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25 October 2011

Jesus as Trickster

Till Eulenspiegel (1300-1350) was born under a special star. While still a baby he developed a prankster's talent and wit. After his father died, he and his mother were poor as church mice, so his mother encouraged him to take up a profession. But Till wanted to be free as a bird. He wasn't lazy, though. He practiced tricks and acrobatics in their attic. He could walk miles on his hands, tie his legs in knots over his head, recite tongue twisters endlessly without stumbling. And he taught himself to walk a tightrope. But his mother disapproved.

One day, when Till had tied a rope between two houses over the river Saale and was practicing his art to the wonderment of the townsfolk who had come to see him, his mother cut the rope so that Till fell into the river. He didn't hurt himself but his pride was wounded by the laughter of the townspeople who called to him: "We always knew you were still wet behind the ears. Now you can wash your head of all your silly tricks and schemes."

Till thought: "Those silly townspeople stared and wondered while I walked the tightrope. They only laughed when I fell in the river. I'll show them!"

The next day Till called out at the market-place that he would show them new tricks on the rope that afternoon, special tricks never accomplished before. The towns-people were all there and Till didn't disappoint them: he did handstands and strange leaps on the rope to wild applause and acclaim, though secretly they hoped he would fall into the river again. Till called to them: "Shall I show you a trick never done before, the best trick I know?" "Yes," they called. "A trick never before performed?" "Yes," they roared, never asking why they should be privileged to see such stunts. "But you must help", called Till. "I have a long rope in my pocket. Each of you tie your left shoe to the rope and hand it up to me." Everyone complied, expecting a wonderfully funny trick.

Till pulled up the rope with more than a hundred single shoes. "Attention," he yelled, "here comes the one-of-a-kind trick." He pulled out a pair of scissors from his pocket, cut each shoe off individually and threw one here, one there, one every-where, yelling "Yoohoohoo, everyone find his shoe!" And then he watched from the rope while the townspeople hopped around on one foot, each searching for his own shoe or a better one, watching them push and shove and fight and yell. While they had laughed at his misfortune, they begrudged him their own.

Till Eulenspiegel is a German representative of the archetype played out in Sunday's Gospel: the trickster.  When the Pharisees ask their last tricky question -- namely, which is the greatest commandment, Jesus does indeed out-trick them.

Now when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they assembled together. And one of them, an expert in religious law, asked him a question to test him: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  Jesus said to him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”  While the Pharisees were assembled, Jesus asked them a question: “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said, “The son of David.”  He said to them, “How then does David by the Spirit call him ‘Lord,’ saying, ‘The Lord said to my lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? If David then calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” No one was able to answer him a word, and from that day on no one dared to question him any longer. (From Matthew 22)

He answers the commandment question easily. Jesus knows the spirit of God's law. He lives it. He is committed to love. He embodies love. He loves God with his whole heart and his whole soul and his whole mind and he loves his neighbor completely.  It's simple, he says: Love God first, then love your neighbor. It's not what they thought they'd hear. There is no counter argument. There are no chinks in the amour. Jesus' answer is perfect.

But Jesus doesn't let it stand at that. While they are still standing in their shock, he makes the killing blow.  He lures them in by asking whose son is the Messiah; they answer quickly, but then he confounds them: “How then does David by the Spirit call him ‘Lord,’ saying, ‘The Lord said to my lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? If David then calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?”

Jesus does indeed out-trick them. But he doesn't do it by giving the right answer. He out-tricks them by actually being the right answer; that is, by being the kind of messiah of David whom he invokes in his riddle about David's son. The point here is not to solve the riddle and get the right answer. Rather the point is becoming a trickster like Jesus by being the right answer.

Jesus' words and actions reveal the character of a trickster extraordinaire, one who targets cosmic powers and spiritual enemies, ... one whom we are invited to imitate.

There is an old parable about a deep-sea fish that finds its way into a very small pond.  When it gets to the pond, it strikes up a conversation with one of the pond fish.  This pond fish has never left his pond before.  The pond fish is very excited to have a new friend, and says to the ocean fish, "You wouldn't believe how deep my pond is.  Just watch as I swim to the bottom."
So the little fish dives proudly down to the bottom of the pond, and comes back up and says to the ocean fish, “Did you see how far I went?”  And the ocean fish says, “That really was amazing, but do you know that where I come from it’s even deeper than that?”  And the pond fish asks to hear more about the place the ocean fish comes from.  The ocean fish says, “I can’t tell you any more, but someday I will take you there, and you will see for yourself.”

Jesus took people to the edge of an ocean of possibilities, and said, “I cannot tell you what this is like, you need to jump in and see for yourself.”  Jesus worked with parables, because you cannot tell people what it is like in this ocean of consciousness, you can only lead them to the edge, and tell them to dive in to see for themselves.  Jesus takes us to the edge of the ocean of possibilities and says, “Dive in.”

Here we are at the edge. Will you dive in? Will you take the journey to the heart of Life?

Matthew 22:34-46 

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