The Great Trajectory
The Daily Lectionary texts put together bizarre readings. We continue to follow the
narrative of Samson with its “Spirit of the Lord” energized orgy of violence, revenge, ethnic animosity and horror, viz.:
6Then the Philistines asked, “Who has done this?” And they said, “Samson, the son-in-law of the Timnite, because he has taken Samson’s wife and given her to his companion.” So the Philistines came up, and burned her and her father. 7Samson said to them, “If this is what you do, I swear I will not stop until I have taken revenge on you.”8He struck them down hip and thigh with great slaughter;
the spirit of the LORD rushed on him, and the ropes that were on his arms became like flax that has caught fire, and his bonds melted off his hands.15Then he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, reached down and took it, and with it he killed a thousand men.16And Samson said, “With the jawbone of a donkey, heaps upon heaps, with the jawbone of a donkey I have slain a thousand men.”
And on the other hand (or, in the other universe) we get the New Testament reading from John 4 of Jesus healing the son of the royal official in Capernaum.
49The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.”50Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. 51As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive.
Yesterday I raised the question about our sacred, inspired texts that we feel free to move away from in both theology (did the Spirit of the Lord really help Samson do those things?) and ethics (could anything ever justify Samson’s acts?). How do we do that: move from the one to the other? Are we merely choosing the bits we like and tossing out the other bits? Certainly we must have better criteria, or else who is to argue with someone who prefers different bits to keep? What do you say to someone who prefers the blood and horror to the healing?
The answer for me is the concept of the trajectory. Every time you throw a ball you
launch it off on a trajectory. If you were good at math, you could actually plot the line it would follow if you knew the basic data about velocity and launch angle I suppose.
There is a clearly discernible trajectory in our sacred scriptures that is launched in one place and travels to a different place. I believe Jesus discerned that trajectory and pointed forward further along the line of flight. Yes, we begin with understandings that now we are repulsed by (Samson is only one of many, we admit). But we don’t stop there.
This trajectory is discernible even within the OT itself (see the prophets – a fleeting example is Micah 6:8 – with biblical apologies to Glenn B for using the “J” word).
By the time we get to Jesus, instead of ethnic animosity and violence we get a story of the child of the oppressive political structure in Galilee who was restored to life.
How did we get from A to B? One answer is that there was extended reflection by serious people of faith about the implications of Creation Theology. God made the world and everything in it (how? never mind – that’s not the issue), including all people, male and female, of every race and nation, and blessed them (Genesis 1-2). If you think about what this implies, you get a world that has no place for Samson’s actions nor his agenda.
It is the Psalms themselves, like today’s Lectionary reading from Psalm 148 that point the way. First God is praised as creator:
3 Praise him, sun and moon;praise him, all you shining stars! 4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
5 Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created. 6 He established them forever and ever;
Then you see the poet reflecting about how this concept of Creation ends up having social consequences: it levels all people – kings and peasants.
11 Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! 12 Young men and women alike, old and young together!
This kind of move from Creation to consequences is going on all the time; once you see it, it keeps popping up all over the place. This is part of the way along the trajectory that Jesus followed and extended – and which we are on as well as we keep working out the implications of the vision of a world made good by God in which all people are included.