Monday, May 18, 2009

Towards a Post-Male Dominant Reading of the Life of Jesus: Jesus's Baptism in the Jordan

And, as a complement to what I have just posted about Benedict's recent homily at Nazareth speaking of the transmission of "manly piety" by Joseph to Jesus, I'd like to offer the following musings from a journal of mine back in 1993. I ran across this passage recently, as I mined the journals for material about my travels. It may be worth noting that I wrote this in the midst of an experience of horrific abuse by a Catholic male religious community, at the college this community owned, where I taught theology and had just received a terminal contract that the college refused to explain to me:

Because Francis of Assisi (see here) and Jesus dispossess themselves, they have ultimate freedom to live their message of good news. In their symbolic actions of throwing their clothes at the father’s feet (Francis), and going down into the Jordan (Jesus), they are symbolically acting out a dispossession, an absolute repudiation of the male world of entitlement and privilege life had prepared for them. Francis and Jesus are, in this sense, “female”—symbols of a dispossession associated with the female, and when men engage in it, with gay men.

Look carefully at the story of Jesus’s baptism, and some interesting recognitions leap out, particularly if this story is read—as it was meant by its authors to be read—against the backdrop of the Jewish scriptures. First, there are important overtones of the creation narratives, in which water is equated with chaos, to be shaped into the cosmos by the divine creative Word. Jesus enters chaos, in walking into the Jordan River, submits himself to its unmaking, in order to symbolize his entry into an entirely new way of life, the life of his ministry, a post-patriarchal life and ministry that seek the divine voice on the other side of the water.

As Freud has noted, water has female significance in the deep structures of the mind. Jesus enters the womb—a curiously a-masculine act of submission and self-deprecation—in entering the Jordan. He goes under and down into the water (gestural enactments of subordination, renunciation, self-abandonment and self-abasement) to become the anointed prophet of God. He lets another man take and hold him in his arms and bring him into the maternal waters.

The Naaman narrative in 2 Kings deconstructs the military overtones of the Jordan stories and Joshua. In 2 Kings, Naaman is told by his wife, who has the story from a little servant girl, that Elisha can cure him.

He goes instead to the king, hoping for a phallic male such as himself to cure him by command, as befits a military man. The king is enraged; he sees this as a test of phallic strength and power.

When Naaman goes to Elisha and is told to dip himself into the Jordan, he, in turn, is enraged. The absurdity of it, the submission to play (and powerlessness) as a preliminary to receiving divine healing.