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the cross Jesus had in mind


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In today's reading we see the repetition of something introduced in an earlier speech of Jesus in an earlier chapter of Matthew. That was this:


38 καὶ ὃς οὐ λαμβάνει τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀκολουθεῖ ὀπίσω μου, οὐκ ἔστιν μου ἄξιος. 39 ὁ εὑρὼν τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἀπολέσει αὐτήν, καὶ ὁ ἀπολέσας τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ εὑρήσει αὐτήν.


The lead up to that curious text makes Abram (who started us reading & posting here regularly) wonder what Jesus had in mind:  


"If Jesus did have the Malachi text in mind to allude to here (of course he knew it), he sure does seem to favor the Hebrew text over its Greek translation.

This itself is not shocking, as Jesus would have known the Hebrew Scriptures (in Hebrew) well, have heard them read at synagogue, etc."


I'm not digressing much. Just what Jesus had in mind becomes clearer after he has taken up his cross. Were his listeners thinking that he was asking them to take a Roman cross and to follow behind him, showing worthiness of him? Were they sure he meant that finding one's own soul means having it destroyed? Could they follow exactly what he meant when he said to them that in the destruction of the soul because of him meant finding that soul after all?

In today's reading he's narrowed his audience. It's the disciples. It's the three. It gets an angry rise out of Peter, what Jesus says. The confrontation has Jesus retorting by calling this top disciple Satan and an offense to him. All Jesus had said was that he didn't have a choice. He had to go up there, to Jerusalem. He had to be killed by the gang of three (the elders, the chiefs of the priests, and the scripture scribes). He would after three days come to. 

But he hadn't mentioned the Roman cross. Maybe Peter remembered it. Maybe Peter had wondered, like Abram has with us, whether Jesus had Malachi's text in mind to allude to.

At any rate, Matthew tells us that Jesus tells these three that much suffering's ahead, that certain death, that it's their own authorities in Jerusalem, those with Seniority, those Top Chiefs of Priests, and those Textual Critics doing the Midrash, who are going to cause him pain and kill him dead:


καὶ πολλὰ παθεῖν ἀπὸ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων καὶ ἀρχιερέων καὶ γραμματέων καὶ ἀποκτανθῆναι


When Matthew has Jesus bring up the cross (now this second time, and readers must pay attention), then it's a human call to human participation in the Rome public shaming death.


Think God thoughts you human named Peter-Satan:

οὐ φρονεῖς τὰ τοῦ θεοῦ ἀλλὰ τὰ τῶν ἀνθρώπων.


Now he talks to all three humans learning from him, the son of the human. And he teaches them that they're to follow him in hoisting their own individual Roman crossbeam. And he repeats that stuff about demolition of the soul. His mama is a human. He mentions his papa and his papa's interpreters and his own empire (not the Roman Empire):


24 Τότε ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ· Εἴ τις θέλει ὀπίσω μου ἐλθεῖν, ἀπαρνησάσθω ἑαυτὸν καὶ ἀράτω τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀκολουθείτω μοι. 25 ὃς γὰρ ἐὰν θέλῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ σῶσαι ἀπολέσει αὐτήν· ὃς δ’ ἂν ἀπολέσῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ εὑρήσει αὐτήν. 26 τί γὰρ ὠφεληθήσεται ἄνθρωπος ἐὰν τὸν κόσμον ὅλον κερδήσῃ τὴν δὲ ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ζημιωθῇ; ἢ τί δώσει ἄνθρωπος ἀντάλλαγμα τῆς ψυχῆς αὐτοῦ;27 μέλλει γὰρ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἔρχεσθαι ἐν τῇ δόξῃ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ μετὰ τῶν ἀγγέλων αὐτοῦ, καὶ τότε ἀποδώσει ἑκάστῳ κατὰ τὴν πρᾶξιν αὐτοῦ. 28 ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι εἰσίν τινες τῶν ὧδε ἑστώτων οἵτινες οὐ μὴ γεύσωνται θανάτου ἕως ἂν ἴδωσιν τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐρχόμενον ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ αὐτοῦ.

This bit of Greek doesn't fit so well, in my humble opinion, with Penal Substitutionary Atonement theory. At least it hardly seems to support that theology of Jesus doing all the work of soul saving. What Matthew's Jesus is compelling these three (and earlier the whole crowd) to do is to join him in marching with an individual Crossbeam, to help out the Roman Executioners intent on keeping the Empire from falling apart. And let their own Religious Experts and Authorities do the much-pain thing and the definite killing thing too. There's odd complicitness in what Jesus is saying. He comes across worse than a Martin Luther King, Jr. and more violent than a Gandhi. 

And then, after nearly a week of pondering all that. There is Moses, alive from the dead. And Elijah, who never died. And Jesus, engaged with these two in conversation.  There's a proposal. A terrifying audible voice. A swearing to secrecy. A riddle about John the Baptist that Matthew says that the three disciples understand.


But what seems central here is that command about the Roman Crossbeam of Death and carrying it.


Since it's Black History Month in the United States, it may be good to recall a translation of Matthew's Greek words in the mouth of Jesus here. A translation by a Greek scholar, a Ph.D. in the New Testament language, who started a biracial farm in Georgia. It was during a time when the memories of unprosecuted lynchings were fresh and the threat of lynchings was still real. Dr. Clarence Jordan has Matthew's Greek speaking Jesus saying this in our English:

"If a man wants to walk my way, he must abandon self, accept his lynching, and share my life."


The particularly of that experience for a black person was not unlike the particularly of the experience of Roman crucifixion for a Jewish male. Peter, James (aka Jacob), and John were penis circumcised men. And they had witnessed their own kind being killed on Crossbeams before. Usually they were stripped naked, which was shameful enough. But then they were put in display while they suffocated and writhed in pain.


What Jesus is proposing, this second time in Matthew's Greek gospel, is just horrific for humans. It's particularly awful for Jewish humans who are male like he is and are subjects of a dictatorship with all the religious powerhouses in full support. 

Edited by jkgayle
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