Thursday, March 09, 2006

Yesterday I read Chapter Two, “The Second Word,” in Hauerwas’ Cross-Shattered Christ. In these eight small pages Hauerwas asks us to ponder Jesus’ words to the crucified thief: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23.43). Reminding us how little the sparsely narrated Gospel tell us about Jesus (we know “next to nothing about Jesus growing up, or his relationship to women”), Hauerwas contends that such “reticense of the Gospels” is purposeful: "That reticense is a discipline given us by God to draw us into, and make us participants in, the silence of redemption wrought by the cross" (39).

The leanness of the Gospel requires us to enter the sparse stories and go to those silent spaces, where as Rowan Williams says, “God is in the connections we cannot make.” In other words, God meets us where we find silence in our listening and reading. In a world full of satisfied intellectual expectations and scientific explanation, you and I regularly find such silence uncomfortable and unsatisfactory, so much so that that we regularly impose meanings on the Gospel stories that simply are not there. We make up meanings and produce more stories to satisfy our need for interpretation, criticism, and theory. We do this because we want ourselves—and the stories we create—to be significant. We believe ourselves to be so important! Believing that somehow we must and shall not be forgotten in the great scheme of things, we avoid God in the Gospel’s silence. If however, we enter the silence surrounding this story of two sentences, here is what Hauerwas says we might possibly hear:

It is almost impossible for us not to identify with the thief’s request. Please, dear Jesus, remember us. Insure that our lives will he significance so that we will be more than bubbles on the foam of life. Jesus’s crucified companion, however, does not ask to be remembered so that his life will have significance. Rather he asks, as Psalms have taught Israel to ask, to be remembered when Jesus comes into his kingdom. Such a request makes sense only if Jesus—a man undergoing the same crucifixion the thief suffers—can fulfill such a request. We desperately ask to be remembered, fearing we are nothing. In contrast, this thief confidently asks to be remembered because he recognizes the One who can remember. How extraordinary. (42)

The thief has come to believe that “Jesus is about a kingdom” that threatens the kingdoms of this world." When the remembering Jesus asks us to “Do this [meal of bread and wine] is remembrance of me,” our Lord invites us into “an eschatological politics—that is, a politics of hope . . . as real as lives like Christian de Cherge [the martyred Trappist to whom Hauerwas introduced us in Chapter One].”

Jesus is the kingdom itself. “To be in paradise is to be 'with Jesus,' to be pulled into God’s life by the love made visible on the cross. Our salvation is no more or no less than being made part of God’s body, God’s enfleshed memory.” After all, “the remembrance that matters is to be remembered by Jesus.”

It has taken me several days to find the silence necessary to read this short chapter and to reflect on the even shorter words of Jesus. Hauerwas recommends a Lenten caution: don’t be overly productive when entering the Gospel; nonetheless, be sure to meet God “in the connections we cannot make.” The bare bones of the crucified Jesus and his few words fill the silence with all we need.


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