Sunday, September 16, 2007

Humor as a Hermeneutical Lens

I am convinced that I have been given a hermeneutical lens of humor. Quite often I am reading and something will just catch and then seem so strange and ironic that it becomes humorous. I often see the exchanges between individuals or individuals and God as part of a comedy sitcom. Humor that can be pulled from slightly twisted readings is wonderful.

Today our lectionary readings included Exodus 32.1,7-14, Psalm 51, 1 Timothy 1.12-17 and Luke 15.1-10.

1 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the
mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, "Come, make gods
for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out
of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him."
7 The Lord
said to Moses, "Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the
land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8 they have been quick to turn aside from
the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf,
and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, "These are your gods, O
Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!' " 9 The Lord said to
Moses, "I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10 Now let me alone,
so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I
will make a great nation." 11 But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, "O
Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of
the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the
Egyptians say, "It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in
the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth'? Turn from your
fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13
Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by
your own self, saying to them, "I will multiply your descendants like the stars
of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your
descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.' " 14 And the Lord changed his
mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

What struck me today was the exchange between Moses and God. Yahweh tells Moses of an emergency down at the camp saying “your people, whom you brought up” from Egypt. Your people? Has Israel been disowned by God? And does Moses answer in defense saying, “Hey they are not my people, you are the one that chose them and brought them here?” Is Moses trying to distance himself from them? Well that is where my mind went the first time I read it. But after reading it through again I don’t see it quite that way. Rather, Moses pleads with God to relent from his anger, he reminds God that they are his people, that he brought out of slavery, and that he had made promises to them. Moses reminds God to be God, reminding him of his covenantal faithfulness.

And yet, I have seen parents do this very thing with children who are acting up. One parent may say to the other, “your son/daughter wants/need/did/is…” and we may fill in the blank with any frustrating or embarrassing behavior. What is interesting is that God has made up his mind to go back on the covenant. And Yahweh may have had good reason to consider it if it is seen from a contractual point of view where Israel had certainly fell off from their end of the deal. God tells Moses to leave so he can let his anger burn. This adds an interesting facet to who God is. Without psychologizing it too much we see God’s jealousy and anger, not an inferiority complex that leads to a sulking deity.

Another interesting point is that not only was Yahweh ready to cancel the covenant with Abraham and Isaac, he was ready to make a new covenant with Moses. In this we begin to see not just the initial humor but or a petty change in God’s mind, but what would have been a radical shift in our salvation history.

What can we take away from these thoughts? Well, what comes to mind is God’s faithfulness. In one sense, Yahweh seems to be on shaky ground when it comes to his promises. And yet, God does follow through and we must remember that. The other is the importance of knowing our story that we too might remind God to be God. We cannot claim the promises if we have not heard of them nor remember them. We must not only hear the story but live in them and make our lives immersed in the promises of God.