Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The posture of a disciple

Two more vignettes and some concluding comments on Scot McKnight's The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. This is from the chapter titled "Abiding in Jesus" on the story of Martha & Mary in Luke 10.

Martha flits about the kitchen with her mind on many things, mostly herself, while her sister, Mary, sits in front of Jesus at his feet, with her mind on anything but herself. There you have it. Mary's posture tells the story. Her posture is that of a student, of someone who wants to listen to what Jesus has to say, of someone who can wait for dinner. It is the posture, in fact, of someone who is so enthralled with Jesus that dinner might not even happen. . . .

Disciples at the time of Jesus didn't sit in chairs and listen to teachers who lectured behind Torah-lecterns with each Torah-point on the screen. Instead, teachers often taught in homes. When they did, their students sat at their feet, the way kindergarten students gather round their teachers in a circle and open up their minds for learning, like little birds in a nest with open beaks waiting for food. Because this posture is the custom for disciples, "sitting at the feet" of someone becomes an idiom for "being a disciple." (p. 193)

I love McKnight's ability to situate Jesus in his first century Jewish world using clear approachable language. Here's another example from the chapter on the last supper.

To any casual onlooker at the time of Jesus, the Last Supper of Jesus looks like the official Passover meal. But the longer that onlooker observes, the more subtle differences appear. In fact, the onlooker can be excused for thinking that Jesus is setting himself in center stage much more than the Jewish father normally does. There is a reason for Jesus' becoming the center of the meal.

We've already observed that Jesus amended the sacred Shema to form the Jesus Creed; we've also seen that he amended the sacred Kaddish prayer to form the Lord's Prayer. Now we can see that he amends Pesah (Passover) to form the Last Supper. Jesus makes it clear that he is the Lamb of God, and he also makes it clear that the Last Supper anticipates his death, a death for others. That is, Passover becomes personal. Instead of an altar and a priest, Christians have a table and Jesus. Instead of sacrificing a lamb, Christians remember Jesus' death. Instead of eating a lamb, Christians drink the wine and eat the bread. Instead of slaying the firstborn of Egypt, Abba slays his own firstborn. And instead of protecting Israelite babies with blood-smeared doors, Abba protects those who drink from the Firstborn's cup. (p. 268)

Given the author's self-identification as an Anabaptist theologian I admit I expected to find a lot to disagree with in this book. I didn't. This is a solid work of theological and devotional reflection on the meaning of Jesus' actions and words. Though the "Jesus Creed" -- McKnight's name for the Two Great Commandments of Mark 12:28-31 -- isn't the same as the gospel (i.e., it's not the basis of our justification Jesus is) it is the key to spiritual formation for the justified sinner. Loving God and loving neighbor is an apt mission statement for the disciple of Jesus Christ. I'm glad I read this book.

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