01 February 2007

The Counterintuitive Crucifixion

I've been reflecting recently on the way in which Jesus wove teaching on his death into his earthly ministry in ways the Gospel writers have picked up on but which we (at least I!) have not. Two examples of this are fresh on my mind from recent reading in Mark and John.

(1) Mark 3:22-27

22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, "He is possessed by Beelzebul," and "by the prince of demons he casts out the demons." 23 And he called them to him and said to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 27 But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.
It strikes me that it would appear that Jesus is referring to Satan as the strong man and to himself as the binder of the strong man. Yet how did Jesus do it? How did he bind the strong man? By being bound. Later in Mark we read of a demon-possessed man being bound (5:4), and then of John the Baptist being bound and thrown in prison (6:17). And then we read, at the end, of Jesus himself being bound (15:1), and the same word is used throughout (deomai).

Jesus bound Satan not by taking away his power to afflict but by taking away his power to condemn. And Jesus' means of emptying Satan of his power was by emptying himself of his power (cf. Phil 2:5-11). Counterintuitive indeed!
(2) John 13:36-38
36 Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, where are you going?" Jesus answered him, "Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward." 37 Peter said to him, "Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you." 38 Jesus answered, "Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times."

Faced with the prospect of Jesus' suffering and death, Peter blurts out his admirably loyal but naively optimistic response: "I will lay down my life for you!" It is an astonishing thing to read that sentence in the Greek, in which all the critical words used are the very ones used by Jesus throughout John's Gospel to speak of his own death.

Peter said: I will die for you! Jesus said: No, dear Peter, my dear, beloved Peter, you will not die for me. I will die for you. You have it exactly wrong. You will not lay down your life for me. I will lay down my life for you - and take care of the threefold denial later tonight. The very reason you cannot follow me now - the sin which leads you to do things like deny me - is the reason I go now to suffer. You've got it precisely backward, Peter. The crucifixion and the divestment (instead of manifestation) of divine power there was counterintuitive to Peter then, and it is counterintuitive to me today.

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