Reflections and Snippets

Christ the Tiger

Excerpt from Thomas Howard's book of the same title

"... [Jesus Christ as Immanuel (God with us)] was a figure who, appearing so inauspiciously among us, broke up our secularist and our religious categories, and beckoned us and judged us and damned us and saved us, and exhibited to us a kind of life that participates in the indestructible...

"[But] it was a figure that we could neither own nor manage. We claimed it as our special possession, and exacted tribute and built shrines and established forms in which to incarcerate it, only to discover that it had fled. It would not be enshrined. It was the figure of a man, and a man must live and walk with other men or die, and this man was alive. He scorned our scruple to shelter him and to prop up his doctrine. What he spoke, he spoke loudly and freely, and his words were their own defense. When we tried to help things by urging sweetness and light or by interdicting what looked threatening, or by tithing mint, anise, and cumin, or by devising rituals and nonrituals, we found him towering above us, scorching our efforts into clinkers, and recalling us to wildness and risk and humility and love. Just at the moment when we thought we had guaranteed our own standing in his good favor by organizing an airtight doctrine or a flawless liturgy or an unassailable morality, he escaped us, and returned with his hammer to demolish things. Try as we might, we could not own him. We could not protect him. We could not incarcerate him. For he always emerged as our judge, exposing our cynicism and fright by the candor and boldness of his love. He tore our secularist schemes to ribbons by announcing doom and our religious schemes to tatters by announcing love.

"He appeared as a man and demonstrated a kind of life wholly foreign to all of our inclinations... We experienced this announcement as both death-dealing and life-giving. It was death-dealing because we knew our own incorrigible cupidity--the energy that makes us shriek for the shovel in the sandbox, cut into the ticket line, rush for the subway seat, display our prowess, parade our clothes, and pursue delights regardless of prior considerations...

"But I show you a different way. It is an alien and a frightening one. It is called Love. It asks that you forswear your busy effort to collect the bits of bliss and novelty that lie about. It asks that you disavow your attempt to enlarge your own identity by diminishing that of others. It asks that you cease your effort to safeguard your own claim to well-being by assuming the inferiority of others' claims. It asks, actually, that you die...

"And we experienced his announcement as death dealing again, because it knocked over all the little picket and wickets that we had tapped carefully into place to guarantee the safety of our religion. He saw our masses and rosaries and prayer meetings and study groups and devotions, and he said yes, yes, yes, you are quite right to think that goodness demands rigor and vigilance and observance, but your new moons and sabbaths and bullocks and altars and vestments and Gospel teams and taboos and Bible studies are trumpery, and they nauseate me because you have elevated them, and I alone am the Host. Your incense is fetid, and your annotated Bibles are rubbish paper. Your meetings are a bore and your myopic exegesis is suffocating. Return, return, and think again what I have asked of you: to follow justice, and love mercy, and do the job of your work, and love one another, and give me the worship of your heart--your heart--and be merry and thankful and lowly and not pompous and gaunt and sere.

"But we experience the announcement as life-giving because it was an announcement that... Joy and not Havoc is the last word. It announced to us what we could not hope. It saw limitation and contingency and disparity and irrevocability and mutability and decay and death, and it said yes, yes, yes, you are quite right: terror and horror and despair are the only eventually realistic responses... if this is all there is to it. But it is not."

Acts 17:11 Bible Studies Reflections and Snippets
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