Pentecost Sunday marks the last Sunday of the season of Easter. After Pentecost there are twenty-six Sundays till the beginning of the next season of Advent. Pentecost is not a sprint, its more like a marathon. These reflections (posted late) represent the sixth Sunday after Pentecost or about a quarter of the way through. For a runner this might be just about the time their legs go numb. For some it might be just about the time the season seems a bit too long to finish. It seems appropriate here to take a deep breath and refocus on the importance of the kingdom, new creation, and what is called ordinary time.
Deconstruction and the Kingdom
The gospel texts thus far for Pentecost have come from the Gospel of Mark. The focus has been on the identity of Jesus as liberating King and Messiah and the nature of the kingdom. All this is predicated on the account of Jesus’ baptism, wilderness testing, and announcement of the kingdom in Mark 1:9-15. (CEB)
9 About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. 10 While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. 11 And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”
12 At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.
14 After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, 15 saying,“Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!”
What are we to make of this kingdom that Jesus, empowered by the Spirit, inaugurates? I propose that we might say that the kingdom deconstructs and calls us into question. The length of the season of Pentecost disabuses us of confidence in the longevity of our own personal kingdoms. If we have trouble making it through twenty-six weeks, is there any way to hope for the endurance of our own kingdoms?
John Caputo writes in reference to the kingdom and the question What Would Jesus Deconstruct?,
In the view I am advancing here, deconstruction is treated as the hermeneutics of the kingdom of God, as an interpretive style that helps get at the prophetic spirit of Jesus – who was a surprising and sometimes strident outsider, who took a stand with the ‘other’ … deconstruction is good news because it delivers the shock of the other to the forces of the same, the shock of the good (the ‘ought’) to the forces of being (‘what is’), which is why I think it bears good news to the church. (26-27)
Ok, wait just a minute. Deconstruction as ‘good news’ for the church? This sounds strange. Does not deconstruction in actuality represent the danger of (so-called) ‘postmodern relativism’? Is it not simply destruction of all we hold dear and the practice of untruth of those that oppose God?
Well, not really. This very likely posits a misunderstanding of deconstruction and the kingdom. Caputo continues,
Things get deconstructed by the event of truth they harbor, an event that sets off unforeseeable and disruptive consequences … in a deconstruction our lives, our beliefs, and our practices are not destroyed but forced to reform and reconfigure – which is risky business. In the New Testament this is called metanoia [Greek for repentance], or the undergoing of a fundamental change of heart. Our hearts are turned inside out not by a vandal but by an angel or evangel of the truth… (27)
Deconstuction is organized around the idea that things contain a kind of uncontainable truth, that they contain what they cannot contain … The truth will set you free, but it does so by turning your life upside down … deconstruction is a hermeneutics of truth, of the truth of the event [of the kingdom], which is not deconstructable…
What would Jesus do? He would deconstruct a very great deal of what people do in the name of Jesus… (29-31)
There it is. In the process of deconstruction we are called into question by the kingdom of the liberating King himself. This is not simple destruction as is often claimed of deconstruction. The reason for this is that the event of deconstruction, the event of the kingdom, contains within it a corresponding reconstruction, reform, and refigurement by a surplus of truth that is uncontainable. Central to this is repentance – the orientation of hands, head, and heart towards the kingdom.
Easter and New Creation
The corresponding Pentecost texts from the Epistles thus far have come from 2 Corinthians 4, 5, and 6. While Jesus is the master of deconstruction, I would contend the Apostle Paul isn’t shabby himself. We might even call Paul the ‘deconstructive theologian of the new creation.’ Indeed, while a full exegesis isn’t in order here, I would say that many if not most miss the deconstructive use of the household codes in Ephesians for instance. Paul uses the commonly known codes for family structures of his day but with key changes and omissions. If we miss Paul’s methodology here we can easily skip over the deconstructive force of the passage and seriously get ‘headship’ wrong in a way that actually neutralizes the deconstructive force of the passage. I think much the same goes for Paul methodology in his sermon at the Areopagus in the book of Acts – deconstruction.
And in 2 Corinthians I would suggest that a great deal of confusion can be avoided if we see Paul deploying a method of deconstruction. Much of what Paul says seems on the surface to support a typical Greek dualism between the ‘spiritual’ (which is good) and the material/physical (which is bad). But I suggest that Paul, in writing into a context ripe with Greek think, is using this type of thinking to deconstruct itself. Ultimately, Paul is a Jewish theologian that places priority on embodiment contra the typical Greek dualisms of his day. But for Paul this emphasis on embodiment has necessarily been rethought and reworked into a theology of the new creation which is intrinsically tied to the person and kingship of Jesus – his life, crucifixion and resurrection. Daniel Kirk observes in Jesus Have I Loved but Paul?,
Jesus’ occupying a position over the world entails something much more comprehensive than persons in a restored relationship with God, that something more on the order of new creation is in view. Paul uses the phrase ‘new creation’ to describe the effects of Jesus’ resurrection and suggests that this itself is the world that Christians inhabit and called to bring to existence (2 Cor. 5:17).
The idea that new creation begins with Jesus’ resurrection is tied, in part, to the fact that the resurrected Jesus has a body. The life that Jesus lives now is embodied; the hope that Jesus’ resurrection therefore holds out for his followers is an embodied life. This itself spells the beginning of the end for stereotypical views of our souls going to heaven when we die. No, our ultimate hope for salvation is to live a re-embodied life on a new earth. (45)
Paul carries the gospel by literally embodying the message of the crucified Christ. [This] means giving up one’s own life so that others may live. Or, closer to Paul’s own words, to have death be put on display in our own lives so that Jesus’ life might be realized in others (2 Cor 4:12, 15). (83)
Paul viewed himself as a ‘living narration of the gospel of Christ crucified [and resurrected].’ (84)
I want to suggest that in Pentecost we find that each day in which we are empowered by the Spirit of Resurrected One is Easter. Easter calls us into question. We might evens say that Easter deconstructs us with its surplus of cruciform and resurrection truth. Easter opens our eyes to the need for more than self help. Only an Easter faith offers us what we really need … resurrection – an inaugurated reality now awaiting fulfillment at the final coming of our liberating King. But resurrection doesn’t come without the rest of the story. The Jesus story of resurrection requires participation in the cruciform sufferings and death of Christ. Such a sustained participation only comes from the empowerment of the Spirit of the Cruciform One himself. But such a sustained empowerment again deconstructs us and disabuses us of any notions of bringing about new creation on our own terms.
Ordinary Time and the Slow Work of God
The season of Pentecost doubles in the liturgical calendar as what is called ‘ordinary time’. There are actually two periods of ordinary time – the period after Christmas and the period of Pentecost until the start of Advent. It is during these times that we learn the ‘wisdom of enoughness’ and the ‘wisdom of routine’ (Joan Chittister, The Liturgical Year, see chapters 15 and 29). These seasons are not ordinary in the sense that they don’t matter or are unimportant. In fact this may do a disservice and insult to what ‘ordinary’ is all about. Properly speaking these seasons are called ‘ordinary’ from the word ‘ordinal’ which means ‘counted time’ and because there are no major feast days to celebrate. But I think we can also call these seasons ‘ordinary’ because it is during these times that we have the occasion to decide if we are going to trust in the slow work of God.
It is during these times that we have the occasion if we are really going to take Christmas and Easter seriously – if we are really going to live like the birth and resurrection of Jesus has radical yet deeply ordinary ramifications for our everyday lives down to the smallest details. Ordinary time teaches us that it is the mundane realities of living that reveal who we really are and that mediate to us the sacramental grace of God. Contrary to the ‘go big or go home’ mentality of much of contemporary evangelicalism genuine incarnation is slow work and relational (ie, inefficient). It is the ordinary and slow work of God that again, calls us into question. In the seasons of ordinary time we learn that we can’t rush God and we can’t rush incarnation. May we trust in and allow ourselves to be deconstructed by the ordinary and slow work of God … and in the process be shaped into a kingdom oriented, slow people of new creation.
Prayer for the Week:
O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.