Friday, September 16, 2011

Hoeing the rows in the New Jerusalem

"Christ and St. Mary Magdalene at the Tomb"
by Rembrant
This past spring I was quite taken by the book of Jeremiah, particularly the letter in ch. 29, in which the prophet writes to the exiles in Babylon, sending this word from the Lord: "Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce... Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper."

This chapter is a significant key for John Howard Yoder's Old Testament hermeneutic. In this passage and the context in which it is set, he sees in exilic Israel the seeds of the church to come, hundreds of years before the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The paper which I wrote, linked above, was primarily an exegesis of the Jeremiah text. Obviously, my Christian faith assumptions were at work, but I didn't make an explicit theological connection to the New Testament, or to Jesus. Well, theologian, Chelle Stearns, seems to have made the connection for me in her wonderful essay at The Other Journal, "Hobbits, Heroes, and Football," wherein she proposes a new archetype for understanding Jesus: the  gardener-hero.

Stearns does this by using the work of Loren Wilkinson who holds up the character of Samwise Gamgee in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings as the most profoundly Christ-like character in the series, who subverts the traits normally associated with more glorious, conquering heroes. Noting his humble, self-giving, surrendering of power and long-suffering journeying with Frodo to the fires of Mordor and home again, Stearns notes that it is Sam who stays in the war-ravaged Shire in order to restore the land after Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf, and the elves sail from Middle Earth to the Gray Havens. Sam, the simple gardener, is left to help restore life in simple, earthy ways.

Stearns also brought to my attention for the first time the fascinating Rembrant, pictured above. This painting captures the moment in John 20:11-18 where Mary Magdalene, weeping at the empty tomb, speaks to Jesus, mistaking him at first for the gardener. So we see Jesus in disguise, shovel in hand and gardener's hat atop his head. Stearns says:
The Son of Man is an intriguing biblical example of Jesus as the gardener of all creation. The primary task of the Son of Man is to discern (or judge), to uproot, and to set things in order, much like a gardener must know his garden well enough so that he can discern the weeds from the other plants.
While she doesn't reference Jeremiah explicitly anywhere in the article, I can't help but recall from my studies the theme of uprooting and subsequent planting found throughout the entire book, which inspired my paper above. So Jesus as gardener-hero is certainly a type which resonates and provides a Christological thematic connection. I feel like I could write the paper all over again in light of this essay of Stearn's!

She also starts the essay with a cultural-liturgical comparison of a football game to a Christian worship service, something I've done in another paper, so of course that also endeared me to her piece. It seems like her work there at the beginning, though, could have been cut off and expanded for another piece rather than serving as the preface for the excellent work on Tolkien/Rembrandt which follows. But otherwise, it's a fine and imaginative piece!

No comments:

Post a Comment