by David Bidnell.
It was on 13th November 1945 that Moscow Dynamo played the first match of their post-war tour of Britain against Chelsea. The result was reasonably inconsequential – a 3-3 draw. It was the impression it made on the London crowd and the British press that really counted. In advance of the match the Russian team had been all but dismissed as a bunch of also-rans, only to astound both the spectators and the Chelsea team by the speed, flexibility and imagination with which they played. David Downing, in his novel Lehrter Station, recounts how the press reported the match:
“Much was made of the Dynamos’ willingness to interchange positions without getting in each other’s way – a revolutionary tactic which had completely flummoxed their English opponents.”(Downing 2012. 33).
It is this “revolutionary tactic” of imagination, of re-imagining how the world might be and how people might relate to one another, which emerges constantly from the pages of the Gospels, whether it is in the narration of encounters with Jesus or in the narratives he himself relates. It is a re-imagining that some find so perturbing and threatening that they seek a solution in crucifixion. Jesus does not go looking for death. Rather his crucifixion is the consequence of his commitment to life. It is because he chooses life for those around him, that he is put to death – but not before the seeds of imagination have begun to take root in the lives of those following him.
Vaclav Havel’s definition of hope helps provide some focus for this way of understanding Jesus’ life.
“Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” (Havel 1990. 181).
This seems to be a pretty good description of the way Jesus sees the world. His focus is on living out what “makes sense”, and he is prepared to take the consequences, even if they are not pleasant or welcome.
If the crucifixion is the authoritarian response to the kind of hope, freedom and imagination embodied in Jesus’ living, the resurrection is a response to the crucifixion, which rejects the kind of triumphalism sometimes found in our Easter hymns and songs, and invites us instead to perceive more deeply the ways in which Jesus’ life makes sense and how we might pick up the threads of that life as an act of resurrection or as a means of putting resurrection into practice.
This idea of resurrection as “picking up of the threads of a world re-imagined” is reflected in the story of the “mother of the sons of Zebedee”. We meet her at two critical moments in Matthew’s Gospel. The first of these is when she approaches Jesus to request for her two sons places of honour at his right and at his left when he comes into his kingdom (Matthew 20:20-28). The story differs from Mark’s version, where James and John do the asking themselves (Mark 10:35-45). Why does their mother take the lead in Matthew? Is it because she is a pushy mother dedicated to trying to get the best for her sons? Is it because her sons do not have the courage to approach Jesus themselves? Is she pushed into it by her husband, Zebedee? After all, it is worth noting that she is identified, neither by her own name, nor by the names of her sons, but as “the mother of the sons of Zebedee” (Mathew 20:20). Though we are in the realm of speculation here, what is significant is the way in which she hears Jesus turn on their head notions of greatness. What matters are the values of humility and servanthood, of choosing life, even if it costs life.
This brings us to the second critical encounter. Interestingly enough Matthew is the only Gospel writer to include “the mother of the sons of Zebedee” explicitly among the women at the cross (Matthew 27:56). On Jesus’ right and left are not her sons, but two bandits. The vocabulary Matthew uses to describe both this woman and the idea of being on the right and on the left is strikingly similar to the first story in chapter twenty, suggesting that Matthew wants his readers to make connections between these two episodes. The depiction of this mother as one who is now there with Jesus until the end, waiting with him, sustaining him with a sense of her presence, suggests that she has learned much from what Jesus said about servanthood and greatness. Even before the act of crucifixion is complete she has begun to live out the resurrection. She is picking up the threads of a world re-imagined for her by Jesus.
It seems she is not only the mother of the sons of Zebedee, but perhaps also the mother of resurrection!
Downing, David. Lehrter Station. Brecon Old Street Publishing Ltd, 2012
Havel, Vaclav. Disturbing the Peace. London: Faber and Faber, 1990.