You Have Heard It Said
It's a nice idea to think you're doing what Jesus would do until you start to think about what Jesus actually would do and did. Would you really want your child ditching you without so much as asking in order to hang out with the religious leaders of the day? Or how about a son who says to his mother, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come" (John 2:4)? If that's not enough, immediately after quoting Jesus saying just that, John describes a rather memorable incident in which Jesus turns up wielding a whip in the temple.
If it's never safe or predictable to ask what Jesus would do, it may be even riskier to ask what he would undo. Yet in What Would Jesus Deconstruct?, John D. Caputo charges boldly ahead. He continually reminds us that unpredictability is what characterizes Jesus' action throughout the Gospels. You never quite know what or how Jesus is going to deconstruct, since he takes on both the religious and political powers of his day.
Even though, according to Caputo, it's the Religious Right that has championed the WWJD question, he insists that if Jesus the Deconstructor were brought back to question the church today, he'd end up surprising rather than confirming those on the Right.
Caputo takes particular aim at the ecclesiastical establishment, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic, arguing that their claims of following Jesus have been all too easily assumed. Jesus constantly rebuked the religious establishment of his own day. For example, Jesus' stinging rebuke of the Pharisees was that they burdened the people by substituting their own laws for those of God: Jesus says, "For the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. You hypocrites!" (Matt. 15:6 7). These are strong words of deconstruction. And Matthew's Sermon on the Mount is full of Jesus' refrain, "You have heard that it was said but I say to you." So Jesus was constantly deconstructing prevailing views regarding the law, as well as expectations about what the Messiah was to accomplish.
But wait: Isn't deconstruction the problem? I remember a chapel speaker at my institution who proclaimed that "deconstruction is the theory that says you can make texts mean anything you want them to mean." I admit that's a fairly standard definition of deconstruction, a French term resurrected and redefined by Jacques Derrida. Notoriously difficult to define, deconstruction is not a method or technique. Instead, insisted Derrida, it is the movement of truth coming to the surface. The movement itself is neither negative nor nihilistic, although there's no doubt that a great deal of mischief has been conducted under the banner of deconstruction, some of it simply silly and some downright evil.
But deconstruction in its simplest meaning is the breaking apart of concepts or texts that reveals their component parts and structure, and allows for reconstruction. Deconstruction questions assumed interpretations and the presumption of institutions to be the rightful arbiters of meaning. As to his own deconstructive readings, Jacques Derrida is a model if sometimes controversial reader, and Caputo follows his example.