Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (Luke 2:15-38) transports me to the 1950s theme restaurant, Jack Rabbit Slim’s, where Vincent Vega (played by John Travolta) and Mia Wallace (played by Uma Thurman) steal the show in a twist contest, busting some classic 50s moves to Dick Dale and the Delltones’ Misirlou, and leave with the trophy. The most riveting scene for me in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction comes next, when Vincent gets Mia home. While he’s in the bathroom, she discovers a stash of heroin in his jacket pocket. Mistaking it for cocaine, she snorts it and immediately overdoses. Vincent rushes her over to his friend’s (the heroin dealer’s) house, where he gets a long syringe and stabs it into her chest, violently plunging the needle through the breastbone, straight into Mia’s heart. The adrenaline in the syringe revives her, and the movie goes on. I’ll have to admit, in a film filled with one disturbing scene after another, this is the one that really blew me away. Gangster violence I expected; the needle in the heart I didn’t see coming.
I don’t think many people read the gospels these days and find it filled with all sorts of disturbing scenes. But we ought to. It has been so sanitized and romanticized, it comes across much more Disney than Tarantino. But there are clues from the get go that this is not going to be the story you were expecting. The cross is looming from the outset, but few people see it coming. Here, after the shepherds have come and gone and Jesus has been circumcised, one old man does show up with the eyes of a prophet. Simeon, after blessing Jesus and the parents, takes Mary aside for a curious warning. This child has a powerful destiny, he says. He will cause some to come crashing down and others to be lifted up on high. But this won’t sit well with some folks, especially those on high who see their worlds crumbling. This baby will one day stir up trouble, provoke opposition. And, Simeon says in a final note to punctuate his warning, a sword will pierce your own heart, too. Not exactly the kind of blessing a young mother wants to hear. Your boy’s gonna make enemies. And one day you’ll feel a sword plunging straight into your heart because of him.
Simeon wanted Mary to be prepared for what few seemed to be prepared for – a suffering servant, instead of a Mighty Messiah who would come in power to lift the Roman boot off the necks of the faithful. People’s hearts were filled with hopes for a Son of David to come riding in and restore the fortunes of the old Kingdom. These hopes ran through the bloodstream of the people like a drug, intoxicating them with visions of renewed grandeur. These same hopes would capture the hearts and minds of the church 300 years later, when Emperor Constantine “baptized” Christianity as the official pet religion of the Roman state. From then on, followers of Jesus have faced the temptation to inject themselves with the smack of privilege, twisting along the path of world dominion rather than trusting in the via dolorosa, the way of suffering, the way of the cross. There are periods throughout history and across the world of Christianity where sectors of the church snort this drug of power to the point of overdose, stopping the heartbeat of grace for the sinner and welcome for the stranger and love for the enemy. It is in these times that we can go back and remember Simeon’s words, your heart will be pierced, also. We can imagine a long syringe thrust straight into the heart of the church, filled with the adrenaline of the Jesus way, reviving the faith community and bringing the heart of compassion back to life. Or maybe we can’t see it coming, we can’t imagine it happening, and the heart-piercing will catch us completely off guard. That would make for a more exciting drama of faith, anyway.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.