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.

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