As Christians move through this Holy Week and Jews prepare for Passover, which starts at sundown this Friday, I thought I might share an interesting legend that grew out of the crucifixion of a Jew, Jesus of Nazareth.
It's the sort of legend that everyone knows is not literal history but that somehow engages the heart and imagination in ways that make one wonder.
You can find this legend repeated in various places, including websites, but I'll link you to this one because it identifies a source for it and gives you a link to the book from which it came.
The legend goes like this:
At the time of the crucifixion, the dogwood had reached the size of the mighty oak tree. So strong and firm was the wood that it was chosen as the timber for Jesus' cross.
To be used for such a cruel purpose greatly distressed the dogwood. While nailed upon it, Jesus sensed this, and in his compassion said. "Because of your pity for my suffering, never again shall the dogwood tree grow large enough to be used for a cross. Henceforth, it shall be slender, bent and twisted, and its blossoms shall be in the form of a cross–two long and two short petals.
"In the center of the outer edge of each petal will be the print of nails. In the center of the flower, stained with blood, will be a crown of thorns so that all who see it will remember."
By the way, the pink dogwood blossoms pictured here today are growing on a tree in my back yard.
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PONDERING RELIGION AND POLITICS
Even though lots of stuff has been written about religion in politics, from time to time it's helpful in the presidential election season to drop back a bit and take a longer look. That's why publications like the Christian Science Monitor exist. Here's its latest broad view of the subject.
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THE BOOK CORNER
The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus, by John Dominic Crossan. When I wrote above here about "legend," I of course was referring to mythological stories that, while not historically accurate accounts, contain important meaning, even truth. Dom Crossan, an enormously prolific writer about all things Jesus, focuses in his new book on something similar -- parable. Even biblical literalists, I think, would agree that the parables Jesus told were simply made up stories he used to make points. So far so good for nearly all Christians. But what Crossan wants us to consider is the possibility that many of the Bible stories about Jesus are also mostly parable and not historically accurate accounts. For such an approach he has a much tougher sell with many Christians, and, indeed, I think the use of the term "fiction" in his subtitle is likely to lead some readers to conclude wrongly that Crossan doesn't even believe that Jesus himself was a historical figure. Let's hear Crossan's own denial of that charge: "I conclude that Jesus was an actual, factual, historical figure and not a metaphorical, symbolic or parabolic invention by his first-century Jewish contemporaries." And yet, he adds this: ". . .he comes to us trailing clouds of fiction, parables by him and about him, particular incidents as miniparables and whole gospels as megaparables." Well, I am no biblical literalist, and I think Crossan and others like him (Marcus Borg, Robert Funk etc.) have good insights to offer to Christians trying to understand Jesus. But sometimes such scholars come across as too sensationalistic. Of course there is parable and metaphor about Jesus in the Bible. That's because every word of every language in the world is metaphor. Words merely point to reality, without being reality themselves. So we cannot say anything about anything without it being in some sense metaphorical. Still, Crossan properly invites us into an exploration of how best to understand the one Christians call Lord and Savior, and he does it in fresh ways -- even if those ways will make many Christians uncomfortable. Perhaps what this book needs is a copy of this interview that my friends over at ReatTheSpirit.com did with Crossan about this new book. In some ways his major points are clearer there than in the book.