Saturday, November 19, 2011

Planting Sycamore Trees

Photo courtesy of Tomorrow Never Knows
There's more than one revolution going on.  Just as they did with the more high-profile Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements, I sometimes feel that the Twitterverse and the Blogosphere help us keep the disparate parts of the Christian movement aware of each other too.

However that may be, the Society of Biblical Literature conference, happening in San Francisco right now, is being blogged and tweeted continuously. For a lot of people that could elicit a yawn but if you are seriously interested in what the Bible is and says, the SBL is where you find the movers and shakers. Were he suddenly catapulted into our era, St. Paul would probably be there making a presentation on his latest Epistle -- and blowing everybody else away, no doubt, with is incandescent mind. Through the Internet those of us unable to attend are still able to pick up nuggets of wisdom (and sometimes the opposite) that drop from the attendee's scholarly lips...

Via the She Worships blog Sharon Hodde Miller conveyed a worthy insight from two of the leading scholars there, Craig Bartholomew and Tom Wright. (Actually I think there were two insights, the first being that this insight came as the result of Dr. Bartholomew's "quiet time"; yes, important theologians at high-powered conferences do the same stuff we do in order to hear God's voice.) It had to do with the familiar story of Zacchaeus the short tax collector:

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through town. A man there named Zacchaeus, a ruler among tax collectors, was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but, being a short man, he couldn’t because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed up a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When Jesus came to that spot, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down at once. I must stay in your home today.” So Zacchaeus came down at once, happy to welcome Jesus, (Gospel of Luke chapter 19, verses 1 - 6, Common English Bible).

“Too often," Dr. Bartholomew observed,  "I am afraid we Biblical scholars are the crowd.”

I believe he's right. And it's not so much that we are intellectually "short" as it is that scholars of every persuasion, including some who are quite open about wanting a completely different Jesus than the one historic Christianity has presented since its earliest days, block our view by forming a confusing, cacophonous mob.

Zacchaeus of course, who just wanted to "see who Jesus was," got around this by climbing a sycamore tree to get a clear view. Which leads to Dr. Wright's additional point: “It is our task to plant more sycamore trees.”

If all scholars do is publish obtuse papers and books but never help Jesus's regular followers "see" him, they're really falling down on the job. But as Miller points out in her blog this is not just a scholar's job. Every member of the Christian movement has the responsibility to plant more sycamore trees so that people can look over (but not overlook) the crowd to see where Jesus of Nazareth is. And not the least of which in the Twitterverse and the Blogosphere.

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