Sunday, September 8, 2013

More from Robert Farrar Capon

Thanks to Mockingbird for the link to this presentation.  Another of Capon's ideas that has been particularly "sticky" in my brain is the idea that God is and has been always and everywhere present - and more: that God is always and has ever been saving all of mankind, at all moments that have ever been, and in every place that has ever existed. 

It's quite a brilliant piece of theological rhetoric, and a tremendously exciting idea - and from what I can tell that's exactly what the story says, anyway.  In any case:  this way of thinking can entirely change how you see the world.  He starts out with that idea here:

From the YouTube page:
The Shelter Island Retreat which took place on April 3, 2004 at St Mary's Episcopal Church on Shelter Island, Robert's home parish. This is the first of three teachings on "Genesis: The Movie."

Here's another fantastic RFC quote on the "catholicity of the kingdom," from Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus:
Even if we do no more than confine ourselves to chapter 13 of Matthew, its string of shortish parables of the kingdom develops mightily the mysterious themes sketched in the Sower.  If we toss in the parables of grace as well, we find the mystery of the kingdom more and more closely identified with Jesus himself (the parable of the Watchful Servants in Luke 12:35-48).  If we include the parables of judgement, we find him saying that the final constitution of the kingdom rests entirely on relationship with him - and on that relationship as operative in the mystery of his catholic presence in all human beings (the parable of the Great Judgement, Matt. 25:31-46).  And finally, if we take in the rest of his words and deeds, we find him claiming at the Last Supper that the cup is the New Covenant in his blood (Luke 22:20).  In short, we find him asserting that in himself - in his death, resurrection, and ascension - whatever is necessary for the fullness of the kingdom has been accomplished purely and simply by what he has done.

The idea of the catholicity of the kingdom - the insistence that it is at work everywhere, always, and for all, rather than in some places, at some times, and for some people - is an integral part of Jesus' teachings from start to finish....Not only does he resort, as in the parable of the Leaven (Matt. 13_33), to the occasional illustration that quite literally uses the word "whole" (the holon in Catholic); far more often, he sets up his parables in such a way that by their very terms they cover nothing less than the whole world....

Consider some instances.  In the Sower, the four kinds of ground listed clearly meant to cover all sorts and conditions of human beings; there no cracks between them into which odd cases might fall, and there is no ground beyond them to which his words do not apply.  In the parable of the Weeds, he simply says that "the field is the world" (Matt 13:38).  In the Net (Matt 13:47), he says the kingdom catches all kinds.  And in his later parables, he develops this technique of including everybody into something close to an art form.  Let me give you a handful of random examples.  In the parable of the Forgiving Father (Luke 15:11-32), the whole human race's relationship to grace is neatly divided between the prodigal and the elder brother.  Likewise, in the story of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18_9-14) there is no one in the world who can't be comprehended under one or the other character.  And in the parable of the Feast for the King's Son's Wedding (Matt.22:1-14), there is not a single kind of response to grace that is left out:  the characters in the parable - whether they are graciously invited or compelled to attend, whether they accept or reject the King's party - are plainly intended as stand-ins for the great, gray-green greasy catholic mass of humanity with which God insists on doing business.

In the case of the parable of the Sower, however, there is still another, if more subtle, indication of the note of catholicity.  Jesus' parables, even when there were not spoken to anyone outside the small group of the disciples, were set forth, as I have said, in a context of highly parochial ideas about God's relationship with the world.  If you have any feeling for the way narrow minds work, you will realize that the Sower, as told, would immediately strike such minds as reeking of the catholicity they had spent their entire religious lives deploring....

At the end of his interpretation of the Sower, Jesus adds a few remarks (Mark 4:21-25 and parallels). All of them, it strikes me, are rather edgy.  He does not sound like a cool rabbi who has delivered an unexceptionably pious lesson; instead he sounds like someone who has just said something he knows is offensive but who is bound and determined to make it stick.

The first remark - "Does anyone ever bring in a lamp and put it under the bed?" - seems to me roughly equivalent to "What am I supposed to do, hide the truth just because people don't like it?"  His second - "There is nothing hid, except to be made manifest" - has to have been offensive to those who believed that God has already disclosed, to them, everything really mattered.  His third, - "He who has ears to hear, let him hear" - sounds like nothing so much as "I dare you think about all these implications that are terrifying you."  His fourth - "Watch how you hear; the measure out judgment will be the way it's measured out to you, and even more severely" - practically makes my case all by itself.  And his final remark, in which he repeats his preface to the interpretation of the Sower - "To him who has, more will be given; and from him who not, even what he has will be taken away" - is entirely too vague about the identity of the several "whos" to be of much comfort to anybody.

But the real clincher of the case the catholicity of the Sower is the collection of parables following in Matthew 13:24-52 (and parallels) that so clearly develops the catholicity of the kingdom.  The synoptic writers plainly feel that all this material is of a piece: even if one or the other of the notes I have listed is merely adumbrated in the parable of the Sower, each of them, as the succeeding parables unfold, is given its turn at a full-dress exposition.

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