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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Happy Mother's Day, Mom

“Her children rise up and call her blessed…” (Proverbs 31:28).
Mother’s Day was over two weeks ago, but I appreciate my mom more now than I did then.
On Sunday, May 13, my grandma fell approximately 9 feet from her front porch. She landed on her head and broke her neck, back, and sternum. Miraculously, her spinal cord was not injured, so she will heal without being paralyzed.
Grandma stayed in the hospital for several days. For the past 11 or so days, however, my mom has been living at Grandma’s house to take care of her.
Being the oldest unemployed child, I have had to take over much of the cleaning, cooking, dish washing, and other odd jobs. This time has certainly made me more thankful for my mom [and that I am not a mom yet]. We eat really often. Seven mouths equates to many, many dishes.
“Honor your father and your mother…” (Deuteronomy 5:16). She certainly deserves it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Seeing Christ Through Literature

This year I took an excellent course on British Literature. One of my favorite and first assignments was to read Beowulf. I then had to compare the story with the last days of Jesus. The following is what I discovered.

In this story, one can easily see how Beowulf acts as a type of Christ.
The first parallel between Jesus and Beowulf is found in the similarity of their identities.Whereas Jesus is known as the “Prince of peace” (Isaiah 9:6) and the “Prince of life” (Acts 3:15), Beowulf is “the prince of the Weder-Geats” (text, p. 46). Jesus came from heaven to save the people on earth; Beowulf came from his land of Sweden to save the people of Denmark from Grendel. Neither one was forced to do this, but gave of himself in an act of love.
In Luke 4:28-30, one reads about Jesus facing the threat of death, but escaping. “So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.” Similarly, Beowulf has “survived very many combats, wild attacks” (text, p. 46).

The events leading up to Beowulf’s fight with the dragon also have characteristics analogous to the proceedings in the last days of the Savior.
Like baptism, Beowulf’s fight with Grendel’s mother symbolizes Jesus’ death and resurrection (Elaine Strong Skill, Beowulf Cliff Notes, Syllabus, p. 48). The Geat contends with the she-monster while submerged in the mere. Just as Jesus died at the ninth hour of the day (Mark 15:34), when the ninth hour came, the Scyldings and Beowulf’s companions “despair of seeing their friendly lord” alive again (text, p. 29). Then, when the men do not expect it, Beowulf rises from the water victorious.
Comparable to Jesus, the eleven disciples, and Judas Iscariot, page 44 of the text speaks of thirteen men going up to the dragon’s cave. These men are “The lord of the Geats…with eleven others” and the man who had awakened the dragon’s wrath. Like Peter and the other disciples (Matthew 26:35), Beowulf’s thanes “promised [him] that [they] would requite him for the war-gear, the helms and sharp swords, if need such as this came upon him” (text, p. 48).
Before being betrayed, Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. He is “deeply distressed” and His “soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:37-38). Likewise, Beowulf’s “mind was sad, restless, brooding on death” (text, p. 44). Each of these men expects and tells their friends of their coming deaths. Jesus predicted his death many days beforehand (Matthew 16:21), and Beowulf does so shortly before entering the dragon’s cave (text, p. 46). While Jesus supplicates, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39), the Geat trusts that “Fate, the master of every man, shall decide for us” (text, p. 46). After praying for Himself, Jesus also prays for His followers (John 17:6-19). In this manner, Beowulf “wished good fortune to his hearth-companions” (text, p. 44).
When danger comes, Jesus’ disciples “all forsook Him and fled” (Mark 14:50). Beowulf’s friends do the same. “No whit did his comrades, sons of chieftains, stand about him in a band with valour, but they took to the wood, they hid for their lives” (text, p. 47). Peter, however, pursues Jesus “at a distance” (Mark 14:54). Wiglaf’s “mind was roused to face sorrows,” and he follows his lord as well (text, p. 47).
Once arrested, Jesus is sent to a trial. He “answered nothing, so that Pilate marveled” (Mark 15:5). Beowulf also “boasted not of famous victories” (text, p. 47) but “stood staunchly against his high shield, when the dragon quickly coiled together; he waited in his war-gear” (text, p. 46). Just as Pilate knows that Jesus does not deserve death (Luke 23:4), Wiglaf says of his lord, “he deserves not to suffer affliction” (text, p. 48).

The battles that Beowulf encounters in the story—particularly his fight against the dragon—remind one of the fight between Jesus Christ and Satan—referred to as a dragon in Revelation 12:9.
There can be no friendship between Jesus and Satan, “For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14). Neither can Beowulf and the dragon “seek friendship” (p. 46). Hebrews 10:4 states, “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.” Only Jesus is able to defeat Satan and take away sins. Beowulf, too, is the only one able to defeat the dragon. “This is not your venture,” he tells his men, “nor is it in any man’s power, except mine alone, to strive with his strength against the monster, to perform heroic deeds” (text, p. 46).
When Mark 15:37 says that “Jesus cried out with a loud voice and breathed His last” one can picture how horribly painful Jesus’ death was. The death of Beowulf also comes in a torturous manner. “His breast laboured with breathing. He who before held sway over the people suffered anguish, ringed round with fire” (text, p. 47). Similar to the soldier piercing Jesus’ side with a spear (John 19:34), the dragon bites Beowulf and he “grew stained with his life-blood; the gore welled out in surges” (text, p. 48). Sadly, the reader realizes that the King will not survive; but then, just as foretold in Genesis 3:15, He strikes the serpent’s head. Beowulf “struck with his battle-sword with mighty strength, so that, urged by the force of hate, it stuck in his head” (text, p. 48).
Jesus—after He has risen—gives Peter the commission to “Feed My sheep” (John 21:15-19). Akin to this, the dying Beowulf gives Wiglaf “his helm bright with gold, his ring and corslet; bade him use them well” (text, p. 51).
Hebrews 2:14-15 declares, “through death [Jesus] destroy[ed] him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release[d] those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Beowulf, though he died, killed the dragon—saving the people. “[I]t was sorrow for the young man to see on the earth the man he loved best, his life closed, lying there helpless. The slayer also lay low, the dread earth-dragon, reft of life, vanquished by violence” (text, p. 51). Not only did Jesus gain victory in His death, He also made the way for His followers to get to the reward of heaven (John 14:6). Beowulf rid the people of the dragon, at the same time procuring a “great store of jewels” (text, p. 49). “Beowulf had paid with his death for the many costly treasures” (text, p. 51).

Many aspects of the Beowulf story relate to the gospel story. Colossians 1:13-14 wonderfully sums up the plot: “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.”

[all citations labeled "text" are taken from the Dover Thrift Edition of Beowulf.]

Monday, May 14, 2007

What Sort?

". . . what sort of person have you been today?"
-Thomas A Kempis
The Imitation of Christ