catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 9, Num 23 :: 2010.12.17 — 2010.12.30


Unsolved mystery

I was sitting in church on the first day of Advent. And as the words of the poetic paradoxes of the Incarnation swirling around me began to settle into my soul, I had one of those thoughts.  He was barely alive before someone in power did his best to kill him, and in the end, he was murdered. So why not look at it as a murder mystery?

But where did the mystery really lie? In why he was killed? No, if you looked at it carefully, there were plenty of clues that a murder was coming.  After all, despite his humanity and his carpentry, Jesus wasn’t exactly the peaceful God-child, the man we imagine when we sing “Silent Night.” He made waves (in one case, literally).

He was the reason his earthly adoptive dad nearly left his mom before he was born, simply because his dad couldn’t get the bizarre circumstances — at least until God beat him over the head with a vivid dream he couldn’t possibly ignore.

He was able, as an infant, to inspire murderous rages in the local potentate because said local potentate couldn’t think of a potential ruler who wouldn’t want to overthrow the earthly powers.

He was the weird kid who knew more than the priests in the temple when he was twelve, then looked at his parents as though they were crazy to be worried about where he’d gone.

Later on, his village and family showed how much they still thought he was that odd kid who’d grown up in their midst by giving him a cold reception during his ministry.

And that’s not even getting into the other people who wanted to throw him off the cliff, all because he simply wasn’t what they expected him to be.

Clearly, there’s a pattern here. If the Bible were rewritten as a murder mystery, it would be one in which it’s hard to find the killer simply because of how very many motives there were to reject — and ultimately kill — him. Long before we start hearing about how murderous the Pharisees were feeling about him in the later parts of the Gospels, we expert mystery readers and viewers ought to have seen this coming a mile away, even if we had skipped past that prophetic passage in Isaiah 53.

And with that realization, while I was sitting there in church thinking about murder mysteries, it all clicked for me. Jesus was the most Other person who’s ever lived. Yes, he was human, meaning that he was like us in many ways, but he completely broke out of the box by being both God and man. The thing is that it’s so much easier to hate and reject that which is other than to seek to understand it.

Reflecting on this profound truth, I understood why it’s easier to celebrate this holiday in terms of warmth and coziness and the nearness of God than it is to actually grasp how foreign that nearness still is to us.  After all, if receiving this God into our lives involves accepting something our humanity has trouble accepting, God’s comments about taking care of widows, orphans, and foreigners also become clearer in light of this truth. And it makes better sense why Jesus would tell us that when we take care of those we usually marginalize and don’t understand, we are taking care of him.

In the end, if this foreign, strange God lives inside of us, it’s no wonder we’re told that we, too, will become pilgrims and foreigners on this earth once we allow God incarnationally into our lives.

This new foreignness of ours would be a much greater sacrifice if it didn’t come with being made whole; in other words, no longer being exiled and Other in the presence of God. We, like him, become Other in the world once we cease to marginalize him in our hearts and lives. That’s because once we cease to cast him out, we paradoxically have a new home, a new life, that is not of this world, but of a world which our Savior rules.

And yet, because it’s a world that we still can’t grasp, can’t understand, most of the time — a world outside our limited understandings — this world and this Savior are still Other to us in many ways. Thus, I think, the attempts to domesticate this odd Incarnation we celebrate this time of year, and thus the frequent lapses in extending hospitality and love to those in this world who have been marginalized and feel like strangers in this world.

As I reflected on all this that day in church, I realized more than ever that despite my impulses, God’s profound foreignness and his acceptance of us are not mysteries I should seek to explain, or domesticate, away. Instead, like Mary, I should seek to both treasure and act upon the mystery of Otherness and belonging, pondering throughout the year what it means to know him and the mysterious power of his life, death and resurrection.

Our God is an awesome and mysterious God indeed.

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