The Chair and the Desk, 10/26/15

From the chair:

29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. 

-Luke 11:29-32

This is one of those stories that reminds me that Jesus and the Bible are not always easy to understand. For one thing, Jesus talks about the Sign of Jonah in Matthew 12:38-42, and as Matthew recounts the story, his focus is totally different than in Luke’s account. As Jesus emphasizes in Matthew, “just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Yet, here in Luke, there’s no mention of “three days.” Did Luke expect his readers to also read Matthew and “get” the “Sign of Jonah” based on that? That doesn’t make sense to me.

What does make sense to me–and what does seem clear in both accounts–is that Jesus is the Sign of Jonah. He is like Jonah and more than Jonah. The longer I’ve reflected on this today, the less Matthew and Luke seem in conflict here. In Matthew, Jesus talks about his death and resurrection as part of being the Sign of Jonah. In Luke, Jesus talks about his life and preaching as part of being the Sign of Jonah. The life, preaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus are the life, preaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus; he himself is what holds all these together. He is the Sign of Jonah, because he has come into the world with a powerful message in the form of a single human voice; he has come with victory that looks like death; he has come with life that one must believe without seeing. Jesus didn’t come in the way we were looking for him, but he has come, someone greater has come, and if we believe he is genuine, we either repent or be condemned.

From the desk:

“instead of our making use of Scripture at every stage, it is Scripture itself which uses us—the usus scripture in which scripture is not object but subject, and the hearer and reader is not subject but object.”

-Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I/2, 738.

In this quote, Barth seems to be getting at something I’ve heard others communicate in an English turn of phrase: “Rather than trying to master the Bible, let the Bible master you.” In seminary, it’s often tempting to try to “use” God’s Word–to sound smart, to finish a paper, to justify ourselves, to get a job. I think Barth’s right when he argues that the real question is not how we use God’s Word, but how God’s Word is using us.

“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

Leave a Reply