Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Symbolic Praxis and the Christian

Last night I went to the bank to change my bank card PIN because my card had been compromised. I didn't really want to do it but I had to. Unfortunately it turned out to be a big waste of time because it wouldn't work, my number wouldn't reset. I'll have to give it a try another time. I had something I had to do and I did it (at least I attempted to). A lot of the things we do from day to day do not have meaning attached to them. We run errands, meaningless little endeavors to keep life going; but as for meaning, there is nothing significant about the event itself.

In the gospels, on the other hand, the actions of the main characters are full of symbolic meaning. N.T. Wright calls this "symbolic praxis". One such example is the significant figure John the Baptist. From his clothes to his actions all of it revealed something about his message. I have been reading through Mary Healy's commentary on the Gospel of Mark and she says this about his food, "The locusts and wild honey again evoke the exodus, where they represented God's judgment on sin (the plague of locusts...) and his promises to his people (a land flowing with milk and honey...)."

John was saying that the time that God had promised was here. The Messiah-King was coming to deliver God's people from their sin and inaugurate the Kingdom, God's new world order. John saw it necessary to change his diet to display this reality. Jesus lived by the same rule. Not that he ate locusts and honey but his actions were deeply symbolic of his messianic task and the kingdom that was coming to bear on the world through his actions. One only has to think about the fig tree and the cleansing of the temple to see the truth of this claim.

All of this is to be true of Christians as well. From holiness to deeds of mercy all of our actions are deeply symbolic of a great reality. God's kingdom has come through the crucified and risen Messiah. He is reigning at God's right hand and has given the Spirit to his people. The messianic age has dawned. Therefore when we put sin to death in our lives we are saying, "we are under the sway of a different ruler."; when we help the poor and needy we are saying, "This is what it looks like when Jesus becomes king!" What other ways can our actions point people to the risen and reigning Messiah?

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