Faith & Reason: Bring Me the Head of Jeffrey John on a Platter - and Have a Nice Meal! ; Church People May Say, `Let's Forget about Sex and Get Back to the Real Business of Christianity' - but after This No One Wants to Listen
Handley, Paul, The Independent (London, England)
"THERE WAS a man sent from God whose name was John." There is something savage about God's sense of humour, sometimes. The Gospel passage appointed for reading in churches tomorrow is the story of the beheading of John the Baptist, the one who cried in the wilderness, "Make straight the way of the Lord!"
On Sunday York Minster will be filled with 580 members of the General Synod, plus a few of the more devout journalists, fresh from the seething ferment which will dominate this weekend's sessions, even though there's no official mention on the agenda of the man who has caused the seething, Canon Dr Jeffrey John. They will all hear the story of how Herod feared John, "knowing he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him." Then Salome dances. (The girl is not named in Mark's Gospel, but is identified by the Jewish historian Josephus.) King Herod, captivated by her dancing, offers her anything she wants as a reward. She consults her mother and demands: "Give me the head of John the Baptiser on a platter." The King is deeply grieved, "yet out of regard for his oaths and his guests, he did not want to refuse her", and John the Baptist is despatched.
A parable? If Jeffrey John represents his namesake, and his Evangelical opponents take on the Salome role, dancing seductively before the King, then Rowan Williams must be . . .
Well, the thing about bible passages is that you have to apply them with care. In one of the many conversations I had on the subject, somebody referred to the hip-replacement operation that the Bishop of Oxford underwent on Monday. The Bishop was the one who nominated, supported and campaigned for Jeffrey John. "Ah, wrestling with the angel!" said my friend. In a significant but obscure section in the Book of Genesis, Jacob wrestles through the night with a man, presumed to be an angel, and will not let go until he receives a blessing, despite receiving a wound in the thigh. (Needless to say, the passage has been given the homo-erotic treatment by artists over the centuries.) OK, it's a thigh, not a hip: and Jacob, unlike the Bishop, managed to hang on: and who is represented by the angel? But listen, don't question me too closely, because this is a Word from the Lord.
The trouble with the Bible is that this is the way it works best. If you read it as a religious text, you find guidance through echoes, parallels, examples, hints. There are 775,000 words in the Bible, and only a very few of them are …
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Publication information: Article title: Faith & Reason: Bring Me the Head of Jeffrey John on a Platter - and Have a Nice Meal! ; Church People May Say, `Let's Forget about Sex and Get Back to the Real Business of Christianity' - but after This No One Wants to Listen. Contributors: Handley, Paul - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: July 12, 2003. Page number: 20. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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