Saturday, December 01, 2007

Bursting Wineskins

A day or two ago I was pleased to be afforded the chance to watch a talented actor (Rob Gray - no relation) and a gifted author/director (Deb Briggs) work on a scene from "The Missing Piece/Peace." (For details on this play please click on the link at right.) It is interesting for me to watch as the two individuals work in concert to explore the reality of the character. This sounds a little odd when talking about a totally fictitious person, but if a character is to be believed by the audience then there must, in fact, be an underlying reality to everything the character says and does.

It is helpful to me to watch this process happen in others because as a story teller I find myself often alone in this process, having to play, in my mind at least, both actor and director. What makes this process even more interesting, is that as a storyteller I am in fact neither actor nor director, rather a third entity altogether that is unique unto itself. Part one, part the other, but at the same time neither. It is the paradox of the storytellers art.

What has this to do with the Kingdom Gospel? Let's find out.

When Jesus departed from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out and saying, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” And when He had come into the house, the blind men came to Him. And Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.” Then He touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith let it be to you.” And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, saying, “See that no one knows it. ” But when they had departed, they spread the news about Him in all that country. As they went out, behold, they brought to Him a man, mute and demon-possessed. And when the demon was cast out, the mute spoke. And the multitudes marveled, saying, “It was never seen like this in Israel!” But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the ruler of the demons.” (Matt. 9:27-34 NKJV)

Again we see people who come to Jesus having come to the conclusion, by whatever means, that He is the solution to their problem. Their opinion of him is reflected in the titles they use to address him.

"Son of David" is in fact a subversive statement to be sure. In the first century Hebrew mindset it can mean one of two things - rightful heir to the throne of Israel, or promised Messiah come to deliver Israel from their oppressors. Some would argue that they are one and the same, others believe there may, in fact, be two saviours of Israel; regardless, in either case to ascribe this title to Jesus is to challenge the authority of Herod, and of Rome.

"Lord" is less subversive, but no less telling. Again Jesus' authority is recognized; recognized in a fashion that acknowledges his power of things ordinary men cannot influence. The blind men have followed Him for an unspecified time, all the way to His home in Capernaum. There, not content to wait outside, they come in where Jesus, perhaps seeking to confirm their usage of the title, asks them plainly, "Do you believe I can do this?" And once again it is their faith that makes them well.

Here too we see the reactions of the two great witness to these events. The crowds respond with hyperbole, "Never has anything like this ever happened in Israel!" Well, the fact is, lots of things like this have happened in Israel before, they have simply never witnessed it for themselves. What was for most of them a legend, perhaps even a fable, has now become reality before their very eyes. It is somewhat akin to waking up on Christmas morning to discover the real Santa Claus asleep in your LazyBoy®. The Pharisees, predictably, go on the defensive, casting doubt on the miracles by suggesting they are accomplished not by the spirit of the living God, but by the machinations of His long time enemy. For them the carpenter/rabbi who at first was a mere curiosity has now become a viable threat to their position.

Which brings us back to the subject of my opening - character development. In these last two chapters we have seen these two characters steadily gaining depth. The crowd/multitudes are assuming their role as the friends/supporters of Jesus; the townspeople who were at first suspicious of the new stranger who has come to town are quickly warming up to him. The scribes/priests/Pharisees have taken the first steps to being identified as the black-hatted villains. This is about as far as their development is likely to go. As I mentioned a year ago when we started this journey (I warned you it would be a long process) I mentioned that the crowds and the religious leaders are flat characters. They are there to fulfill their roles, but never become truly rounded.

I mentioned another group in that article as well - stock characters; and in these last two chapters we have seen a number of them. And while these characters have left the story almost as quickly as they came, they have performed a vital function to the narrative. They have demonstrated quite clearly the truth of Jesus' words to the disciples of John the Baptist. "Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst..."

The touching of the leper, the faith of the centurion, the calming of the sea, the freeing of the demoniacs, the forgiving of the paralytic, the calling of the tax gatherer, the raising of the dead girl, the touch of a menstruating woman, the blind men following what they cannot see but by faith, the mute given back his voice - bursting wineskins - all of them!

In each case Jesus tears down another barrier to the Kingdom of God, corrects a misguided view of the Law of Moses, shifts another paradigm until it rightly lines up with the will of the Father. By reaching out to these outcasts of Hebrew society He makes it plain for all to see that there is no place in the kingdom of heaven for the alienation of strangers, the devaluing of women, or the dehumanization of the "unclean." The wineskins have indeed burst and the new wine of the kingdom flows freely for anyone who has the stomach for it.

But there is still one character we have not mentioned.

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” (Matt. 9:35-37)

Up until now Jesus' disciples have been many and diverse. Some have fallen, others are still unsure. But the semi-rounded compound character that is the twelve has not yet come into existence. This character we will meet next time. Until then...


Photo credit: Large wineskins and a water barrel, palestine early 1900s - courtesy dghall

1 comment:

Peter Davidson said...

Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. (2 Peter 3:18)

Come and see!

God bless.