Jesus the Rejected Cornerstone among the Weeds

field1Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds inflicts on us the discomfort of being told that we have to put up with the people we don’t like but the end of the parable and the explanation of it afterwards give us the comfort of knowing that the people we don’t like will get it in the end. But does Jesus really mean to give us this “comfort?”

When we consider the workings of mimetic desire, the image of a field densely filled with plants intertwined with each other is easily seen as an image of our entanglement with the desires of other people, some of whose desires we covet, others we try to separate ourselves from. Of course, each person who wants something we want and we don’t think it can be shared, is an enemy, a weed who should be pulled out, expelled from the garden. In such a situation, each of us is prone to considering ourselves to be one of the intended, desirable plants while the others are weeds. Of course, when we are preoccupied with how “weedy” everybody else is, we are totally wrapped up with them in our hostility. It is easy, then, to understand this parable as teaching us to mind our own business and not worry about everybody else. The trouble with this interpretation is that we are all in the thick of this garden whether we like it or not and we need to find a constructive way to live with everybody else in it. A deeper interpretation that is often offered, and one I have much sympathy with, is that we should commend everybody else to God and let God deal with them. To make this work, we have to commend ourselves to God as well, or we think we are commending those bad guys to God but we are good guys who can take care of ourselves. Moreover, the word for “letting” the weeds grow is aphete, which also is used in the New Testament to mean “forgive.”

If we give this parable a Christological interpretation, everything looks different. In being the stone rejected by the builders, Jesus was a weed. That’s the way Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate and Herod saw him. Jesus identified himself with a lot of “weeds” on the way to the cross such as the woman with a bad name in town who washed his feet at Simon the Leper’s house and the tax collectors Zacchaeus and Matthew. Every planter knows that it can be difficult to tell an intended plant from a weed. This is why well-intentioned but uninformed “helpers” are the bane of gardeners. If we try to weed out the garden based on our own judgment, we are likely to weed out Jesus himself.

The explanation of the parable seems to be at cross-purposes with the parable itself. Many scholars absolve Jesus of having ever given it, relegating the explanation to a later redactor to the text finalized in Matthew, as Simon Joseph argues with such vengeful texts in The Nonviolent Messiah. Or, we can argue that Jesus was giving us a parody of what an obtuse listener who lacks ears to hear takes away from the parable, as Paul Nuechterlein suggests on his site Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary. The trouble is, self-righteousness takes us to such extremes that it is impossible to parody. Let’s take a look at where the “explanation” takes us. First, we become preoccupied with weeding out the undesirable plants. Second, we identify with the angels who weed the garden. Third we think we shine in righteousness that blinds us to our self-righteousness. That is, we play the role of God, which is idolatry. The end result is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth for everybody and no harvest for anybody.

If we look forward to harvesting as opposed to weeding, we get a totally different scenario that fits well with the parable itself. When it comes to harvesting, weeds just don’t matter. The only thing that does matter is picking the fruits and bringing them in so they can offer sustenance to others. When it’s all about harvesting, things start to look a lot like the heavenly banquet that all of us can share without worrying about who is wheat and who is a weed.

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The Nonviolent Messiah

KatrinaCrossAbraham1Simon Joseph’s book The Nonviolent Messiah is another helpful study on the question of whether or not Jesus truly preached peace and is a complementary study to A Peaceable Hope by David Neville. Whereas the latter worked from the final version of the New Testament and made a mathematical study of how much violence there was and how much peace, with peace being much the more preponderant element, Joseph uses examination of the Q document and the Adamic model of the Messiah in Enochic literature to argue that the historical Jesus consistently preached peace.

Like some atomic particles that are never seen but are inferred from visible reactions, Q has never been seen but is inferred from a study of the canonical Gospels and other non-canonical material. There may be some guess-work and there remains controversy as to what actually is in Q but there is enough evidence to work with what we have so far.

With a stress on the inaugural sermon in Q which would include the proclamation of the Jubilee and material used in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke, Joseph builds a case that Jesus preached nonviolence and a violent eschatology was added later by the Q community.

The lesser known Enochic literature is examined for a lesser-known element: the Adamic model that emerged in some of this literature in contradistinction to the Davidic Messiah who would be a political and military figure. The Adamic model posits the hope of a renewed creation that would involve all people and would be achieved by totally peaceful means. The Animal Apocalypse, so-called because animals signify the figures, is a particularly strong example of this. We can easily see the influence of this model on Paul’s use of the New Adam in his epistles. Joseph provides much evidence to suggest that this Adamic model, which was very well-known at all levels of Jewish society in Jesus’ time, strongly influenced Jesus’ self-understanding of the kind of Messiah he was.

If we take Joseph’s historical-critical work and bring it to the final result analyzed by Neville, he get the following plausible historical trajectory on the issue of peace in the formation of the New Testament: 1) The early Q community with its collections of sayings by Jesus preaching peace, 2) The community of Mark’s Gospel proclaiming the peaceful, crucified Messiah, 3) the preaching of Paul stressing peace & using the Adamic model of Messiah, 4) a later stage of the Q community where persecution and rejection led to a vengeful eschatology where God would do the vengeance, 5) The community of Matthew’s Gospel using Mark & Q, including the vengeful material but also the peace teachings, 5) The community of Luke’s Gospel mostly rejecting the violent eschatology & stressing peace with many unique elements stressing peace, 6) community of John’s Gospel with a very strong emphasis on peace.

Although a meticulous examination, the book is readable and is an important contribution to the investigations on Jesus’ attitude to peace and violence.