On Sept. 25, Duke Divinity School hosted a retirement lecture given by Richard Hays, George Washington Ivey Professor Emeritus of New Testament and former dean of the Divinity School. A recording of the lecture, “A Dark Fruition: Waiting in Hope," is now available on YouTube and below.
During the lecture, Hays spoke about how he received a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in 2015 and took a medical leave of absence to undergo chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.
"I left in tears with my hair falling out. I took up the tasks of reviewing my will and writing directions for my funeral service. As I stand here tonight, I'm unexpectedly able to look back on that night, that year of now-done darkness," he said. "I couldn't have anticipated still being here tonight three years later, apparently healed, chastened, and hopeful at age 70 to continue the conversation that I've shared with this community for more than a quarter of a century, and I certainly could not have anticipated the altered perception and other changes in me that were wrought by staring death in the face."
Hays's address included a recitation of poetry by John Hall Wheelock and Malcolm Guite; a song written by his wife, Judy Hays, and inspired by Dietrich Bonhoeffer that Hays sang and played on guitar with piano accompaniment; and references to a number of biblical texts, including John 12:24–26; Romans 8:22–25; John 15:4–5; John 15:12, 16a, 17; and Psalms 80:8–10, 14–15, 17–18.
Hays also talked about how the corrupting power of sin can lead the "good gifts of scriptural and theological learning" to become twisted into "instruments of self-aggrandizement."
"Those of us in places of privilege such as Duke Divinity School must constantly be aware of that danger and seek to be conformed to the life of the 'one good grain,' the one who fell into the earth and died in order to bear good fruit," he said. "For those of us who are scholars and teachers and pastors, the practice of falling into the dirt, into the earthly humus, corresponds of course to the cultivation of humility. Only if we fall into the dark earth can our labors of learning and teaching undergo a dark fruition and bear fruit in their turn."
Hays is internationally recognized for his work on the Gospels, the letters of Paul, and New Testament ethics. His scholarly work has bridged the disciplines of biblical criticism and literary studies, exploring the innovative ways in which early Christian writers interpreted Israel’s Scripture. He has also consistently sought to demonstrate how close reading of the New Testament can inform the church’s theological reflection, proclamation, and ministry.