From the Book of Revelation:
Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Revelation 22:11 (NRSV) – November 22, 2013.)
Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Like everyone who was even marginally grown up or conscious on that day, I know exactly where I was and what I was doing when it happened. It is one of those moments in time that are surreal in their clarity.
This verse from the Book of Revelation randomly and coincidentally shows up in the Daily Office Lectionary today. It strikes me as equally surreal. This is Jesus talking, Jesus ascended to heaven, Jesus the Incarnation of God, Jesus the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus speaking from his heavenly throne, Jesus who in a verse or two will say, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (v. 13) What can it mean that Jesus says to “Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy?” Doesn’t that run contrary to everything that he taught and lived on earth? What?
Anyone who knows me is aware that I have a streak of weirdness a mile wide. I love theater of the absurd (Eugene Ionesco and Samuel Beckett are among my favorite playwrights) and surrealist art (give me Salvador Dali and Rene Magritte over the “old masters” any day). That’s why I love the Book of Revelation.
I don’t love it in the way the folks that preach the Rapture and the Tribulation love it. I don’t love it in the way the authors of the Left Behind novels love it. I don’t love it in the way that people who predict the end of the world love it. I think are that is theological nonsense . . . or, more accurately, theological bullshit.
No, I love Revelation for the same reason I love absurdist theater and surrealism. There’s an old saw about random chance that if you put a bunch of monkeys in a room with a bunch of typewriters they would eventually produce the works of Shakespeare. I think if you put Ionesco, Beckett, Magritte, and Dali in a room together and told them to write something about the destruction and fall of the Roman Empire, they might come up with the Book of Revelation . . . .
Throughout my life, I have collected oddball memories that I keep saying I am going to put into a great novel, and I keep collecting potential titles for that novel – things people say or do that, heard out of context, challenge reality. Here are some of my potential titles:
“Hello spelled backwards is sweet roll.”
“Before you sink the Bismark, I need to brush my teeth.”
“My only regret was bronzing the kangaroo.”
Sorting cat food in the nude
This thing that John of Patmos says Jesus said seems to me to rank right up there with these potential titles. Like anything surrealistic, this admonition of the Risen and Ascended Christ to “let the evildoers do evil and let the filthy be filthy” challenges our perceptions of reality; it demands that we resolve contradictory perceptions. It demands that we make choices. It demands that we decide which group we are going to be in — the evildoers and the filthy, or the righteous and the holy. It demands that we change.
With surreal clarity, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when John F. Kennedy was killed. It was an event that awakened and transformed a nation. The Book of Revelation with surreal clarity demands that we awaken and transform ourselves . . . before we sink the Bismark or bronze the kangaroo.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.