions of our smart phones, they will blind us. Jesus said, "6While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light." Embrace the wonder and the heart tuggings of the light shows; dive deep. Follow the questions of the artists and prophets, or life will remain hidden. Indeed, you will find it hides from you. Subject yourselves to the discipline of entering into the artist's world or remain with the blind who cry, "But she can't draw properly!"

Diving deep into the Christian 'Dreaming,' the lectionary this week deliberately reminds us of the reading from John 3 last week: "so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." (John 3:14-15) And this week, "when I am lifted up from the earth, [I] will draw all people to myself." (12:32)

This is about death. The sophisticates of the Hellenistic world want to see Jesus. They are not the gawping masses; they have pretentions to insight and wisdom: Greeks seek wisdom and Jews seek signs. (1 Cor 1:22, 20) Where is the one who is wise? Well, for the "Son of Man to be glorified"— Jesus is speaking about himself when he uses the term Son of Man— for the Son of Man to be  seen, a grain of wheat must fall into the earth and die.

Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.

To be wise is to understand we cannot stay safe in life. We cannot remain in charge. There is no insurance: Those who love their life lose it. Only those who "hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life." To 'hate life' is a hebraism; a Jewish idiom of overstatement designed to drag us towards this fearsome truth: Either we abandon our deep evolved need for safety, the instinct of self preservation that led the species to survive all the 'tooth and claw,' so that we may enter into the deeper riches of life. Or, we become not Homo sapiens perfecti3 at last, not "complete as your father in heaven is complete," (Matthew 5:48) but remain a blinded Homo populist.

 In the text we see our own humanity expressed by Jesus: "Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour." Our every instinct is to save ourselves in the face of death, but life comes from going through death.

The crowds on the street, who have come to the festival, (12:20) are mystified: "We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains for ever. [So how on earth] can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?" (12:34) You are flying in the face of the logic of our whole existence. You are contradicting the mental model, the world view, of our very being. We have heard. We know. We understand. We expect. You cannot be correct. How else than this can they see his crucifixion:

Here hangs a man discarded,
a scarecrow lifted high,
a nonsense pointing nowhere
to all who hurry by.

Can such a clown of sorrows
still bring a useful word
when faith and love seem phantoms
and every hope absurd? (Brian Wren)

If we do not enter the absurdity, we will never experience its freedom and salvation.

It gets worse than this.

My sixth problem with atonement theory is to do with some of its implications about power. And this is linked to its role as a 'theory'. Any story that can be told without being undergone runs the risk of being too powerful to be compatible with the Christian Gospel. And the atonement theory can be told without being undergone: it enables someone to be right without also becoming someone different. Or, to put it another way, to preach and bear witness to salvation without undergoing salvation. (James Alison)

Do you see that John 3, and John 12 this week, are about undergoing salvation? "… whoever believes in him," whatever propositional content the phrase my infer, is finally about trusting, or 'faithing.' It is about undergoing the journey of 'serving and following' and 'losing.' (12:25-26)

Alison continues:

And what sort of salvation is it that can be preached and witnessed to without being undergone? When I say the story runs the risk of being too powerful, I mean that since it can be told by those who have not yet learned how to live as powerless in the eyes of the world, it can be told by people of power, and thus becomes what I think sounds grander in French that in English: a 'discours du pouvoir'— please either forgive, or giggle at, my lapse into the preferential option for academic grandiosity. Now the thing about a 'discours du pouvoir' is that all sorts of worlds like 'good' and 'bad' and 'sin' and 'salvation' get to mean what they mean from the perspective of those who have power. But, if the Gospel means anything, it means that the real story told by the crucified and risen victim and his followers, whatever else it may be, can never be a 'discours du pouvoir' in any ordinary sense, because it is a story learned in the process of despoliation, or self-despoliation, of earthly power, so as to receive the power of the one who was so powerful that he was able to lose to the powers of earth so as to teach us that we too needn't be trapped in their game, and can learn to lose as well, so as to be given something on a scale no 'discours du pouvoir' could imagine. (On Being Liked p 28-29)

What I take from Alison is that if we do not enter into the dying that Jesus says is the deep diving into his way of being, and which is the way to enter the fullness of life (John 10:10) which he calls ζωὴν αἰώνιον, life eternal, something else happens. That is; we do not merely remain on the undisturbed surface of life, as it were, but become subject to the discours du pouvoir, "the speech of power." Despite his 'lapse,' I suspect Alison has a purpose in using the French. Discours du pouvoir has the sound, to my 'English ears,' of a thing, of a reality, rather than a concept that may, or may not, interest us. We think we are free. But we are not; we are subject to power, even if unconsciously.

31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ 33They answered him, ‘We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, “You will be made free”?’ (John 8:31-33)

In reality, we have still not left Egypt!

Within a religious discourse— any discourse, indeed, there are always those who hold power, and who seek to control us. If we are religious theorists, rather than disciples of Jesus, we seek to take power to ourselves and become blind to the essential religious insight that we are always subject to something greater. As a religious theorist, we seek to impose our interpretation upon Jesus, rather than being interpreted and defined by him. We are, as Alison says in his footnote, unaware "of the extent to which what [we] say is coloured by [our] own position of power, and consequently [we] are unaware how far from objective [our] definitions are. (On Being Liked pp 28, footnote on 'discours du pouvoir') And, of course, we become subject to those who hold the power in our particular brand of orthodoxy, and who thus hold the power of life and death over us. Which all means, at base, that there is no escape from death. If we will not grant the power of death to the consequence of following the Christ, we give the power of death to someone else's death denying construct, or world view. We think we are free, but we have become blind.

35Jesus said to them, ‘The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. 36While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.’

Andrew Prior
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!

Also on One Man's Web
John 12:20-36 - Protons, Neutrons, Electrons  (2015)
John 12:22-36 - SMIDSY (2015)
John 12:20-33 - Write my own gospel?  (2012)
John 12:20-33 - Facing what we most fear  (2012)
John 12:20-33 - The Human One  (2009) 

  1. Piranpa is the Pitjantjatjara word used to describe us outsiders when I lived in the lands. I own it as a description of my intrusion not only into the land and culture of the first nations of Australia, but as a description of my intrusion into much more of the Creation as a privileged white male.
  2. I am aware there are no uninterpreted facts, even for Kaurna people. But our culture acts as thought there are. Richard Beck says a fundamentalist is a person who thinks they don't have a hermeneutic.
  3. perfecti is the Latin of Matthew 5:45 used in the Vulgate. Populist is my own joke.

The photo of the smoke machines on the Museum lawns was taken by Rev Sarah Williamson.

Andrew 12-03-2018
This article by Tim Winton-- it's full of trauma-- has interesting things to say about our culture's conceit of control. https://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2015/may/1430402400/tim-winton/havoc

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