Thursday, June 05, 2008

Capon: "We Are All Dead Ducks"

One of my favorite theologians is Robert Farrar Capon. He was a parish priest in New York for thirty years. He's written over 20 books, my favorites being Hunting the Divine Fox and The Third Peacock. Here is part of his reflection on the parable of The Pharisee and the Tax Collector:
...The law, the commandments, are efforts at morality, humility, spirituality and, above all, are efforts at religion, are efforts at trying to do something that will get us right with God. All don't work. Therefore God, as Jesus speaks of Him, doesn't risk trying to save the world by human good behavior. The Pharisee's mistake, therefore, is not that he is saying something that it is just proud or a little bit arrogant, but that what he is saying is dead wrong. His goodness is irrelevant to the problem that he is talking about. Therefore, God says that the tax collector who simply looks at his shoe tips and says, "I'm no good," is justified. Now, why?

The point is that this parable is about death and resurrection. It is not about morality, spirituality or anything else. It is about the fact that both the Pharisee and the Publican (the tax collector), are dead ducks. The Pharisee is a very high class kind of dead duck, but they are both dead as far as being able to reconcile with God is concerned. The point about all of this is that the reconciliation God has in mind for them is totally dependent on their death.

Jesus came to raise the dead. He did not come to teach the teachable; He did not come to improve the improvable; He did not come to reform the reformable. None of those things works. Jesus taught His disciples for three years. They never caught on to very much at all. God has been teaching the world for a millennia. The world hasn't done anything much about it. The tragedies go on. The lies go on. The nonsense goes on. The twaddle goes on. All the things that are wrong with the world go on. They are not amenable to talk. They are only amenable to action and, therefore, Jesus came to raise the dead -- meaning by deadness, you in your deadness, the Pharisee in his deadness and the tax collector in his deadness.

Now you ask yourself a question. Do you like that parable? Of course, you don't like it. The point is that it violates every sense you and I have about the fact that we really are basically doing fairly well. If only other people were as nice and considerate and as wonderful as we are, the world would be a better place to live in and God says, "No. That will not work." It can't be done that way. It can't be done by people who think they are winners. It can only be done by people who are willing to admit they are losers and then who are willing to trust God in the death of their losing to do it for them, to deliver them the gift of a reconciliation with God...

...We have a God, in Jesus' proclamation, a God who couldn't get a union card in the God union, who couldn't make it because we have set up the rules for God. A God has to be a punisher; a God has to be a judge; a God has to be a respectable God. He has to do all the things that enforce morality, and God doesn't. On the cross, in Jesus, He drops dead to the whole subject of sin and shuts up about the whole subject of condemnation. It is over. As St. Paul says in the beginning of the 8th Chapter of Romans: "There is, therefore, now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus."

Therefore, this parable is about death and it is about the resurrection from the dead. The point is that death is all of the resurrection that we can know now. The most important thing is that we believe in Jesus. The dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and they will live.

I don't believe in resurrection. I don't believe in eternal life. I don't believe in life after death. I don't believe in the hereafter. Those are all opinions. I simply trust Jesus that He will deliver to me as He rose from the dead, He will raise me. Whatever that means, however it works, I trust Him because in His death is my reconciliation and in my reconciliation is my joy in Him...
Radical? Not really. Just different from what many think Christianity is all about. And what is it all about? Grace. We are forgiven before we believe; before we confess. We are raised up before we even know we are dead.

In case Capon wasn't quite clear, here's part of the interview that follows the reflection:
...Well, one of the problems with any authentic pronouncement of the gospel is that it introduces us to freedom. The point is that as long as the world runs this show what it tries to say is that if you do something wrong God will get you. What it said in Jesus is, by the blanket absolution of everybody in the death of Christ, that God is not going to get anybody.

For example, who is in heaven? People think it is good guys. There is nobody in heaven but forgiven sinners because there was nobody available to go to heaven except forgiven sinners and there is nobody in hell except forgiven sinners. The difference is that in heaven they accept the forgiveness, in hell they reject it. That's it. You can't get into hell by being bad. You get into heaven by being bad and accepting forgiveness. Now, that does in a way mean you have permission to be bad. If you want to stick your hand in a meat grinder, you are free to do that. It's stupid, but God isn't going to run the universe that way. God is not going to punish. He cares more about relationships than behavior...
Do keep in mind that this is not anything "new," or a "revision" of the message. It is the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, stripped of our society's fixation on everything being a transaction; you give this, you get that, etc. That's not how God works. God's grace, God's unmerited favor, is a free gift, granted to everyone. Being a Christian is not about being "good" or being "bad." It is about how we respond to God's free gift of grace.


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