Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Carping on the Creativity of Morton Smith

I have just laughed my way through the latest issue or BAR on the Secret Gospel of Mark. Mark Goodacre has an original video which is a suitable watching experience in spite of the dumb label.

Now - for the serious matter at hand. I am not writing in my story teller's voice, that first century character Secundus, who has written so much about the mystery of the ages (stories here), but I will try in my own voice to say what this Secret Gospel obscures or reveals or runs the risk of obscuring.(Anything in double-quotes below may be the story teller emerging.)

If the subject is serious why was I laughing? The distortion of the good, the sin of the world is not a laughing matter. But one might almost say that love is impossible. I can hear the chorus of 'how can you trust a magazine like BAR?' Well I am as skeptical as anyone about truth claims.But I enjoy the occasional BAR article. Its 200th issue was worth it just for the personal essays by Herschel Shanks.

So his concluding article in this issue of BAR is that this find by Morton Smith is not a hoax. I am laughing because the scholars and lawyers are so intent on proving something and the magazine editor gets the last word. If it is a hoax, it is brilliant and the deception is the work of an acting genius who would take such a play to his death.

If my perception of the facts on the ground is distorted, how can I come to a sound conclusion? (You may vary the pronouns in the prior sentence to suit your own situation.)

It doesn't matter to me whether it is a hoax or not. There is enough evidence for this true tradition in the canon whether your canon ends with Chronicles or with the Apocalypse. (The rest is unnecessary but may not be misleading.) If I read that God is love do I believe it? Or do I hedge it about with moral advice? "Yes, love - of course, obvious, but God is light too - and you aren't. So watch out!"

Why would I believe words when I can, like the Samaritan woman, find out for myself. "If you try and tell people what you think you know from you-know-whom, not only will they not believe you but they will tear you limb from limb and you-know-who will cut you off." "Nonsense! - There is another whose body was broken for me. You-know-who can't cut me off - we have a deal sealed with blood, his blood. I wouldn't have a clue if it weren't for this. If I had not managed to enter into this deal, I would be totally self-serving. Maybe I would have been smart enough to be a clever swindler and get rich quick or something."

If I am to prove God's good will, it is a consequence of having met my beloved at a well. It is not something anyone else can do for me. Running away naked in the garden is not an option. All things are open and naked before the one with whom I have to deal. Having died with Jesus, if God then raises me from the dust and makes me young again - is that not just what is recorded in Psalm 103? And what about in 1 Samuel 2 - Hannah's song? If God then gives me a linen garment for a covering, this does not relieve me of responsibility but it changes the way I read and look at everything - even the Scripture itself, (even tradition, even reason!).

Just about everywhere I look in Scripture, if I slow down long enough to listen, and I demolish, by the Anointing of that same Jesus, those patterns of thought in me that seek power, then it stops being a 'Bible' to be thumped or desperately studied and becomes the word of one who loves, and who then becomes one with the one who is loved. This is a growth pattern day by  day as I learn to pay attention to all the stimuli around me. There is no lack of confidence in the gift or the giver. It is hearing and doing that lead to understanding.

The Gospel (secret or otherwise) reveals that no area of life must be thought of as out of bounds for God. Such thought is just another human ordinance. But I may obscure the cost or fail to approach and enter - let it not be so. Salted sacrifice that I am, you-know-who will deliver me.