Richard Hays on the poetic sensibility of the Gospels

Richard Hays on the poetic sensibility of the Gospels

If we learn from them [the NT’s four evangelists] how to read, we will approach the reading of Scripture with a heightened awareness of story, metaphor, prefiguration, allusion, echo, reversal, and irony. To read Scripture well, we must bid farewell to plodding literalism and rationalism in order to embrace a complex poetic sensibility. The Gospel writers are trying to teach us to become more interesting people – by teaching us to be more interesting readers.

from Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness, (Baylor UnivPr., 2014), 105.

Richard Hays on Markan Christology

Richard Hays on Markan Christology

For Mark, the singular mystery disclosed in and through the narrative is nothing other than the identity of Jesus himself, the Crucified Messiah who is also paradoxically the embodiment of the God of Israel.

And yet to state this claim bluntly in so many words, as I have just done, is to betray Mark’s far more circumspect way of communicating the mystery. It is to blurt out crassly a secret so huge that its right expression must be concealed in figures, riddles, and whispers. In a discussion of Mark’s trial narrative, Rowan Williams gets the delicate balance just right, in a way sympathetically responsive to Mark’s manner of telling the story:

Throughout [Mark’s] Gospel, Jesus holds back from revealing who he is because, it seems, he cannot believe that there are words that will tell the truth about him in the mouths of others. What will be said of him is bound to be untrue — that he is master of all circumstances; that he can heal where he will; that he is the expected triumphant deliverer, the Anointed. … ‘There is a kind of truth which, when it is said, becomes untrue.’ Remember, the world Mark depicts is not a reasonable one; it is full of demons and suffering and abused power. How, in such a world, could there be a language in which it could truly be said who Jesus is?

But Mark is not reduced to simple silence. “How, in such a world, could there be a language in which it could truly be said who Jesus is?” Mark’s answer is that there is such a language in the stories and symbols of Israel’s Scripture, read in counterpoint with the stories about Jesus. If it is misleading, or careless of the mystery, to state flatly, “Jesus is the God of Israel” — just as it is not permitted to speak the ineffable name of God figured in the Tetragrammaton — there is still a way of narrating who Jesus is by telling stories…. Through the poetics of allusion, Mark gestures toward the astounding truth. Those who have ears to hear will hear.  [31]

For my own part, if I must declare my own sympathies with respect to the canonical Gospel writers as readers of Scripture, I find … Mark the most theologically generative in a postmodern era where direct speech about God is not a simple matter. [102-3]

from Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness, (Baylor UnivPr., 2014).