Exploring the Bible story as a chiasm

I have not often made this so explicit, but I tend to view the Bible story as a five act drama with a chiastic structure.
I would illustrate it most simply as follows:
A: Creation 
     B: Covenant 
          C: Christ 
     B’: Church 
A’: Coming Soon 
In each act there are high points and low points.
The Creation story tells of humanity and the fall. It begins with God calling humanity to act as priests within creation at large. But then there’s the fall, the banishment from Eden, and an ongoing slide into more and more corruption that climaxes first in a devastating flood, then later with God scattering the nations and leaving them to their own devices.
The Covenant story tells of Israel and the exile. It begins with God forming of a new people, who later come to be known as Israel, to act as priests within humanity at large. But even they fall into corruption, which eventually leads to exile. And even when the people return from exile, to Judea and Jerusalem, God’s glory does not return to the Temple.
The Christ story tells of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It begins with God sending Jesus to heal the sick, eat with the alienated, and announce the kingdom of God. But then opposition grows, and he is beaten and crucified. But in a stunning twist God raises him from the dead. It is in this twist that the story of Jesus, Israel, and Humanity are reframed.
The Church story tells of the church and its mission. It begins with God calling the church into a new covenant in and through Christ and sending it out to bear witness of the resurrection in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. And this is the part of the story that we find ourselves in.
The Coming Soon story tells of Christ’s return and the final judgement. It offers glimpses of the things to come and things already upon us. Of both the renewal of creation and the final defeat of Satan, sin, and death. It leaves us with a challenge and a hope. The challenge of answering God’s call. And a hope grounded in Christ crucified, an event already accomplished.
Looking at the story this way helps me to understand why the apostles framed the story the way they did when they shared it with different groups. Amongst other Israelites, Peter shared the good news in terms of the covenant (B) and the renewal of the covenant (B’) through Christ. Amongst other nations, Paul shared the good news in terms of the creation (A) and the renewal of the creation (A’) through Christ. In every case, however, it should be observed that Christ (C) was shared as the climax and turning point. The good news is ultimately about Christ, whatever perspective we’re approaching it from.

The alabaster jar of our lives

In the Gospel of Luke the following story is told,

“A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.”

When the pharisee criticises both her and Jesus for this disgraceful display Jesus corrected him,

“Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”

 So what significance does this story have for us? Just this. God calls us to break open the alabaster jar of our lives.

The Satanic Verses

It seems to me that much of what the church has said about the fall of Satan over the years is based on figurative (specifically: anagogic) interpretation of Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 24 rather than literal interpretation.

Indeed, if we were to restrict ourselves to literal interpretation there would not be much we could say about Satan’s fall at all. As, at face value, these verses are not about Satan, but rather, the Kings of Tyre and Babylon.

How ironic then, that it’s self identified “literalists” who are most committed to the figurative sense of Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 24, and visa versa.

Stories that shock

I think many people come to the bible with many false expectations. One of the expectations that I frequently hear people express is that the heroes of the bible should be great moral examples. Then they’re shocked and angered when they find out they’re not. But that’s to confuse the function of narrative: it’s about description, not proscription. I actually think one of the strengths of the bible is that it’s brutally honest about how flawed people can be. I think what we’re supposed to see is that God can achieve amazing things even with complete assholes so there’s hope for all of us.

The story of Amma Syncletica

Amma-SyncletiaThis story comes from the Greek Orthodox Christian Society:

Amma (Mother) Syncletica is probably the most well-know Desert Mother of all. Her sayings and spiritual counsels have made it into many books, especially the Sayings of the Desert Fathers which is a compilation of spiritual quotes primarily by men. Amma Syncletica showed the world that under Christ, there is no male nor female, proving to be even more glorious than many spiritual fathers, equal in honour to the great Desert Fathers such as Anthony the Great and Macarius of Egypt. Saint Syncletica was born in Alexandria to wealthy and devout Greek Macedonian parents during the 4th century AD. As a child, she distinguished herself from others not only by her physical beauty and extreme intelligence, but also by her abundance of virtues. Many sought Syncletica’s hand in marriage, however she refused them all, wishing to be spiritually betrothed to her Heavenly Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. While still young, she subjected her body to intense fasting and vigil, imploring God every night in tears. When her parents reposed, Syncletica distributed all her wealth and possessions to the poor and fled far from the city. She was tonsured a nun and consecrated her virginity to God. Although many holy women had devoted their lives to God through asceticism before, Amma Syncletica is considered the foundress of desert monastic communities for women, just as Saint Anthony the Great is for men. Throughout her ascetic struggle, Amma Syncletica did her best to hide her high spiritual state from others, however the Lord revealed her sanctity to those around her. She gathered a small community of nuns around her and exhorted them to fulfil Christ’s divine Law through perfect love of God and neighbour. She explained that this was done through charity, of which “we shall be blessed… and will win heaven”. Towards the end of her live, Amma Syncletica was assailed with a vicious cancer which physically ate away at her internal organs and then eventually her external flesh. The pain was so strong and the stench so intense that her nuns had to fill the room with perfume before entering. The Holy Mother never uttered a single word of complaint, mimicking Job of the Old Testament. Having been informed of her earthly repose, she fell asleep in the Lord after a three-month martyrdom receiving the crown of her contests.

Jesus appoints the twelve

Twelve-Apostles
The Twelve Apostles – Ethiopian icon

This is the story of Jesus appointing the twelve as told in the Gospel of Mark:

Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

The story of John the Dwarf

John the dwarfJohn the Dwarf was a native of Egypt who lived around 339 AD – 405 AD.

At the young age of eighteen he was inspired to retire to the desert of Skeet where he became a disciple of an old hermit, Aba Pemouah.

John the Dwarf is best known for his obedience. The most famous story about his obedience is that one day Aba Pemouah gave Abba John a piece of dry wood and ordered him to plant and water it. John obeyed and went on watering it twice a day even though the water was about twelve miles from where they lived. After three years, the piece of wood sprouted and grew into a fruitful tree. Aba Pemouah took some of this tree’s fruits and went around to all the elder monks, saying “take, eat from the fruit of obedience”.

John believed that the perfection of a monk consists in his keeping to his cell, watching constantly over himself and having God continually present to his mind.

When the Berbers invaded Scetes around 395 AD, John fled the Nitrian Desert and went to live on Mount Colzim, near the present city of Suez, where he lived out his final years.