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Living in the End Times [Paperback]

James Alison
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

24 April 1997
This introduction to Christian theology focuses on the central mysteries of the Gospels, the Passion and the Resurrection. The author sets out a comprehensive theology of how we can be transformed and freed from a culture of violence into a new state where we share in the imagination of Jesus.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: SPCK Publishing (24 April 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0281050767
  • ISBN-13: 978-0281050765
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 13.8 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,176,965 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
The influence of Rene Girard looms large in this brilliant interpretation of Christian Theology for the contemporary world. Alison argues that the God revealed in Jesus is the God of life who has nothing to do with human violence and our death-oriented culture. Even for those who find it difficult to swallow the entire Girardian package, who think that sacrificial language is not always negative and that mimesis can be positive, will profit from James Allison's insights. His thought is deeply engaged with the text of the New Testament and with the realities of the contemporary world. This is a book of hope which urges us to "fix our mind on the things that are above" not so we become "so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good" but that we might be transformed by the conscious awareness that in Jesus the Kingdom of God broke into the world. Christians of many theological traditions will be challenged and stimulated by this eminently readable and important book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A dense but ultimately rewarding read 18 July 2009
By Jeremy Bevan TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Insightful account of how a fresh understanding of the resurrection of Jesus can radically alter the way Christians understand death, judgment, and the final `end of the world as we know it'. Drawing on the theories of René Girard, Alison challenges the assumption that a capricious God somehow requires the sacrificial death of Jesus as victim, supposedly to appease a legitimate godly wrath. This, says Alison, is not what God is 'about' at all, and throughout the book he challenges us to imagine how life shorn of this inadequate view of the almighty might look.

In his life, death and resurrection, Jesus' free self-giving of himself (particularly as seen in John's Gospel) unmasks and annuls the system of `murderous mendacity' which the world, and the world's religiosity, imagine is what God wants of us (45). In the resurrection, a God pruned of violence exposes this system for what it is, and is perceived afresh as brilliantly alive and `without reference to death' (42). But this living in full awareness of the life and love of God isn't meant to be cosy. While it means ditching apocalyptic views of judgment on the world (because God's judgment - in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus - has already come), it does mean working at the patient, long-haul construction of the coming Kingdom, already inaugurated by what Jesus did and the way he lived.

This is a well-written but theologically dense work, and I needed some persistence to get through it. But it's not all Girardian theorizing: there's some really absorbing reflection on the Gospels, and thoughtful analysis of the implications for us. Overall, well worth the effort.
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4.0 out of 5 stars We make God in our own image 28 July 2013
Format:Paperback
This isn't so much about the traditional Advent themes of death, judgment, heaven and hell as about living in THIS world whilst being citizens of the NEXT.

Human beings project on to God their own sort of behavior. Alison contrasts this with a new revelation in Christ: that the story of creation is also the story of how we humans were expelled by God from paradise. The portrayal of God is ambiguous: God says "eat" and "do not eat," that is: "do" and "do not." The result is that we humans are expelled from Eden, and God is, in some degree, responsible for this expulsion. That's to simplify the matter a great deal, since in fact the story of Adam and Eve and their expulsion already marks a huge step toward the under¨standing of human responsibility for human acts. However, the story is completely demythologized in the prologue of John's Gospel. There it is not God who expels human beings from paradise, but we humans who expel God. The prologue is organized in the form of a chiasm (that is, with the verses arranged in a concentric pattern, usually in the form a-b-c-b'-a'). The culminating verse is thus the central one: He came unto his own, and his own received him not. (John 1:11) God has nothing to do with the expulsion. That is a simply human mechanism: it is God whom we expel.

To those who think that Christianity is about being `good': The fact is this: there is no difference between self-justification as "good" and self-abasement as "wicked." They are two oscillations of the same sort of desire and, it might be added, two oscillations which typically occur in the life story of the same person. With this we have returned to where we were in our discussion of hope. The glory, the reputation, which comes from God must be received and not grabbed.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
4.0 out of 5 stars We make God in our own image 28 July 2013
By Mr. D. P. Jay - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This isn't so much about the traditional Advent themes of death, judgment, heaven and hell as about living in THIS world whilst being citizens of the NEXT.

Human beings project on to God their own sort of behavior. Alison contrasts this with a new revelation in Christ: that the story of creation is also the story of how we humans were expelled by God from paradise. The portrayal of God is ambiguous: God says "eat" and "do not eat," that is: "do" and "do not." The result is that we humans are expelled from Eden, and God is, in some degree, responsible for this expulsion. That's to simplify the matter a great deal, since in fact the story of Adam and Eve and their expulsion already marks a huge step toward the under¨standing of human responsibility for human acts. However, the story is completely demythologized in the prologue of John's Gospel. There it is not God who expels human beings from paradise, but we humans who expel God. The prologue is organized in the form of a chiasm (that is, with the verses arranged in a concentric pattern, usually in the form a-b-c-b'-a'). The culminating verse is thus the central one: He came unto his own, and his own received him not. (John 1:11) God has nothing to do with the expulsion. That is a simply human mechanism: it is God whom we expel.

To those who think that Christianity is about being `good': The fact is this: there is no difference between self-justification as "good" and self-abasement as "wicked." They are two oscillations of the same sort of desire and, it might be added, two oscillations which typically occur in the life story of the same person. With this we have returned to where we were in our discussion of hope. The glory, the reputation, which comes from God must be received and not grabbed. The Father's glory which is to be revealed at the coming of the Son of man with angels will be received by those who are deeply unpreoccupied about their reputation, their glory. The business of having a "good" or a "bad" reputation couldn't matter less, for both human goodness and human evil are social constructions shot through with rivalistic desire, with the desire which forges identity over against the "other." The glory of heaven, the recognition which re-creates, is not given by the mere fact of having garnered for oneself a reputation as a rejectable transgressor in this world, but is given to those who, on account of their unconcern about their reputation according to the glory of this world have been able to stand loose from what is thought of them as they grow in solidarity with things that are not. Loss of reputation is indeed the beginning of a life in accord with the Gospel, but that reputation is lost as in a fit of absence of mind by someone who doesn't really mind very much, not by someone who strives for self-canonization, adopting the role of one to be cast out. Heavenly reputation, glory, is given to one who doesn't really understand why she is receiving it, one who considers herself an unprofitable servant (Luke 17:10).

Also: As I see it, the reason that Schindler's List is the best lesson in moral theology that has reached a wide public in a long time is that Oskar Schindler was not "good," nor concerned to be so. By being unconcerned about his own goodness, he was capable of constructing an extraordinary counter-story of hope in the very face of the most vertiginous example of the murderous lie. Now just imagine if he had sat around saying, "Well, I'm not a good enough sort of chap to do something demanding heroic sanctity, so I'd better take care of my little problems with alcohol and my libido, and when I've got those sorted out, I'll dedicate myself to doing works of charity among the Jews." He would have done nothing at all, and there would have been no Jews left among whom to do works of charity. In fact, thanks be to God, his deep complicity with evil (he started his factory to make money out of the war) did not prevent him from pulling off what has to be one of the most astounding jeux d'esprit, one of the most formididably creative exercises of the imagination of which our planet has record.
Let us imagine that our Carioca dancer was scandalized by the sort of relationship he had with his former lover (and the erotic and the violent are never very distant the one from the other, this being merely a little more transparent in the gay than in the "straight" world, but whoever doubts its presence in this latter might like to glance at how Shakespeare depicts the relation between Desdemona and her macho military hero husband, Othello). Let us imagine our dancer stuck within his scandal, saying to himself: "What I lived with him, and what he does to the street kids in the baixada fluminense are too similar, so I'd better get myself in order and make myself good before denouncing something in which I'm so profoundly complicit." He'd never have got around to denouncing what was going on. He would never have started to construct the wedding banquet of the risen victim.
All of this leads us to an indispensable dimension of the understanding of hope, which is that either it is hope for me exactly and unconcernedly as I am or it is not hope at all. Hope is indeed made present collectively, by the public announcement -- which the Church tries constantly to make present -- of the absolutely loving aliveness of God and by Jesus' imitable creation of a belief in that deathlessness. But hope is not something general; it is not satisfied with saying, "Here is good news for humanity, and that thanks to this announcement all will end well with humanity." It says quite specifically that this news is good for me just as an accomplice and participant in all the scandals of humanity. It says that you, just as you are, are invited to create the wedding banquet of the slaughtered lamb, not in spite of being who you are, but exactly as who you are, warts and all.
I hope that it is not necessary to say how important this is for our moral living. It means that it is taken for granted that there is no actualization by us of goodness, no participation in the process of bringing light to the dark places, in the forging of the celestial counter-story, that starts from some cleanness of ours. And it is in the context of this understanding that it turns out to be so important that we understand why Jesus described the Holy Spirit as the Counsellor for the Defense. Not only because the Defender will reveal and vindicate the innocence of the victims which the world creates, but because the Defender defends us against our own bad conscience, making us see that we can indeed create the celestial counter-story, and that we are not to be held up by our effective complicity in evil. With this we draw close to an insight proper to the most traditional Catholic moral theology, which says that we can never have an absolute certainty of having acted well in such or such a circumstance, because the good is only wrought in hope. This is the equivalent of saying that only those who are unpreoccupied by their own goodness or evil are really free to build what is good and probably have little idea that that is what they are doing. This because they know full well that they can't understand very well, let alone systematize, the counter-story which they are helping to bring about and whose full sense is yet to be revealed.
All of this has been to say that the notion of God's absolute alterity, that God be utterly Other, and the notion that hope is good for me, are completely inseparable. It is only thus that the true God, not the rescuer from difficult situations, but the one who empowers revealing passions, gives us the capacity to construct the counter-story that has nothing to do with death.
Almost everything that I have said ......could have been said by a Protestant theologian, and probably better than by me. for we have been looking at what they call "justification by faith' and not by works, which is the central axis of their confession and of their protests From time to time it does us Catholics a great deal of good, immersed as we too often are in an atrocious moralism, to grasp the force of this teaching. However, something is missing from it. You could understand what I've just been saying as follows: God, as a good observer, has despaired of our capacity to be good, and so has decided to offer us, by means of Jesus' coming, an unbreakable confidence in his absolute goodness toward us, so that we can cease to be worried about being good or bad, and, fixing our trusting gale on God, we can live our life without fear, for we have been invited so the banquet, where we will be given a wedding garment which will cover up what we really are.
Well, that is not what I was trying to say. It offers us something more than this. We begin.....in the position of those who are to a greater or lesser e murderous lie, and we are all, to some degree selves. That is, we are all formed from within desire, by which we grasp our identity, our seem violent way with respect to other people, or the desire which forms our "I," the desire by which our "I," has already introduced all of us into the world of scandal. The root question is: does God simply accept us in our scandal, giving us the confidence to live in the midst of our could it be that the very same desire which for of mimetic complicity is capable of being transformed into another sort of desire, a pacific desire, neither envious nor same questions asked in another way would look like this does: does God accept that the stories which we humans are forging with our lives are murky, violent stories and decide, nevertheless to produce certain sparks in our midst of a celestial counter-story, the end what has really been going on all along much idea of what that will be like, so utterly " totally different are God's ways from our ways?' in the midst of our murky and complicitous stone of our condition as people-in-scandal works by being the place that allows us to begin to forge with our lives, and knowingly, something of the counter-story, so that when all is revealed at the end something of a continuity will be seen between what we were doing and what we will there see in fullness?

On intra-Jewish arguments: However the Sadducees understood their own Scriptures rather better than that: this law existed exactly because the only way of bluffing past the universal reign of death was by having children. The best existence which there might be after death would be that of the shades in Sheol, which wasn't worth having. The only way to have a blessing in the land of the living was by having children, descendants. It was because of this that the man who died without children needed his brother to get for him the share in posterity that he couldn't get for himself. The Sadducees were right, in a certain sense: the existence of the levirate law is good evidence that nobody at the time it was written imagined the existence of the resurrection, since, if they had, the levirate law would have been otiose. If it was not considered otiose it was because there was no such resurrection. It's not a bad argument. Furthermore, they added an ingenious little touch to it, by producing the spectacle of seven brothers who died before having children, passing the wife on like a used car. Jewish listeners at the time would probably have thought immediately of the seven Maccabee brothers who had been executed for their refusal to abandon the Law and who were considered immortal. In fact the passage from the book of Maccabees which describes their death is one of the earliest passages in Scripture to attest to the existence of the resurrection of the dead, precisely as a prize for God's martyrs. So it's as if the Sadducees were saying: "The levirate law undercuts all arguments for the resurrection of the dead, even if you use as an example the Maccabee brothers," who were a favorite example for the partisans of the popular Jewish belief in the resurrection.

Explaining imagery that we tend not to relate to: Fountains of living water! The biblical symbol par excellence, proper to a harsh, dry Middle Eastern land, of human desire absolutely fulfilled, without frustration, running over, harmonious and peaceable. It is this same fountain which Jesus had offered to the woman at the well of Samaria, instead of the water which does not satisfy

For those who go about God's wrath having to be satisfied by penal substitutionary atonement, thinking that they are being `scriptural': that Paul understands that to talk of the wrath of God in an active sense is merely a human way of speaking (cf. Rom. 3:5), whose real content is purely human. On all the other occasions that the term "wrath" appears in his writings, it appears as the impersonal term "the wrath," and not the wrath of God.' The translators of the RSV have personalized orge, wrath, wherever possible, with no textual justification.

I cannot remember how many times I have had to preach on Mark's apocalypse but there is always something new and waiting to be discovered: Mark 13 is probably the earliest among the eschatological discourses we have in the synoptic Gospels, and it begins, significantly, with the prophecy of the destruction of the Temple. Shortly afterward, Peter, James, John, and Andrew ask Jesus: Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be brought to an end? (Mark 13:4)
Please notice that the link between the prophecy of the destruction of the Temple and the end of everything is made not by Jesus but by the disciples, and immediately afterward we have one of Jesus' famous non-replies. He does not answer their question directly but begins to give instructions for how to live in the period which is to be inaugurated by his death. And his instructions are negative rather than positive.
In the first place, pay no attention to people who come as Messiah, or some sort of savior, leading many people astray. Jesus gives to understand that his own coming will not be of this sort. As we shall see later, his coming will be absolutely manifest, but not with that sort of manifestation. Secondly, do not be alarmed by the wars, battles, and portents which are to come. That is to say, not only should they not pay attention to the possible theological value of the prophets who come, but they must also learn to distance themselves from attributing theological importance to the violent events of this world. They have no such importance. Of course, these things are going to happen, and Jesus knows very well that, precisely because he has invalidated the easy formula for making peace, there will be wars and nations will rise up against nations: these are the first pains of what has been produced by him. They are, so to speak, the negative counterpart of what he has inaugurated, this continuous process which we have seen in the time of Abel, the flight from false sacralization to false sacralization, without ever leaving reciprocal violence.
In the midst of all this, the disciple must walk with care, for he cannot associate himself with this process. Rather, this is a description of the reality in whose midst the disciple must give witness In the midst of this process the disciple will always be an outsider, and always a potential victim, potential traitor, potential subversive, and so on. In the midst of all this conflictual reality, the good news about God and the coming into existence of the arduously constructed kingdom of universality, which we have already seen, will be borne slowly and almost silently to all nations.
It seems to me very significant that it be in this context that Jesus warns against being worried in advance about what to say before the tribunals. In a world ruled by the lynch mechanism, a typical attitude which will come about will be that of those who consider themselves victims and for that reason are always preparing themselves against accusations. Which of us has not fantasized a trial in the midst of accusations which we manage to rebut by the power of our argument? Isn't this one of the ways of proving our worth? An extraordinary and triumphant self-justification? Well, Jesus prohibits us this fantasy. The Holy Spirit, the defense counsellor, is the one who will defend us, so that it is in the degree to which we cease to worry about defending ourselves, which is the same as saying, cease to worry about justifying ourselves, that the defending Spirit will declare innocent the victims. Let us be clear that this is not a guarantee that we're going to get off unharmed from the trials and "legal" lynchings of the world, for many have indeed perished under just such circumstances, most notably Jesus. However, in the long run, the innocence of the victim will be established. Another way of saying this: if we are preoccupied about our defense, then we are still prisoners of the violence of the world. Our paranoia, our anxiousness to defend and to justify ourselves is nothing other than that. Jesus tells us that the Defense Counsellor gives us such freedom that we do not even have to justify or defend ourselves and that this trial, this process, of those who are learning to live free in the midst of the persecuting turbulences of this world, is what discipleship looks like in the time that is installed by his death.
It is in this context of the collapse of all the normal forms of building human unity, including that within the family, where children, parents and siblings hate each other, that the patient universality of the kingdom which does not cast out is to be built.
Jesus then moves on to a description of something which in all probability refers to the fall of Jerusalem, to judge by the references to Judaea: that fall will be a terrible reality, as indeed it was. But not even that, for all its horror, is to be read in a theological key. All of that has nothing to do with the coming of the Messiah, and the disciple must learn not to read that fall in theological terms, not to pay attention to supposed signs and prodigies which will so give the impression of coming from God that even the elect will run the risk of being lead astray by them.

After having laid the foundations about that to which one must not pay attention, Jesus turns to describing his coming. In the first place he uses apocalyptic language, taken from the book of Daniel: the sun will be darkened, the moon will give forth no light, and so on. Please notice that this way of talking does not indicate some supposed divine intervention shaking up these heavenly bodies. The language depends on the Semitic vision of earth and sky as a single reality where the stars, the sun, and the moon were hung in the vault of heaven. What is being described is the way in which earthly, that is to say, human violence, shakes all of creation. We are speaking once again of human violence, a social and cultural upheaval of ever greater magnitude. It is in the midst of a human violence which shakes the foundations of all creation that the Son of man will be seen on the clouds, in strength and majesty. That vision of the Son of man, as we have already seen, comes from Daniel, and the clouds will be appearing again shortly. It is starting from this appearance of the Son of man that the angels will come out to gather together the chosen ones from every corner of the earth.
After this Jesus speaks to the disciples about the fig tree. You will remember that, not long before, he had cursed the fig tree which was barren, even though it was not the season for figs (Mark 11:12-14).
The fig tree symbolizes both Israel and the Temple, and Jesus is bringing about a new fig tree, which will produce fruit, and it is in the degree to which this new fig tree produces fruit in the midst of the circumstances which Jesus has just described that the disciples will start to understand that the coming of the Son of man is at the door.
And all this will happen in this generation, the generation which begins with Jesus' death and which will begin to live the fruits of the uncovering of the innocence of the victim. Jesus is quite clear: heaven and earth will pass away, but his words will not pass away. That is to say, the teaching which he has come to bring, leaving open and exposed the mechanism of the randomly chosen victim will be, from now on, the inexorable, though hidden, dynamic of history, and it is in its light that everything will be reconceptualized-- which has in fact happened. Once said, what Jesus said can never be totally hidden again, and any attempt to do so (like, for example, the Nazi attempt) fatally fails in the long run.

At the end of his discourse, Jesus returns to the initial question of his disciples, so as to refuse them an answer to their question "when?" It is not a matter of a "when"; it's about how always to be alive to the presence of the victim. It is a question of the basic attitude of the disciple in the time inaugurated by Jesus' death: always to have the capacity for a flexibility of vision in order to recognize the victim, wherever that victim be and under whatever form that victim appear, so as to know how to go out to meet that victim. The whole of the time between the death of Jesus and the end of history gyrates around this dynamic of having sight made flexible by knowing how to receive the victim.
After this there follows one of the most brilliant passages in Mark, which in a certain sense gives the key for reading all that has gone before. The master goes off, handing out tasks and demanding that the servants remain alert: Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning: lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. (Mark 13:35-36)
With this we understand something fundamental about Mark: that he writes in a self-referential way. For this passage, the last before the beginning of the Passion, refers exactly to the events of the Passion which are to unfold. The coming of the master will take place in the handing over of Jesus, for it is at evening that he hands himself over to the disciples in the form of the Eucharist, at midnight that he is handed over by Judas, who comes when the disciples are asleep; at cockcrow he is betrayed (handed over) by Peter, and at dawn he is handed over by the high priest to the Romans for execution. Just in case we have not understood this, Jesus repeats before the high priest the phrase about the coming of the Son of man on the clouds, telling him that he will himself see this phenomenon: ... and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power and coming) on the clouds of heaven. (Mark 4:62)
Then, in the scene of the crucifixion, even though it was midday, the whole sky was darkened (the raised Son of man coming on clouds, and immediately after Jesus expires, that is, hands over his Sprit:, there begins the process of the angels who seek out the chosen or from the four winds, for it is a Roman centurion who says: Truly this man was the Son of God.
I hope that you see some of the threads of subtlety found beneath Mark's text. The so-called apocalyptic discourse of Jesus is nothing other than a brilliant exercise within of the apocalyptic imagination. It has disciples how to live in the times that are called "of Abel." Above all it seeks to train the to what must be their deepest eschatological attitude: the absolutely flexible flexible state of alert in order to perceive the man, the one who is seated at the right hand hidden and subtle forms in which, in fact, he are dealing with instructions about how to live on the things that are above, where Christ is glued to some fantasy, but learning to perceive the Son of man in the acts of betrayal, of rejection, of lynching. We can compare this with the experience of Elijah on Mount Horeb, who had to learn that God was nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire, but in which passes by unperceived (1 Kings 19:11-13 a similar experience: Jesus was explaining to to the disciples that the state of alert in the face of his coming is a training in the of perception not of that which is bruited abroad, nor of what but of the way that all the majesty and splendor of God is to be found in the almost imperceptible victim, on the way on the way of out of being.
Thus far Mark, to give us the tone of our reading. We are going to see that Luke and Matthew, each in a differ elements of this vision, adding, sharpening, and emphasizing particular perceptions of their own. Since a large part present in those Gospels, I am not going to repeal entire text, but in each case will underscore some if the points they develop and emphasize.

I am one of those who believe that mark intended to end his gospel at 16:8 as a sort of cliffhanger. So does Alison: ephobounto gar... For They Were Afraid
In the eighteenth chapter of the book of Genesis, Abraham receives the visit of three angels. The text is mysterious, since at times it refers to three persons and at times to the Lord. We are before a text where the primitive monolatry of the fertile crescent was still in the process of emerging. All of this matters little. What is important is that these visitors come shortly after God has promised to the ninety-nine year-old Abraham that he will be the father of a multitude of nations through a son, Isaac. This son would be born within a year to his wife, Sarah, old and barren, well past her menopause. In fact there was no natural possibility of such a happening. The angels, or the Lord, repeat to Abraham that they will return in the spring, and that Sarah will be with child. Sarah is listening from behind a flap in the tent and laughs out loud at hearing such an absurd promise. The visitor asks why she laughs, as if there were anything too hard for the Lord, and promises the child once more. Sarah denies having laughed, because she was afraid. In the Greek of the Septuagint "she was afraid" comes out as ephobethe gar.
The impossible promise produces two reactions in her: laughter, on account of the absurdity of the promise, and fear, because of what is announced. After all, when one reaches a certain age, one is accustomed to being sorry for oneself to some degree for things not realized, even though one has built one's little security in the midst of what could be carried through. Someone comes along and with a solemn promise breaks that little security, thus threatening a future that is totally uncertain and quite different from anything one had imagined.
Let us jump to one of the most mysterious passages of the apostolic witness, the original ending to the Gospel of Mark. The women go to Jesus' tomb, the definitive symbol of impossibility. They are on their way to perform a pious act, proper to the sort of piety that characterizes the dominion of death: the anointing of a body. They are going to find a stone, an obstacle too great for their own slight strength and one which is going to make even this most elemental act of piety very difficult. However, they find the stone put aside and a young man who says to them: Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see hit you. And they went out quickly, and fled from they trembled and were amazed: neither said any man; for they were afraid [ephobounto ga Nothing in the phrasing of the texts of the New Testament is accidental, and it seems to me that in the story of Sarah which gives the context for the Marcan account of the frightened women.' The stone put aside and the absence of in the first instance a motive for rejoicing, but for terror. Terror because what had happened was quite outside anything that could be expected. Beside this, the possibility of the birth of as child to an aged lady is a mere nothing. Terror because now there was no security, no rules, nothing normal could be trusted in. And worse, terror because everything difficult and frightening which Jesus had taught them had to begin to come about: he went before them, as he had told them.

It seems to me that here we have the most appropriate place from which to start our examination of hope..... because there is nothing pretty about Christian hope. Whatever Christian hope is, it begins in terror and utter disorientation in the face of the collapse of all that is familiar and well known.

God's judgement or ours?: I understood quite clearly at some point in the crisis produced by AIDS, accustomed as I was to hearing talk of AIDS as a punishment from God or a judgment on such and such a behavior. Along with this attitude went another which suggested that, since these people deserve what has befallen them, it's not worth the bother of doing something to alleviate the problem. And here's the irony of the thing: God's judgment is very real and very terrible, but its working is the inverse of what such people imagine. By separating ourselves from our sisters and brothers in need, alleging reasons of religion to boot, we run grave risk of eternal fire, because God's judgment arrives as the clamor of the neighbor in need. The judge is judge as victim. Whoever attends them confronts no judgment. Those who do not have already separated themselves into goathood. I think that AIDS, for example, might be interpreted as a judgment of God, but it works as a question: a catastrophe has occurred; are you prepared to ignore the judgment of this world and stretch a hand toward those who are on their way out of existence? Or are you separating yourself into goathood, thinking yourself a sheep?
You can multiply examples for yourselves from your own areas of experience. I give this one not because it is necessarily the most illustrative, but because it was in fact what pushed me into taking theology seriously.
So, with Matthew, apocalyptic language and all, we see that his three final parables have to do strictly with how to live in the time of Abel: first, being alert means preparing yourself patiently for the duration; secondly, the patient construction of the kingdom means having your imagination fixed on the abundant generosity of the One Who empowers and gives growth; and thirdly, what is demanded is a non-scandalized living out which is flexible enough to be able to recognize those whom the world is throwing out, and then a stretching out of the hand to create with them the kingdom of heaven. All of this is a making explicit of the eschatological imagination through the subversion from within of the apocalyptic imagination.
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