Tuesday, November 09, 2004
My keyboard has been temperamental since this incident; this afternoon it finally gave up the ghost. I now have to learn not to hit the 'insert' key when I'm trying to hit the 'delete' key. My e-mail has also been stubbornly refusing to send (although I can receive OK). This is annoying as I had a number of important messages that I was unable to send out. Over the last couple of weeks I have been quite exhausted and haven't blogged as much as I would like to. I have been thinking and reading, but I haven't felt inspired to write anything much. At present I am reading (among other things) The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology and Virtues and Practices in the Christian Tradition, both of which I highly recommend. Yesterday afternoon I was asked if I would be able to speak at a local Christian Union at short notice. I will be speaking tomorrow evening on the subject of 'Jesus the Teacher'. There is so much that I would like to say on this subject, but I will only have a half hour. I imagine that the line that I will be taking on the subject will surprise many of the hearers. I will focus on the kingdom message of Christ and will seek to briefly explore some of the different patterns of teaching illustrated by the four gospels. The more I have looked through the gospels, the more intriguing their various emphases seem. It is also interesting to explore the manner in which Christ's teaching translates into that of the Church. One thing that I have wondered in the course of my extremely brief time in preparing this talk is how modern conceptions of the student-teacher relationship shape our understanding of Jesus' place as a teacher and our place as His disciples. Modern views of education seem to be very individualistic. One is separated from one's family and community and thrust into an artificial community, which all too often serves merely as a means to an end. Ultimately students play their role within the learning community almost solely for their own benefit. The idea of a learning, witness-bearing, prophetic community of disciples being an end in itself is not, therefore, really very natural to our modern way of thinking. I would like to spend more time thinking out some of the ways that this affects our thinking about the Church. I have also been giving occasional thoughts to the significance of circumcision in the biblical narrative. Circumcision, as it is practiced on the male sex organ, is a means by which God equips Abraham and his seed to fulfill the vocation of mankind to be fruitful and multiply in a manner that is dedicated to God. Circumcision is a means by which God puts sex back in its place. In one sense, circumcision is a sign of impotence, the circumcised are unable of themselves to bring forth the promised seed and must submit their sexual activity to God in order to be fruitful. The significance of circumcision needs to be understood against the background of the narrative of Genesis 16. Circumcision is performed by the head of the household upon all male members of the household. Circumcision is associated with paternity where Baptism is associated with filiation. However, when the true Seed comes, He comes apart from the initiation of any circumcised man. Baptism is not focused upon the male sex organ, because the focus is no longer upon the promise of seed, but upon being accounted as seed. Baptism is associated with new birth and regeneration, not with the appropriate posture that the man (who perceives himself as the initiator within sexual intercourse) should take towards the promise of future seed. I wonder whether we should pay more attention to such differences before aligning Baptism and circumcision too closely together. I have also been thinking about the place that Israel and the land play in this. Israel is often seen as feminine, as is the land. Indeed the earth and the land are often associated with the womb (Genesis 3:16-19; Job 1:21; Psalm 139:15). It seems that there are particular occasions when circumcision becomes very important. When entering into the promised land (Joshua 5) or sharing in the Passover (Exodus 12:48) are two occasions. Should we see some sexual symbolism here? I don't know. Zion is frequently portrayed in Scripture as a woman trying to bring forth seed. When the true Seed finally comes, His coming represents a triumph over the deadness of the womb of the virgin, just as His resurrection represents a triumph over the curse on the ground. I am sure that we should be seeing clear parallels between all of this and Isaac as the initial seed of promise. Israel's firstborn sons and heirs are dedicated to the Lord and are under a death threat if they are not circumcised (Israel as a whole is also dedicated to God as His firstborn son — Exodus 4:22-23). We see this, not only in Genesis 17:14 and in the Passover, but also in Moses' return to Egypt, where the Lord meets him to kill him (Exodus 4:24f.). It is either death or circumcision. Circumcision places Israel in a position of dedication that Christ later redeems them from. Circumcision is also a burden of vocation which is given to Abraham and his descendents, that is passed down like a baton until it finally rests upon Christ and is borne on the cross. Circumcision is all about sacrifice. Israel is cut off from the nations in order to finally perish for the sake of the world. This vocation finally falls upon Christ. Christ frees Israel from the burden of circumcision by bearing it Himself (Colossians 2:11). After His death as the Circumcised One, He is resurrected as the firstborn from the dead and heir of all. He fulfills the 'eighth day' hope of circumcision. For a Christian to become circumcised after Christ is to take on the dedicated status of Israel when there is no remaining sacrifice. It is to await a seed when the Seed has already come. As the Church we are now the true circumcision in Christ. Christ bore the burden of circumcision on the cross and in Him we can enter into the blessing of inheritance. Israel according to the flesh is now aligned with Cain, Ishmael and Esau. Each of these characters once stood as the seed, until the burden passed from them to someone else (Seth, Isaac and Jacob). Romans 9 teaches that God has always been sovereign in forming His people this way. Anyway, these are just some of the very loose and very incomplete thoughts that I have been having on this subject. I would be interested to hear other people's perspectives on this.