Taken from chapter 1 of John D. Caputo’s What Would Jesus Deconstruct:
Posed in the subjunctive, what would Jesus do or deconstruct, the question turns on the structure of the archive, of memory and repetition. How does the New Testament preserve the memory of Jesus? I prescind from all historical-critical questions here, which open up another abyss (about the arche itself). One abyss at a time! I treat the New Testament as an “archive,” a depository of memories, which presents a certain way to be, a certain “poetics” — not a politics or an ethics or a church dogmatics — that I like to call a “poetics of the kingdom,” which lays claim to us and which calls for a transformation into existence.
How are we to translate this soaring poetics into reality? Were this figure of Jesus, who is the centerpiece of this poetics, or theo-poetics, to return today, what would he look like? An illegal immigrant? A child dying of AIDS? A Vatican bureaucrat? And what do we imagine he would expect of us here and now? The question calls for a work of application, interpretation, interpolation, imagination, and self-interrogation, and all that is risky business. To interpret is always a high-wire act, balancing oneself on a line stretched across an abyss and in constant danger of constructing idols of its own imagining. The name of “Jesus” is too often a mirror in which we behold our own image, and it has always been easy to spot the sliver in the eye of the other and miss the two-by-four in our own. The question presupposes the inescapable reality of history and of historical distance, and it asks how that distance can be crossed. Or better, conceding that this distance cannot be crossed, the question resorts to the subjunctive and asks how that irreducible distance could be made creative.
How does our distance from Jesus illuminate what he said and did in a different time and place and under different historical circumstances? And how does Jesus’ distance from us illuminate what we must say and do in the importantly different situation in which we find ourselves today? The task of the church is to submit itself to this question, rather than using it like a club to punish others.
The church, the archive of Jesus, in a very real sense is this question.
It has no other duty and no other privilege than to bear this memory of Jesus and ask itself this question. The church is not the answer. The church is the question, this question, the gathering of people who are called together by the memory of Jesus and who ask this question, who are called together and are put into question by this question, who stand accused, under the call, interrogated and unable to recuse themselves from this question, and who come to understand that there are no easy, ready-made, prepackaged answers.
The early church is a lot like the characters in the hit TV series Lost —the title is appropriate!-– waiting to be “saved,” which is the soteriological significance of that show where everyone is given a new being, a fresh start. At first, the survivors hang around on the beach waiting to get “picked up” (in a cloud, St. Paul said). After a while, they conclude that the rescue is not going to happen anytime soon and so they reluctantly decide to dig in and prepare for the long haul. Hence the existence of the church is provisional – like a long-term substitute teacher – praying for the kingdom, whose coming Jesus announced and which everyone was expecting would come sometime soon.
But this coming was deferred, and the church occupies the space of the “deferral,” of the distance or “difference,” between two comings. (I just said, in case you missed it, the church is a function of différance!) In the meantime, and it is always the meantime for the church, the church is supposed to do the best it can to bring that kingdom about itself, here on earth, in a process of incessant self-renewal or auto-deconstruction, while not setting itself up as a bunch of kings or princes. The church is by definition a call (kletos) for renewal.
That is why the church is “deconstructable,” but the kingdom of God, if there is such a thing, is not. The church is a provisional construction, and whatever is constructed is deconstructible, while the kingdom of God is that in virtue of which the church is deconstructible.
So, if we ask, “What would Jesus deconstruct?” the answer is first and foremost: the church!
For the idea behind the church is to give way to the kingdom, to proclaim and enact and finally disappear into the kingdom that Jesus called for, all the while resisting the temptation of confusing itself with the kingdom. That requires us to clear away the rhetoric and get a clear picture of what “deconstruction” means, of just who “Jesus” is, and of the hermeneutic force of this “would,” and to do so with this aim: to sketch a portrait of an alternative Christianity, one that is as ancient as it is new, one in which the “dangerous memory of Jesus” is still alive – deconstruction being, as I conceive it, a work of memory and imagination, of dangerous memories as well as daring ways to imagine the future, and as such good news for the church.
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