Dialogic Exegesis

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This August 18, 2006 journal entry is an example of Dialogic Exegesis, a new interpretive method I am developing on the basis of Post Modern and Deconstructionist literary theory:

Mark 3:31 And his mother and his brothers came and standing outside, they sent to him, calling him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Look, your mother and your brothers [and your sisters, sic] are outside seeking after you. 33 And answering them, he said, “Who is [sic] my mother and my brothers?” 34 And casting a glance upon those sitting round him in a circle he says, “Look [at] my mother and brothers. 35 [For, sic] whoever would do the will of god, this one is my brother and sister and mother.”

My 2012 translation of John’s first epistle begins at John A.

My 2015 translation of John’s second epistle begins at John B.

My 2015 translation of John’s third epistle begins at John Γ.

My 2015 translation of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, which begins at To The Thessalonians A.

My 2015 translation of Paul’s letter to The Romans begins at To the Romans.

My 2004 translation of Paul’s first letter to the Korinthians begins at And Now For Something Completely Different….

My 2004 translation of Mark’s gospel begins at Mark 1.

My 2004 translation of John’s gospel begins at Start With John, along with a brief explanation of my interpretive approach.

On the question of morality and gay parenthood, Jesus himself renounced all ‘family’ in the sense of blood, or genetic definition, in favour of a definition of family in the spiritual sense; that ‘family’ are those who commune, communicate, associate in spirit. The lesson is that our family is not but a metaphor, a shadow, a foreshadowing of the family to come – the family we will come to when we are born anew [cf Jonn 3] and ultimately, when we are transformed in resurrection [ cf 1 Cor 15:48ff ]. Jesus not only redefines family, he dialogizes it. Jesus, in his great wisdom, opens the concept of family among a tribal people, in a tribal society, albeit a society undergoing a revolution in its consciousness of the individual and her relationship to society and family via the novelism of the Romans.

These people, Jesus’ audience, did not have a relativistic consciousness; they did not easily play with static, traditional, sacred (even political) institutions such as that of ‘family.’ Wars were fought over family issues. Israel was a family. Jesus was seriously confronting the tribal claim of Israel to the exclusive favour of god…to the exclusive alliance of god or any other fundamental, binding or controlling interest in the kingdom of god based on blood relation and/or any of the hierarchical, customary and even scientifically or biologically expedient facts about what is ‘family.’

The reason I am outlining this tenet so emphatically is that it is not generally recognized how unusual and disturbing this teaching would have been among the Israelites and even among the Romans of the time. Jesus was uttering seditious, treasonous, antisocial and really quite frightening notions in his milieu. For instance, under Augustus Caesar, it was one’s publicly decreed patriotic duty to marry and have children, and furthermore, this family-making was considered a literal reflection of god-like behaviour [think ‘Roman pantheon’]. Here is Jesus saying ‘anyone can be my brother or sister or mother…’ this is stunning enough to leave even a Roman speechless, let alone a Judean.

So when we make families, what model do we follow? …Jesus’ ‘loose,’ broadly defined, inclusive, combining, accepting family, or the socio-religio-political definition: closed, narrowly defined, exclusive, divisive, discriminating family?

Some may argue that Jesus was not here [in Mk 3] claiming to make a general or absolute moral statement in a ‘technical’ sense, i.e., that he was not making a commandment or legal statement per se becuase the context lends itself to a more casual or less weighty interpretation. However, this statement (Mk 3:31-35, above) appears in the midst of a set of conflict vignettes and especially, just following perhaps the most serious slander of Jesus’ identity, the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, in response to his healing a man on the Sabbath. The entire chapters 2 and 3 of Mark are dedicated to asserting Jesus’ authority, as god, over the Law, and so the statement about family is pertinent and weighty.

Jesus is performing, from the Judean religious leadership’s point of view, nasty, irritating magic tricks on the Sabbath and then he is actually saying he can do what he wants because he knows better than they. So when Jesus redefines family, he is truly, radically and with the voice of god making a new law, a new family, a new model. He completely renounces the old covenant with Israel and demonstrates what he is doing by negating the foundation of Israel’s relationship with god, the father, a strong source of identity for Israel, the promise to Abraham, the family-nation. Jesus’ redefinition of family is his dialogization of the word ‘family’ to be ‘not family’ also, to include anyone allied with him and by implication: alliance with himself is tantamount to alliance with god: “whoever would do the will of god, this one is my brother and sister and mother.”

Jesus’ legal, political and religious model of family flows from the spiritual, not the other way around. Therefore, it appears that we are not invested, obligated or commanded by Jesus to make only one type of family.

Jesus was not about ‘law,’ Jesus was about intentions, for which there can be no law. Jesus was about acceptance and forgiveness and tolerance and loving kindness and freedom, even now, in this life. Jesus’ irony revealed the impotence of the law and its purpose – to condemn only. Jesus did what he wanted to do, he usurped the law – the family (of Israel) included – just as god, and only god, can do. This is the reason for the anger and disbelief of the synagogue leaders. Only god is able to redefine, or ‘judge’ the law, including that applying to family.

This example of Jesus’ assertion of his authority is equal to him calling himself god. How are we to follow his example? By Mark’s account, Jesus says, “Whoever does the will of god is my brother…” etc., i.e. the brother of god. How are we to know how to do the will of god? Apparently, Jesus taught that god will speak directly to you…you can hear his voice for yourself. Jesus’ example was not to listen to the religious leaders but only to the Father directly. This is infuriating to people, then and now. It’s infuriating because it’s impossible to prove someone hears god’s voice, and it’s impossible to disprove either.

Each one of us has to make up his/her own mind what god is saying to you. You cannot rely on someone else to tell you. There is no magic formula, no scientific experiment, no one, specific thing or sequence of things that will guarantee knowing how to do the will of god. Conversely, there is no one thing specifically, except mistaking the Holy Spirit for the devil [technically, ‘the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit,’ cf Mk 3:22, 29] guaranteeing condemnation. If you know god, you will not commit the deadly sin by definition; you will recognize god’s spirit and not mistake it for anything or anyone else.

How to attain this unprovable thing – which means you cannot prove it, even to yourself?

Well, one condition is that you are never ‘certain’ in a logical, scientific, deductive, ‘in itself’ kind of way, but you can be certain in an experiential, evidential, hermeneutical, inductive ‘for myself’ kind of way. I can be certain enough, I can be very certain, conditionally certain, mostly certain. I can be more certain of something unseen (and unexplained), like gravity, than of something seen, like a picture of a model in a magazine. Anyway, in order to reach a measure, a weight of certainty, we cannot forget the element of uncertainty – it is the honest, scientific, rational approach. We cannot claim certainty but we can look for evidence, either supportive or not, either strong or weak, evidence which demonstrates in physical, predictable, repeatable, specific results that certain propositions are true; i.e., whether god speaks to people, whether he has a ‘voice’ of some kind, whether one can reliably discern such communication, whether one could show why it would be important for god to speak at any given time or why it would be beneficial to listen, as opposed to why god would not speak at some other time…in short, what difference, if any, would god speaking to someone make to anyone?

Well, to finish the argument that Christians have no basis for socio-politico-religious models, dictates, definitions, etc., Jesus himself did not engage in any family-making whatsoever – not marriage, not children, not ‘free love’ … not any engagement in any aspect of physical family duty-doing or heir-amassing. By example, Jesus revealed a humanity divorced from its apparently natural, certainly traditional imperatives. Jesus’ example is a total departure from what many would consider human. However, in this light, one finally realizes that ‘human’ is not what one has done or what one does, but that ‘human’ is what one believes, what one envisions, what one creates.

Jesus not only revealed to us the face of god, his human form, his true identity, he also revealed to us the face of man, his godlike form, his true identity.

Jesus revealed that while sexuality is not a curse, the bondage of sexual bodies is not a moral ground, and neither are sexual drives, instincts, etc., the least bit tempting, the least bit compelling, or the least bit necessary. Jesus did not declare celibacy superior but he, by example, revealed sex, marriage, family to be not a godlike quality, not a human (moral) imperative and by inference, he demonstrates a distinct, very clear and very shocking disdain for the family of Israel, for joining in its extension, for its laws, traditions and social strata. Jesus demonstrates that human is undefined in or of itself, but is only defined in relationship to god, and that something like family is also only defined in relationship to god. What a ‘family’ looks like in this sense is determined by one’s individual relationship with god.

Now, one could argue that the theme of Mark 2-3 is, “Who is it that does the will of god?”:

2:10 Now, in order that you should know that the son of man has power to forgive sins upon the earth,” he said to the paralytic, “to you I say, rise, take up your stretcher and go up into your house.” [Jesus demonstrates by authority that he is doing the will of god.]

2:23 And it befell him on the Sabbath to be going about through the grain fields and his disciples, making [their] way, were plucking the ears of corn. 24 And the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing to the Sabbath what is not lawful?” 25 And he says to them, “Have you never read what David did when he had need and he himself was hungry, and those with him? 26 How he went into the house of god while Abiathar [was] high priest and ate the bread of the presence, which was not lawful to eat except [for] the priests, and he gave also to those who were with him.” 27 And he was saying [or ‘used to say’] to them, “The Sabbath because of man was made and not man because of the Sabbath.” [Jesus cites scriptural evidence that his behaviour is in line with the will of god.]

3:4 And he says to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. [Jesus challenges his accusers to show that they know god’s will but they do not.]

3:14 And he made twelve [who also would be sent] sic, in order that they should be with him and in order that he mIght send them to preach 15 and to have authority to cast out demons… [Jesus’ miracles are evidence that he knows and is performing god’s will.]

These two chapters are a huge set-up for the quotation of Isaiah 6:9-10 in Mark 4:12, which throws down the premise that the religious establishment in Jerusalem did not recognize Jesus:

Seeing, they will see [βλεπω] but not see [ειδω, ‘recognize,’ ‘realize,’ ‘know’]
And hearing, they will hear but not perceive,
Lest they should ever turn themselves around
And I might forgive them.
[Isa 6:9-10]

So at the end of chapter 3, no one is asking what Jesus’ family did wrong or what the problem was or why Jesus didn’t go out to them…Jesus is making a point about family, not his particular family…that a family to which one wants to belong is one that does the will of god. So the question here is, what does he mean by ‘the will of god’?

It seems to me that Jesus is making this ‘one who does the will of god’ into the focus, the heart, of the question. One’s first response would be, well…as you said, it is ‘family.’ Jesus is rhetorically begging the question and thus presenting us with an in-your-face challenge of our own assumptions and a compact set of entendres relating to the law, family law, law as the will of god ergo family as the will of god, with the playful and puzzling contradictions about his own definition of family and, by association, it can be argued, his own definition also of ‘the one who does the will of god.’

Let us say his rhetoric lends itself to the argument that Jesus is refuting that simply following the law is the definition of doing god’s will. This is supported by the conflict sequence of this vignette, in which Jesus is accused of breaking the Sabbath (Mk 3:3). So it can be convincingly argued that Jesus is saying that the one who does god’s will is not necessarily the one who follows the written law.

So Jesus implies that there is another way to ascertain god’s will. Moreover, he asserts that he himself has ascertained god’s will by his healing of the man with the withered hand (Mk 3:5), for it is god’s will to save life, not kill, on the Sabbath and that he is doing god’s will. The implication is that the discernment and performance of god’s will is so assuredly and certainly possessed by him, Jesus, that he will raise the question himself to them regarding how he knows. If they knew the answer, they would have answered him back and said how one does god’s will but they do not, and the question hangs there.

Jesus is saying to them, ‘if you knew how to do god’s will, if you knew how to discover what is god’s will, I welcome you…you would be my family…you would understand how it is that I can redefine family…that what is really important is this ministry I’m doing here, these people I’m teaching.’

Jesus rhetorically demonstrates that his opponents, in his opinion, do not know how to do the will of god. He is playfully but definitely asserting that he does and they do not, and that the family is who he says it is…a serious undertone, a serious look at the birthright of Abraham, a serious display of authority…a serious redefinition of family.