On Saturday night, I suggested that Jesus was sounding a bit cynical last week, you know, about the whole hypocrisy thing over the whole handwashing thing, and the whole dirty defiled human heart thing …
This week, he could be read as coming off even more cynical, at least at the beginning – calling the woman a dog? Not exactly happy talk.
Is it wrong, dangerous, blasphemous to consider Jesus, God Incarnate, to be occasionally cynical? Sometimes, we seem to want to airbrush Jesus into our image of perfection, instead of allowing him to be a perfectly human, perfectly divine embodiment of all that it means to be those things. Sometimes, we seem to think his image needs protecting from such accusations (cynical? Jesus? Meek and mild, surely! Angry? No! Ever patient, ever giving, that’s what it means to be infinitely, perfectly loving, right? He was just testing …)
But if we read the Bible, we find that God, even without the Incarnation complication, has quite a history, quite a tradition of weariness and cynicism which is challenged by the naive trust and hope of a mere mortal, a little puppy dog of an upstart:
Consider Abraham, pleading for Sodom and Gomorrah, so that God agrees to spare them if but ten innocent souls can be found (Genesis 18). (Ten were not found, but that’s another [part of the] story);
or Moses, who pleads for his people in Genesis 32, so that “the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened;”
or consider the way that God regretted creation and flooded the earth, then regretted the flood and promised never to do it again;
the biblical tradition of God getting weary and cynical and needing to be provoked back into hope and love is not restricted to God’s human side.
I read this quotation from the work of Jacques Ellul on a colleague’s blog recently:
It is God who needs to change. It is God who must return to enlighten his Church and to make our hearts shout for joy . . . It is God who has to change, and hope is the resolute will to make God change . . . It is to bring about once again the implementation of that wonderful statement of the Old Testament, “and God repented”.
and I remembered it as I considered the question of Jesus’ cynicism, and whether it is fair, safe or wise to level such an accusation of attitude at our Lord and Saviour.
If Jesus is human and divine, though, it surely makes perfect sense for his perfect self to experience not only world-weariness, but that Godly world-weariness which longs to hear, needs to hear the hope of an innocent prayer to provoke it back to life, back to living love …