Monday, August 31, 2015

The Play of Icon and Idol among the Sheep and Goats: What is Seen and Unseen in the Kingdom of Heaven

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” [Matt. 25:31-46, NIV]

I have commented on this passage recently, in light of John Caputo's recent presentation at Peter Rollins' Belfast bash in April 2015. In this post, I would like to pursue how vision, the gaze, works in a dialectic of Marion's saturated phenomena of the idol and icon. The gaze upon either phenomenon leads to bedazzlement, as such phenomena cannot be grasped within the intuition, nor can the intention take aim. Instead, these saturated phenomena saturate the gaze, the intuition, and overcome the receiving self. The idol reflects the gaze so overwhelmingly that the self is overcome by its own reflection; the icon refracts the gaze and overcomes the self not with its own reflection but by bending back toward the self which is itself now seen.

The phenomenological reduction of Matthew's parable of the sheep and goats takes a good amount of air out of the tires of the 'muscle car' that drives the receptions of the inheritance of the sheep and the punishment of the goats. By collapsing the glory, the assembled nations, the seat of judgment, and the economy of reward and punishment (25:31-32; 46), we are left with an animal farm whose versions of vision release the event (25:34-45). The Matthean Jesus has already spoken of the parables and of vision:

13 This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see;
    though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
    you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
    they hardly hear with their ears,
    and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’

16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. [Matt. 13: 13-17, NIV]

The hermeneutics of the parable is the self coming to a new heart in metanoia. Jesus places quite a premium on the breaking or softening of a thickened, hardened heart. In these lines of Matt. 13, Jesus invites his audience to don Isaiah's healing lenses.

"When did we see you," say the sheep and goats to the Lord. What is seen and unseen depends on whether one sees through Isaiah's eyes or other eyes. Some eyes discern the idol and others, the icon. Neither the sheep nor the goats saw the Lord in the face of the other, yet the sheep respond to something, a call, heard or unheard, that haunts the face of  the other: they act upon something insisting, bringing something into existence. The sheep see the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger iconically. The Lord, though invisible to them, is made visible in the event of their acts of mercy. The light of the other shines upon them, and they are seen by something in the face of the other. They act from their very selves opened up and emptied to receive---in a play of kenosis and apophasis---an unconditional call, a pure call and pure gift. The sheep grow a pair of eyes in the newness of their emerging selves, which are now poised to respond to the phenomenality of the self of the given.

The goats are also overwhelmed; they, too, ask 'when did we see you?' But here, the hungry, the thirsty and the stranger remain invisible in the glaring, bedazzling light of the idol. Their vision is blinded by the gaze reflected back upon them. They do not see the other, but merely a version of themselves that never enters the flesh of the other. The goats are not seen; no light shines upon them, as so they are left in the dark, clueless that they have missed the appearance of the invisible Lord and a opportunity to make visible the invisible. They do not hear the call because they do not see the hungry, the thirsty and the stranger, even though could speak about them matter-of-factly. It was not only the Lord that was invisible to the goats, but their brother in the other, their selves before the selves of a phenomenality that never enters experience.

Do goats therefore diminish the saturated phenomenon to mere object, or an impoverished phenomenon? Shall we reframe the story like this: when phenomenology sits on its throne of judgment it will separate the see-ers of saturated and poor phenomena, gather all the universities and churches, and take them to task for mistaking phenomena for mere objects. There is something to this preposterousness. Whether we privilege the given which gives itself unconditionally, or the recipient whose gaze is constituted by givenness, such a phenomenology invites hierarchy on either side of the phenomenological moment. Are all saturated phenomena 'better' than less saturated phenomena? Are the selves within the given ordered to degrees of givenness? Are some 'gifteds' more gifted than other 'gifteds': are some recipients better prepared than others to have their selves opened and replenished? Are there degrees of negative capability, of the gaze to see?

The economy of the gift that outrages Caputo in the natural reading of  the frame of Matt. 25:31-46 is either read through the play of the icon and idol, animal and flesh of the stranger or it is not. If it is, then it plays out in the justice-to-come. The acts of mercy visited upon the hungry by the sheep, do not seem to be visited upon the goats by the king. Yet, in the kingdom, the mood is subjunctive, not performative. Verses 41 and 46, viewed from the icon, do not condemn, but warn and invite. If we translate 41 as "continue, if you like, on the path (πορεύεσθε) of the idol, to the fire prepared for the devil and his angels," then it is an invitation to metanoia, a change of heart, and an opening of the vision past the idol into the icon. Similarly, v. 46 depicts a choice between the idol and the icon, a choice between penalty (κόλασιν) and life. 

Thematically, the sheeps and goats follow the virgins with their oil and the servants with their talents. The kingdom is suddenly upon all of them, and they all get an invitation to life. Parabolically, the king that separates the animals according to the flesh does so with the same voice as the Lord of the wedding banquet (25:11) and the master of the servants (25:19). Silly virgins and judgmental servants are invited on the same journey as the goats of the idol. Unless their fates are sealed in a divine predestination, sealed off against hope, sealed off from metanoia, a crossroads awaits them all.

Finally, all parables in the NT demand the erotic reduction that opens unto these crossroads. Despite the disconcerting content of some, especially those in Matt. 25, they are prayerful and non-judgmental; they are loving. Neither performative (in the Austin/Searle sense) or declarative speech acts, their subjunctive moods create the mood for their "perlocutionary" acts. Indeed, Marion has given us a remarkable means for evaluating the event of parables in his discussion on the discourse of love in "What Cannot be Said" (The Visible and the Revealed, Fordham Univ. Pr., 2008, 110-118). "The perlocutionary act produces its effect...beyond the overwhelm, and possibly seduce someone...[P]erlocutionary acts prove to be is difficult to say where convention begins or ends...I can predict this effect" (111-12). Conventional parables and other parabolic locutions, acts of love all, are the perlocutionary acts that dictate their own hermeneutics. The event of love harbored in each parable receives its voice between the voice of their speakers and their hearers; for in the song of the parables, seeing is a way of loving, and loving is a way of knowing. Both are food for the heart, the food of love that moves it to metanoia. If such music be the food of love, play on.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Discovery at Bethany, Redux

Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you,and yet you are going back?”
Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”
After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Jesus wept.
Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen,and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take his life.
Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead he withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples.
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover.They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple courts they asked one another, “What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the festival at all?” But the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who found out where Jesus was should report it so that they might arrest him. [John 11, NIV]

Jesus discovered that Lazarus had been in the tomb 4 days (John 11:17).

Jesus had just told the disciples that Lazarus was dead, and that he rejoiced for them that he was not there as sickness became death, so that they would believe. At first the disciples thought Jesus was speaking metaphorically about a sleeping Lazarus, so he spoke to them more directly: Lazarus was plain and simply dead. Jesus rejoices not in that death, but in the faith-to-come that Lazarus' death will celebrate. Still, he wept that Lazarus and his sisters suffered, for he loved them (11:5). Joy for some, and mourning for others.

Such is the face of love in the topsy-turvy world of the 4th gospel. Jesus loved them so much, that he stayed where he was for 2 more days; for Lazarus' illness was not unto death, but that the bright splendor of God will shine through it. Jesus makes use of the day: when it is light, the light will shine forth. Even the gathering mourners connect the death of Lazarus with the work of the day when the man born blind was recreated to see the light of the world (11:27; cf. John 9); light makes the difference between night and day. Darkness is useless, ruined space and time. For Lazarus, night becomes day, the splendor of the day.

In order for John to speak to us through the storied history of readings of his Gospel, we must, as Caputo has convincingly argued, allow scripture (for us, this pericope) to undergo a "methodological transformation into an event" in which the 4th evangelist's voice can make an appearance (Weakness of God, 117; Caputo's emphasis). This twofold transformation identifies the unconditionality of what's brewing in the text---the call---and then gives John's voice presence to us. We allow this voice to appear in all its freedom by freeing it from the layers of exegesis, historical analysis, and especially the onto-theology that has grown around it. This strategy is the epoche, the suspension of what has become the natural attitude toward this text (and others of course). To free our vision from its prejudices and presuppositions, the natural attitude of a strong theology undergoes the phenemenological reduction that bring the event of the pericope into sharp relief (cf, Weakness, 115-17).

The traditional reading of the raising of Lazarus presents a Jesus that deliberately delays his return to Bethany to permit suffering and death only to rebuke it in a demonstration of the divine 'testosterone' (Caputo talks like that). It is a very short journey from such an onto-theology to a harsh theodicy that lays such evils within the divine omnipotence, omniscience and omni-benevolence and renders God's goodness incomprehensible. The text might very well be complicit in such a strong theology, but by bracketing off all that strength, something else wants to get itself done.

Caputo looks to Jesus' tears, as they foreclose on a deliberate delay, which would be 'impossible'. He concludes that Jesus could simply not get there in time. Yet, once we collapse an "all too human love for displaying power," our vision becomes unobstructed (Weakness, 257-58). We see what John is giving voice to: to the very humanity of Jesus in all its fear and suffering. We see that at the moment the word of Lazarus' illness reach Jesus, his beloved friend had already died, unbeknownst to the messenger. Jesus stays across the Jordan (10:40) for 2 (δύο) more days and then returns to Bethany where he discovers that Lazarus was already in the tomb for 4 ( τέσσαρας) days. It apparently takes him 2 days to complete his return (presumably the same 2 days it takes for the word to reach him across the Jordan). Over the six day period between the departure of the word from Bethany to Jesus' return there Lazarus had died, a death which coincides with the delivery of the word of his illness. John has crunched the numbers he has enumerated for us; it was there all the time, but only now visible in the reduction: Jesus knew at the moment of hearing the word of Lazarus' illness that his beloved friend had died; and he shares this sad news with his disciples who at first misunderstand him. In his profound grief for his friend he rejoices in the disciples' faith-to-come; for Lazarus will not stay dead. John's mathematical time forecloses on any calculus of the divine strength to orchestrate a show of its muscle, which flexes enough in the voice of Jesus calling life upon the dead.

John wants us to see the depths of Jesus' humanity here---the generosity of his joy for his disciples and of his grief over the loss of his friend. In 11:35-38, Jesus' tears cause the Judaeans to marvel at his 'love.' Jesus is then moved deeply and then toward the tomb (11:38). The word ἐμβριμώμενος suggests a reaching deep within himself. Such a reaching doubtless informs the 2 days Jesus needs to compose himself before he returns to a place of sadness, which is a place very near a death by stoning (John 10).

The story does not end with death as Jesus told his disciples, yet neither does it end with Lazarus alive. It ends with the prophecy of Caiaphas and the plot to kill Jesus. Despite the faith that the miracle stirs in some, some others still report to Jesus enemies (those who caused him to retreat across the Jordan in the first place). So this is the situation at Bethany: it is a place of great danger and great love; a place of joy and grief and, with the life restored to Lazarus, the acceleration of the way to the Cross. There is no greater love than this: to lay down one's life for a friend. This is the event released at Bethany. To see it clearly, we even have to bracket off all that  'power' and choose the weakness of God. John, given his voice back from a bracketed dogmatic theology he does not know, tells us simply that Jesus loves in the weakness of his tears. 

Love---agape, philos---discovers suffering and mourning within itself. Lazarus discovers the light from the darkness of the tomb as the man born blind finds sight at Siloam. These are short journeys of discovery, as these figures step from darkness into the light. Jesus' own journey to Bethany discovers that love weeps in the face of suffering, and his tears are the tears of love. Jesus wept; God wept. And weeping swept away death, as darkness fades into light. Jesus loves and weeps as we love and weep. And tears melt into prayers for more light. Jesus' prayer is a very public prayer that connects him to the Father and brings the hearers of the prayer to faith. Jesus presents the discovery that love, faith, mourning and suffering entangle the doxa of God. 

Though our old friend Nietzsche looked with contempt upon Christianity, he could sing the very song of darkness, midnight's song, where joy and suffering are of a piece, joy deeper yet than suffering in the eternal morning that quickens the eternal night. The light of the sun is its shining joy as the benighted become enlightened. Midnight awakens from its dream into the ebb and flow of joy and sorrow whose currents flow in a single sea of recurrence. The Mitternachtslied is a very Christian moment for the philologist of Basel when read through Lazarus' eyes, or the eyes of the man born blind. Or if the eyes just can't have it, it is the moment of the very voice of midnight. Midnight accepts joy and suffering in eternity where love encompasses its rhythm with all its syncopation, its unexpected accents on suffering, mourning and joy. This is love. This is metanoia, the event harbored in the raising of Lazarus. 

The movements of bodies undergird the movement of a coming to believe. The disciples with Jesus move with him from Jerusalem to across the Jordan, and then back again across the Jordan to Bethany, where their faith-to-come materializes. Martha and Mary move from where they meet Jesus to where they were staying. First Martha alone meets Jesus on his way to the tomb where she proclaims her faith that he is the Messiah. She returns to Mary to tell her Jesus has come. Mary goes to meet Jesus, and utters the same faith in the Martha's own words ("my brother would not have died").  Mary and Martha move together with Jesus to the tomb where their faith reveals the glory of God. These motions are the grammar of a change of heart, and change of life, a new life in the presence of the human fully alive.

This metanoia recreates the self, reborn like Nicodemus, that other weaver of light and dark. Not a return to the womb, but a womb-ing of the self that finds itself in relation to the givenness of love. From love, Jesus gives Lazarus more time; for Lazarus does not experience resurrection. Resurrection is unto the eternal beatific vision of love itself; but more time is all the eternity we get in this world. Martha knew this all too well; she knew the Resurrection is not for this day, but the last day. She also believed that Jesus was the Resurrection, and that on this day of his return to Bethany, that fact means more of this life. More life, more time---these symbolize the Resurrection-to-come. The symbols of life and time play out among love and suffering, the rhythmic complexity of love, which constitute the calculus of relation with the divine.

The heuristic elements of raising Lazarus call for a hermeneutics that embraces the text as Jesus loves and weeps, as Martha believes, as the disciples believe,  as love punches out its percussive melody, as midnight embraces the rhythm of waking and sleeping, living and dying. Even the day, Jesus' favorite time, the time of doing the work of God, discovers something beyond it. The day cannot contain the event of more life and time, and we cannot remain an older self as the event pulls us into something new. And though we can see in the light of the world, we cannot see into it; yet it sees us in its fullness and we know that we are seen, that we are loved, that we are loved before we are, by a God who loves before he is

Friday, August 14, 2015

Coins in a Fountain: The Coin Tricks at Capernaum and Jerusalem

Ad fontes!

Back to the thing itself!

More water, Gunga Din!

quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum ita desiderat anima mea ad te Deus [Ps. 42]

Few would argue that Jesus was arrested, tried and executed for his unwavering allegiance to Rome and the Temple. Something else was definitely going on. Was the issue Jesus' subversion of the norm? Even a toothless subverting source is better off the scene, better off dead, from the perspective of a dedication to the status quo: business as usual and normal operations. I have suggested in a recent post that Jesus, in his manipulation of currency, subverted an invitation to subversion and the sovereignty of Caesar (a reading of Matt. 22), and also subverted the sovereignty of the Temple (a reading of Matt. 17). The historical critical method can only do numismatics (and locate Torah-sources and traditions) for these interesting pericopes, and while its true that Matthew's 'render unto Caesar' find itself within the broader Synoptic tradition and therefore more amenable to the method, the Temple tax pericope is attested only in Matthew, and of less interest to historical method where it bears even less fruit. Since Roman and Temple taxes persisted well after Jesus left the scene, even unto the demise of both, one might rightfully wonder just what kind of subversion I am identifying here (and in the gospels in general).

The last thing I am interested in is reducing Jesus and the Christ-event to the merely subversive. That approach has been done and leaves us with a failed political rebel among countless other failed rebels in the dust bin of history. The Christian tradition certainly acknowledges the political and economic dimension of the challenges Jesus presented to his time and place, but it does not understand that dimension apart from the announcement of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Incarnation and the Redemption (and indeed so much more). Nonetheless, the 'coin tricks' at Capernaum and Jerusalem in their own way announce the Kingdom that unconditionally lays claim to any and all earthly kingdoms. At Capernaum, Jesus makes a coin appear, and at Jerusalem he makes a coin disappear. So where is the subversion?

"Show me the money," says Jesus to the Pharisees' disciples and the Herodians (Matt. 22:19). Reading the image on the coin, Jesus identifies Caesar, and the coin disappears into the coffers of the Roman treasury. All that remains is the possibility that something might appear that belongs to God. "The way of God according to the truth" stands against the trap---the invitation to insurrection, subversion---and subverts an invitation to a subversion of the "imperial tax" (Matt. 22:16-17). The subversion of a subversion leads only to 'marvel.' Caesar has his name all over the denarius, and Jesus asks his interrogators what God has His name all over: marvelous. Yet this marvel of Jesus' wisdom and authority exercises a new, exciting and very subversive sovereignty over the very structure of taxation. The currency of earthly kingdoms is devalued in Jesus' suddenly appearing Kingdom, which somehow dictates how it is to be used to open upon that which belongs to God.

The structure of taxation in the Temple cult fares no better than Rome's in the Kingdom of Jesus.  Matt. 17 presents an interaction absent in the other Synoptics. "What do you think, Simon, do kings tax their very own, or other than their own? Peter said, 'other than their own.' 'The children are exempt,' said Jesus." The logic of the Kingdom accomplishes two tasks here. The first condemns the Temple for taxing other than their own; the second removes the 'other than their own' to be children of another order. The Temple and its tax disown those from whom it collects. There is an unmistakable humorous tension in this moment. Peter doesn't want Jesus to be seen evading taxes, and Jesus wants Peter to catch a glimmer of the truth while avoiding offense. Ostensibly, the collectors of the Temple tax wait at the door. We think we know what will happen next: a fishing trip and eventual payment of the tax. The text moves on to the counting of brothers, and we are left to imagine how the payment is made.

The tradition of the temple tax finds its origins in the Mosaic codes (Ex. 30:11-16). In 1st century Palestine the temple tax was already a big business. The collectors will collect the tax or make some big trouble. Do they go fishing, too, I wonder; do they wait for Peter to return with the money? Returning to the Temple precincts without the money seems unlikely. Since they collect the tax from 'outside the family,' a family of wealth and privilege, those outside the family most likely have worked hard for the money, and the tax would be some kind of burden on them. That burden might even be constitutive of the tax. If so, Jesus sourcing the tax whence he does is already a bit subversive.  The collectors want coin, not fish, so either Peter needs to catch a fish and sell it fast, or find the coin exactly where Jesus locates it. If so, it's found money, perhaps even a lost Temple tax, especially if it is as Jesus says it would be: the exact denomination and value. Maybe one of these selfsame collectors dropped it in the lake at some point earlier in the story. Or maybe Jesus saw that one of the tax collectors dropped the coin where he stood, and winked that information to Peter who doesn't go fishing at all, but instead went dusting the threshold. Could be; who knows. Matthew tells us nothing of the actual hand-off of the tax. So, we are left with a rather pointed fishing trip and a coughed up shekel.

Unless, of course, this story, unique to Matthew, is not a numismatic piscatorial exercise at all; but a word to the wise. The Temple imposes its tax on ta me onta (cf. 1 Cor. 1), the 'nothings' of this world that make nothing out of ta onta, the 'somethings' of this world (cf. 1 Cor. 1:28). In the Kingdom of Jesus, a sovereignty without sovereignty exerts the power of weakness in the kingdoms of the earth.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven  [Matt. 5:3, 10]

The nothings, ta me onta, already are in the space and the conceptual field of the advent of the Kingdom, though they pay taxes in coin to the kings of the earth. Blessed are the taxed, those thought of as other, for they nullify the taxers and the children of kings. The Kingdom is like a stag drawn to the font of waters, as those who thirst for righteousness, the insisting 'pure call,' are drawn to the weak force of God.
The two coins found in these biblical fonts affirm forms of life within a Kingdom whose weakness overpowers the strong forces in those kingdoms where the commerce of taxation holds sway. The economy of the coin carries no weight with Jesus. The lingua franca of the Kingdom is of a different order, and while the coin of the koine is still something to the somethings, the nothings (suddenly in their midst) nullify the somethings, and allow what belongs to God to appear.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Spooking from the Horizon of Love

Christian mediaeval theologians and their Church encountered God on the horizon of being. Aristotle's approach to understanding the world lent itself to illuminating that encounter in which his categories and overall project of achieving wisdom ignited the religious imagination. Metaphysics discovered all that was discoverable about God. Before Aristotle, Plato enlightened the mind and located the realm of the highest. Certainly between these philosophers rested the hearts and minds of theology, a faith seeking understanding. When wisdom and understanding became insufficient for faith, the seams of theology became threadbare, as explanation and pure reason pushed the encounter with God off the horizon of being, and wisdom and understanding under the bus.

Finding it increasingly difficult to locate God in the categories of being and causality, mediaeval metaphysics became inadequate to the task of illuminating anything about God. Metaphysical concepts became mere shadows, ghosts that could only limp against the backdrop of the new and improved categories adopted, of course, from an Aristotelian approach, but now a presiding hegemony of ideas. The new illumination, the Enlightenment, offered transcendental categories governing the disciplines of thought. No longer filed under science, theology found itself within the category of ethics, designed to keep it out of politics and the scientific disciplines.

The enlightened mind no longer conceived of a God with whom an encounter on the plane of being could occur. The analogical imagination continued to grope for metaphysical concepts that could no longer bear the weight of its tasks; yet the experience of and from God did not wither away in this new state of affairs. God was still there, but not as another being among beings. Metaphysics had to be put aside because it was now suppressing the reality of God. God insists that he make an appearance, and the response to that insisting call could not longer configure the onto-theological God that was understood in wisdom by the Schoolmen.

The shift from understanding and wisdom to explanations and knowledge grounded in a sense of certainty threw God out with the bath water. He was dead to scientific inquiry---the thought police of the new order. God could not be located in the new frame of existence. He did not exist. Yet his inexistence could not contain his insistence. The insistence of God calls from the horizon of the perhaps, peut-etre. What calls? It calls. Freud's es? No, not that 'it.' It. The it that spooks. What it spooks? Oh do not ask what is it; let us go and make our visit.

Caputo has provisionally located the calling it in the "space between memory and a promise." Is this poetry or theopoetics? The spectral it that has dominated/haunted Caputo's recent thought, the divine insistence that calls for the event to be released from the harbor of the name of God, cannot call from the horizon of being; yet the call from an insisting God is clarion. The aporia of Caputo's "space" plays out on the horizon of love, which we have seen in Marion's 3rd reduction through his work in Being Given, God without BeingThe Erotic Phenomenon, and In the Self's Place, defines love as more essential than being, and locates love anterior to being, which might very well be somewhere between memory and promise.

The hauntology of love, alternately the horizon of perhaps, or the horizon of love calls for a response as lovers call one another. For Marion, the  givenness of the divine as saturated phenomenon that calls with its pure call the emerging self, is purely self-given as that which loves before it is. For Caputo, the givenness of the divine is the insistence of God, calling unconditionally to be brought into existence. Either way, the it that loves an insistent and unconditional love, a love forgotten and forsaken, a haunting forgotten and forsaken love, loves the emerging self, a self insisted into relationality. What spooks is the love lost somewhere in the space between a memory and a promise. The it-love that loves to haunt our memories and our promises is the call, what Caputo has recently deemed an unheard call that nonetheless calls for a response, insists on the relationality that individuates the self in a constant creation of that self and its subjectivity which is always poised to make a space for it. That space is love and that love is God.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Who is God for Jesus? The Saturated Phenomena and Coins of the Realm

To ask who God is for Jesus is to answer the question of the hypostatic union. To answer the question of the hypostatic union is to participate in the relationality of the human and the divine. The hypostatic union as relationality is what Christians call the Christ-event. To speak of the Christ-event is first and foremost to speak of the event: the event that haunts theology, philosophy and the very core of the conundrum some call the human person. I do not mean all these linkages to mime the hysterical syllogisms in Woody Allen's Love and Death. I mean them to get to the very heart of the event, which is risky business not without a sense of humor, a sense of haunting.

Caputo, Zizek and Marion all speak to the event. For Caputo, the response to the insistent call releases the event; for Marion, the pure call pulling a self into individuation constitutes the event; for Zizek, the 'frame' brings the event into focus. These are all big events, the main events in the circus of Being and becoming. I suggest that these events are the same event. The Christ-event is such an event. Its relationality oscillates between the human and divine, never resting in a moment in the between, but always in the creative space insisting and consisting in response. The divine is unconditional, a sovereign without sovereignty; the human interdigitating, placentalizing in its liminality, yet always gazing upon the iconic other. The event in incarnational---a person has emerged, a person whose insistence is not confused with its existence---a person in which logos is not confused with its flesh: person as saturated phenomenon.

Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto God what is God's [cf.  Matthew 22:15-20; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26]

God's sovereignty is without sovereignty where Caesar reigns, and yet God's sovereignty subverts this Roman sovereign, so says a very subversive Jesus who has won the admiration of his challengers, if not their faith. Jesus presents a very different kingdom and kingship as he holds the coin of the realm in his hand, reads it, and brushes it off (the text is not explicit about whether Jesus holds the coin in his demonstration---I read the coin in Jesus' hand and fingers). This eventive sovereignty constitutes the hypostasis coming before the flattering voices bearing the coin; they present it to Jesus for unconditional and final judgment. That pronouncement overwhelms the intuition of his challengers and foils their intentionality: they marvel and move on---what is this flesh, this event; icon or idol?

The marvelous authority that pronounces upon the coin announces a Kingdom suddenly upon those who marvel. The authority of Jesus comes from a sovereignty that is powerless to liberate or evoke a tax revolt, yet poised to avert violence and secure the public peace unconditionally. Such authority derives from a kingship without kingship, certainly not a kingship alongside Caesar's. The Christ-event frames earthly kingship within the hand of something unconditional and without anything recognizable as sovereignty, even as the edges of the coin frame the image of Caesar. The weakness of God yields to the face on the coin as it devalues its commerce in the kingdom coming. The event is in the hand.

When I speak of a 'sovereignty without sovereignty' I mean to conjure Caputo's and Derrida's 'religion without religion.' I mean 'sovereignty in the second position precisely as they mean religion in that second position. I also read the pericopes of the tribute coin as presenting God's sovereignty within the context of Caesar's. The saturating unconditionality of Jesus' pronouncement is the very insistent call calling for a response in the event. In these versions of unconditionality the event is released in the marvelous bedazzlement that causes Jesus' challengers to retreat. If they retreat to challenge him another day that event is the idol; if marvel leads to metanoia, that event is the icon. The texts are silent; they do not pronounce on the event.

Instead, the pericopes of the coin embrace a haunting: the aporia of a Christ-event whose instantiation in the hypostatic union is the union of the human with a divine question mark after its sovereignty. The saturated phenomenon of the person of Jesus proclaims a kingdom whose sovereign's sovereignty is without sovereignty. Yet this sovereign has the audacity to call out an invitation to metanoia, to a self open to the call, poised to be created anew in a response. Such is the event of the emerging self whose response to the pure call is already anterior to the arrival of the subject. The very 'lack' constitutive of the self is that openness to the initiative of unconditional call from a sovereignty without sovereignty.

Caesar's realm is not the only realm whose currency is the coin.

“What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?”

“From others,” Peter answered.

“Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” [Matt. 17:25-27, NIV]

The collectors of the temple tax at Capernaum ask for a rendering from Jesus and Peter upon their arrival. They are not willing to extend professional courtesy at this moment: they want the whole copayment. In his perhaps most convoluted miracle, Jesus locates a rare fish, puts it on Peter's line, and provides payment in coin for the two of them. The fish's coin subverts the sovereignty of the temple itself by identifying Jesus and Peter as 'others.' The temple disowns their own by the tax itself. The tax visits the absurdity of the coin in the fish's mouth upon the temple tax and therefore upon the temple itself, for it lives by its commerce. The moment is high comedy and very risky business; the tax collectors are the butt of the joke, and by extension, so too the temple, financed by a coin coughed up by a fish (Matthew does not depict the actual transaction that Peter will make, but that does not deprive his community of the dark, grotesque comedy of the scene, which is left to the imagination. It is a scene not terribly unlike the scene where those juicy sandwiches are given to those cops in the rear of the restaurant in Casino).

Temple and kingdom of  'the kings of the earth' are subverted and contextualized within the advent of God's kingdom. The weak sovereignty of God is stronger than all the strength of the kings of the earth, as Paul might say (cf. 1 Corinthians). Such strength is not located within the grammar of earthly power, but within the unconditional subversion of that power. We have seen this kind of subversion elsewhere, as in the dialogue between the Johannine Jesus and Pilate.

By looking only at coins, a glimmer of who God is for Jesus already emerges. The symbols of sovereignty in the realms of the earth are what a 'sovereignty without sovereignty' is not. There is no image of God or Jesus on any coin; such would be meaningless in either kingdom of the world or of God. The commerce of the kingdom is love, and it has no face but the face of the other, who in the Gospels, has no face, except the one called by love into being. If the concerns of those concerned with subverting the norm are legitimate---if, for example, people like Phil Snider have concerns for a theory of homiletics (read: hermeneutics) that is not so lop-sided in its privileging of human action over divine initiative---then perhaps a place to begin is in the coin of the realm.