Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (2 Kings 1) transports me to the Jersey shore in the fictional View Askewniverse of Kevin Smith, aka Silent Bob in the series of movies and comic books that include the characters Jay and Silent Bob. Jay, played by Jason Mewes, more than makes up for Bob’s silence with his constant barrage of shocking vulgarity. While their typical “occupation” is selling marijuana outside the convenient store where they met as infants, in the movie Dogma they have elevated their status to the roles of biblical prophets. The plot is crazy, with two fallen angels (Matt Damon and Ben Affleck) figuring out a way to get back to heaven, but in so doing they will destroy the universe. A lapsed Roman Catholic abortion clinic worker, Bethany, is chosen by Metatron (the voice of God) to try and foil the demonic plan. Although Bethany has lost her faith in God, it turns out that she is the sole surviving relative of Jesus, and accepts her call to thwart the diabolic plan and save the world. Jay and Silent Bob play their prophetic, if profane, roles to perfection, showing up at opportune times to lend support to the cause, as does another significant character, Rufus, the thirteenth disciple who was left out of the Bible because he is black. At the end of the day, after lots of violent encounters, the universe is indeed saved, and Bethany, who lost her life in the battle, is not only raised from the dead, but conceives a child, thanks to God.
To say that Dogma is irreverent and sacrilegious is a vast understatement. It turns reverence and religion on its head, and takes prophetic profanity to new heights (or depths). But just when we start registering complaints and protests (as people of faith actually did all over the world when the movie came out), we run across another view askewniverse, this time not in a Kevin Smith script, but in scripture. Today’s passage could well have passed for a scene from Dogma; imagine seeing it enacted with Jason Mewes playing the Elijah role. There are competing gods/fallen angels/demonic spirits in competition with God, and the King of Israel, fearing an end to his kingdom if not the end of the universe, has taken a fall. Literally, he has fallen through the latticework of his upper chamber, and is worried that the injuries could be fatal. Instead of checking things out with Metatron, the voice of God, King Ahaziah decides to get a consult from a diabolical source, Baalzebub, the god of Ekron. Elijah catches wind of this, and sends word that the king is on his deathbed and will not recover. The king dispatches a captain with 50 men to see if Elijah will come down and re-consider this prognosis. Now as much as those of us raised in the sheltered morality of southern manners and polite piety get shocked at the language and behavior of Jay and Silent Bob, they don’t have anything on Elijah. When the king’s messenger asks Elijah the question, the prophet vents some vitriol and calls down flames of raging fire from heaven, slaughtering the entire company. The king dispatches a second captain with another 50 men, and when the second messenger asks Elijah if he’ll come and have an audience with the king, the prophet reacts with the same indiscriminate violence, calling fire down to consume them all. The third captain has the good sense to beg for his life before asking the question, and Elijah spares him and his 50 men and makes his way down to the king’s residence, where he pronounces the prognosis of death in judgment of the king’s idolatry, and leaves him to die.
So, what are we to do with the harsh reality that the Bible contains outrageous scenes of random violence that would seem to fit better in the skewed world of Kevin Smith than holy writ? Maybe the same muse is working in both genres, the sacred and the profane, to give us the same lesson. To access this lesson, we need to imagine the promised land being the interior landscape of the human soul (maybe that landscape resembles the Jersey shore, I don’t know). The stories remind us that our land of promise is an embattled region, with Compassion vying with Destruction for our hearts and minds. Love is battling Hate, Mercy is battling Judgment, Generosity is battling Greed, Welcome is battling Bigotry. In short, God is battling Beelzebub. As this fantastic drama unfolds, all sorts of spirits, good and ill, are personified and take their part in the battle, including the spirit of Elijah. The prophet represents that take no prisoners voice of authority within our interior landscape, so that even when seemingly innocent messengers of self-destruction and other-destruction come to seek an audience in hopes that we might reconsider our rejection of their cause, a consuming fire rains down from heaven to silence those voices. This imagery may not fit with the sheltered morality of southern niceness, but it is part of the dogma of grace, a sometimes shocking dogma to be sure.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.