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Rage in the Belly by Luzia Sutter Rehmann, translated by Monica Buckland; and Rage and Hope, edited by Chine McDonald and Wendy Lloyd

by
17 June 2022

Adjust your perspective on the New Testament, suggests Ann Morisy

RAGE is wisely and productively understood by Luzia Sutter Rehmann through her illuminating and accessible scholarship (acknowledgement must also go to the translator, Monica Buckland).

In a work first published in Germany in 2014, Sutter Rehmann, a professor of New Testament at the University of Basel, has a straightforward thesis, which has huge implications for our understanding of Jesus’s ministry, and our ensuing process of church. Combining historical and social contextualisation, she posits that, in the time of Jesus, hunger was endemic among the people, and that we in the northern hemisphere, well nourished and with full bellies, miss this reality.

Sutter Rehmann gives us new reading glasses to see the rage of hunger and appreciate rage as the moment when tolerance comes to an end and boosts the potential for social movements to gain momentum and initiate change. She provides four “signals” to help well-fed readers trace implicit indications of hunger: referencing eating and food; silence about hunger, because of the humiliation and exhaustion; references to the Torah being verbalised when words fail as a means of channelling rage; along with emotional restlessness and irritability.

Heeding these pointers leads to remarkable new insights into familiar texts. Her case is that it is not so much that hunger must be proved, but that people who do not know hunger have to learn how to suspect and detect its presence.

This lens through which Sutter Rehmann coaches her readers prompts rethinking of many pericopes and themes in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. For example, the wedding at Cana, so easily understood as a story of abundance, is also a story of a feast under conditions of scarcity. Maybe John the Baptist’s remarkable diet was not because he was an ascetic? And maybe Peter’s vision at Joppa has something to do with the famine that had struck throughout the then known world, making this pericope about mercy towards the hungry as much as resolution of demarcations between Jew and Gentile?

Significantly, Sutter Rehmann identifies taken-for-granted themes that, from the hermeneutic of hunger, require scrutiny. She queries the pervasive anti-Judaist interpretations of the encounters that Jesus has with religious orthodoxy. So, too, the purpose and practice of John the Baptist, enabling a fuller understanding of Jesus and his relationship to his cousin.

Sutter Rehmann’s scholarship reveals extraordinary links between the Torah and Jesus’s teaching and extends this thinking to reflect on the Last Supper through the lens of endemic hunger. She notes that table fellowships are always about inclusion and exclusivity. This, combined with historic iconography, has veered our perception of the Last Supper into a powerful committee of men, confounding the very intention of Jesus.

Sutter Rehmann triggers a rescue: she reminds us that Dodeka (the Twelve) is the hope-number in the Torah, and the table is laid for everyone. Jesus breaks the bread to pass it on. The beckoning Jesus gives is towards solidarity to create a collective hope-body. The message of the Last Supper is that only together are we capable of survival.

Christian Aid knows something about survival against hunger. The 75th anniversary of Christian Aid is celebrated by the curating of 75 prayers by McDonald and Lloyd, organised under four headings: Remember, Resist, Resolve, and Reimagine. The prayers are characterised by the mood of the moment: angry compassion. The unevenness and particularity of the contributions, however, make it hard to imagine drawing on these prayers in a corporate setting. The most stimulating and arousing offering comes from Walter Brueggemann, who, in the foreword, provides a concise outline of the practical efficacy of truth-telling and lament.
 

Ann Morisy is a freelance community theologian and lecturer.

 

Rage in the Belly: Hunger in the New Testament
Luzia Sutter Rehmann
Monica Buckland, translator
Cascade Books £28
(978-1-5326-4224-1)
Church Times Bookshop £25.20

 

Rage and Hope: 75 prayers for a better world
Chine McDonald and Wendy Lloyd, editors
SPCK £9.99
(978-0-281-08623-8)
Church Times Bookshop £8.99

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