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Friday, April 19, 2013

Midrash

On Wednesday, my Emergent Gathering professor led us in an exercise called "Midrash." Midrash is the Hebrew term for a unique style of storytelling used by Jewish Rabbinic Sages to explain passages from the bible. 

Midrash is a creative way to fill in plot gaps, add detail to whats been left vague, and explore biblical personalities. Midrash is not exegesis, which seeks to extract meaning. Instead, midrash is a form of eisegesis, wherein meaning is given. The beauty of doing a group midrash is you get to hear a variety of voices all give their take on a single passage. 

In my very first month at Wesley I was accused of being a midrash-fangirl. While this statement is somewhat of a hyperbole, I do enjoy a good midrash. So, I thought I would post mine in the hope that something I've said will resonate with you, or perhaps cause a rupture that leads you to deeper truth. 

Given 15 minutes, we were asked to listen and then reflect on John 10:22-30.
The Sheep.
A sheep, on his way to the slaughter, overheard the words of Jesus as he walked through the temple. “How long will you keep us in suspense?” the teachers of the law asked him. “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” The sheep, intrigued, lifted up his head to hear Jesus’ reply; even as it bumped and scraped across the cold floor of the temple through which he was being dragged.

The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.” 
Hearing this, the sheep bellowed; hoping Jesus would recognize his voice and save him from the altar. Again and again he bleated, “Oh Lord, I am your sheep! Save me! Look how they have snatched me from your Father’s hand!”

But Jesus carried on teaching and admonishing; all the while unable to recognize the voice of the very sheep he brought to sacrifice.

As the sword traveled along its short path of destruction towards the sheep’s throat, he thought he heard the voice of Jesus — muffled by the crowds— proclaim: “The Father and I are one.”

By then it was finished.
Jesus’ sacrifice had been made. 

Reflection: 

In the John 10 passage, Jesus is walking through the temple in Jerusalem on the Feast of Dedication — known today as Hanukkah (v.22). As he walks, some folks gather around to ask about his messiahship. Jesus (like he does) gives them a vague and nuanced answer. But according to Jesus, his identity is clearly identified by those who believe. This group cannot believe because they do not belong to his sheep (26), but Jesus' sheep can hear his voice, he knows them, and they follow him (v.27). From this point on, he makes all sorts of claims about keeping them in eternal life and saving them from being "snatched" out of his Fathers hand (v.28-29). Jesus' monologue ends with: "I and the Father are one."  

In the past, I've heard sermons based on this passage focus on the intimate relationship between Jesus and his sheep. There is something almost romantic about the sheep being able to recognize the shepherd's voice. Earlier in chapter 10 Jesus calls himself the "good shepherd." But sitting in class after Monday's Boston Marathon bombing, I wasn't ready to see this passage through rose colored glasses. At this point, I'm not sure I'm ready to call Jesus good again. 

My parable of "The Sheep" is a reflection on the mutuality of our relationship with Jesus. We can recognize the voice of the good shepherd, but can he recognize ours? Because surely if he did our prayers and laments from this past week would not go unheard, or unanswered. Yet when I put myself in the shoes of the victims families, I imagine screaming into a dark abyss for the God who can make meaning out of meaningless, only to hear the echo of my own voice. Hollow, abandoned, deserted... 

The saddest part of this story (in my opinion) is when you realize the sheep going to slaughter was offered by Jesus himself. Jesus, whose presence is supposed to mean a year of Jubilee —a release for the captives— is still contributing to the burnt offering. The literal sheep of the story embodies the metaphorical sheep of Jesus' teaching. If we are the sheep in this passage, then in my parable Jesus is giving us up to be sacrificed. So while we like to think Christ's sacrifice has paid for the heavy wages of sin, that death has lost its 'sting,' sometimes it still feels as if we are the ones left to pay. Death still stings. 

There are all sort of other allusions I think this parable is making, but I will finish my thought process here. I pray for the victims and their families, and for consolation in the midst of unwarranted suffering. 

1 comment:

  1. This is a great Midrash and reflection. Thank you for sharing this. I was moved by it in class and have so many thoughts on it after reading it again I'm speechless.

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