Christ is Risen! Keeping It All in Perspective

Bright Monday: Christ is Risen!

One of the surprises of the Orthodox faith is that on Pascha night when we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, on the night in which we proclaim dozens of times: “Christ is risen!”, on the night in which all our hymns focus on the resurrection of Christ, the Gospel we proclaim at the Divine Liturgy is not one of the accounts of the Resurrection.  What we proclaim is John 1:1-17, which is not about finding the empty tomb or about Christ’s descent into Hades.    The Gospel we proclaim is often referred to as “The Prologue” – it is just the introduction to the book written by the Evangelist John.

And one reason that we read this Gospel at the Paschal Divine Liturgy is that it is about the big picture.  We are not just celebrating that one man, a good man at that, came back from the dead, though that would be a big enough event in its own right.   The Gospel for the Paschal Liturgy helps us see Christ’s resurrection in the big picture of the entirety of creation (the entire universe) and the entire history of the cosmos.   The Gospel takes us back to the beginning of Creation – In the beginning was the word (John 1:1).   We are taken back to the beginning of the Bible itself, back to chapter one of the book of Genesis, back to the big bang, the beginning of everything.    And we remember that in the midst of the total silence of nothingness, in the soundless vacuum, God spoke His Word and creation – time and space – came into being.  God said, “Let there be light” and there was light (Genesis 1:3).   It is God’s Word which causes creation to exist – causes us to exist.   And as we hear in John’s Gospel at the Paschal Liturgy, Jesus Christ is the Word of God.  It is He who caused all things to come into existence as we just heard – All things were made through Him and without Him nothing was made that was made (John 1:3).

Out of the vacuum of nothingness and silence, creation was brought into existence by the Word of God.  Or, maybe into that empty void God caused creation to come into being.   Either way, there came to be something, rather than nothing by the Word of God.  By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth (Psalms 33:6).

And then, what we just thought about all during Holy Week – the impossible happened.  Creation – we creatures – endeavored to silence the Word of God.  We nailed him to the cross and He died.   No breath was found in Him.  He was sealed in a silent tomb, left voiceless and to rot back into nothingness.  Descending into the depths of Hades never to be heard from again.

Except, that on Pascha, the Word spoke again – out of the dead silence of Hades, God’s Word again called Light into existence.   From the muteness of Hades – from which no voice was ever heard on earth, God speaks to us.   Pascha night is a night of renewal for all creation for God again is giving light and life to the world, to all of creation, to us and to the entire universe.  From the tomb shines forth the Light of Life, and we hear the Word of God giving life even to the dead.

And God tells us even in death we don’t return to nothingness.  Even in death we do not cease to exist.  Death does not, can not, annihilate us because God the giver of life is more powerful than death, and the life God gives us is stronger than death.  Death does not end our life.

So we proclaim this Gospel of John 1:1-17 on Pascha night – a universal message, not just for Christians but the entire created universe.  The power of the resurrection is not limited to Christ or to Christians, but is offered to the entire human race.  Listen to the Gospel:

All things came into being through Jesus Christ (John 1:3)

The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it (1:5).

John came to bear witness to the Light – that ALL might believe through him (1:7).

Christ the true light enlightens EVERYONE who ever existed, who now exists or who will ever exist (1:9).

ALL who receive Him are given the ability to be God’s children (1:12).

ALL have recieved grace upon grace (1:16)

When we focus only on the resurrection of Jesus as a historical fact, we can easily lose sight of the universal and cosmic meaning of that message.   Everything in the world, and everyone in the world is found in the message of John’s Gospel.  We proclaim it this night because it includes all of us – as we heard in the catechetical homily of St. John Chrysostom, it includes all who diligently kept the fast and all who didn’t, all who labored from the 1st hour and those who came at the 11th hour, the sinners and the saints, the rich and the poor, everyone encompassed in the universal resurrection which our Lord has given to us all.

 

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Christ is Our Union with God

“As we read in the Prologue of John, there is light, but there is also darkness. God’s omnipotence is in love. And since love cannot be imposed without thereby denying it, this omnipotence—capable of creating beings that can reject it! – is also ultimate weakness. It can act only through human hearts that freely allow its light to shine through them. God respects human freedom as he respected that of the angels. But in order to keep that freedom from succumbing to the darkness, He becomes incarnate and descends into death, into hell, so that there could be a place where the will of man might unite itself to the divine will. That place is Christ. In Christ, the human will became painfully and joyously united to that of the Father. In the Risen One, seated at the right hand of the Father, the will of God is done on earth as it is in heaven.”     (Olivier Clement, Three Prayers: The Lord’s Prayer, O Heavenly King, Prayers of St. Ephrem, pg. 24)

Pascha 2013

My Dear Fellow Orthodox,

Every year we Orthodox undertake the sojourn we call Great Lent. For some of us that Lenten journey is long and puts us to the test, spiritually and physically. We forgive, ask forgiveness, we repent, we fast, we pray, we give charitably to those in need, we aim to gain control of our passions, to resist our temptations, and to overcome the power of sin in our lives. It is how we obey Christ’s command to deny ourselves and to take up our cross to follow Him (Mark 8:34).

If we haven’t treated the past 7 weeks of Lent as a scenic bus ride on which we are tourists riding in the comfort of a luxury coach in which we can just lay back and let others do the work while we enjoy the carefree life – we arrive at Pascha tired, hungry, a bit frazzled, having been spiritually, physically and mindfully challenged by the demands of the fast and self-denial. We will have been changed by the arduous sojourn.

Our view of things will have changed. We won’t be looking back to the time before Lent began – to that time when we could eat anything, could pursue our self-satisfying interests, could live, think and act like any fellow American who is secular minded or agnostic. Rather Lent will have made our lives, our hearts and minds oriented in a new direction: toward the Kingdom of God. As our parish Patron Saint Paul says:

“… forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.(Philippians 3:13-14)

And so we arrive at Pascha: The Resurrection of Christ, a new beginning for creation and for ourselves. We hear the Good News of Pascha from John’s Gospel, in many languages, but the same words and message:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”

The long, Lenten journey takes us to the beginning, to God. We now can begin anew.

Christ is Risen!   Indeed He is risen!

Fr. Ted

I recommend to all to view the beautiful Serbian Orthodox Paschal music video.  You don’t have to understand Serbian to appreciate the total Christian joy and beauty of the video.

The Word, The Information, The Bit (IV)

This is the 4th and final blog in this essay series reflecting on James Gleick’s book THE INFORMATION: A HISTORY, A THEORY, A FLOOD.   The first blog is The Word, The Information, The Bit (1) and the immediately preceding blog is The Word,  The Information, The Bit (III).

The printing press by making permanent records available to all had the potential to preserve so much information from the past that we might become so overwhelmed with it that we would suffer a memory loss – no longer sure as to what was the exact past as we can now see all of the variations and changes and mistakes of the past – nothing has been forgotten and so the past becomes buried under mounds of facts which we don’t know how to measure or weigh.   Or it is possible that the new technologies in preserving more of the past make it more visible in detail to us, increasing our understanding of ourselves and of history?

“Another way to speak of the anxiety is in terms of the gap between information and knowledge.  A barrage of data so often fails to tell us what we need to know.  Knowledge, in turn, does not guarantee enlightenment or wisdom.  (T. S. Eliot [d 1965]  said that, too:  ‘Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? / Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? …)’”  (p 403)

Or as one clever wag said:

“The more we study, the more we learn.

The more we learn, the more we know.

The more we know, the more we forget.

So, why study?”

All of Gleick’s book is a study of information, whatever that is, it has become the basis of the technologies we use daily and are so dependent on – all of the computing of any sorts we do from cell phones, to GPS, to e-readers, to computers of every size.     It is a fascinating look at the history of how our ideas of information have evolved through time.

“A ‘file’ was originally – in sixteenth-century England – a wire on which slips and bills and notes and letters could be strung for preservation and reference.  Then came file folders, file drawers, and file cabinets; then the electronic namesakes of all these; and the inevitable irony.  Once a piece of information is filed, it is statistically unlikely ever to be seen again by human eyes.”  (p 410)

So the Word became flesh according to St. John, but in the modern world the word becomes filed existing in an electronic incarnation called the bit.

“It was once thought that a perfect language should have an exact one-to-one correspondence between words and their meanings.  There should be no ambiguity, no vagueness, no confusion.  Our earthly Babel is a falling off from the lost speech of Eden: a catastrophe and a punishment.”  But information theory and science says it ain’t so. “With or without God, there is no perfect language.”  (p 418)

All information requires interpretation.  It is the way of Christ who interprets Torah. It is God’s way.  Any incarnation of the word requires interpretation.   Christianity, if it is not so fearful, may come to realize that information theory tells us what we knew all along.   Islam for its part will struggle with this much more for it does hold that there is the exact original of the Quran in heaven of which all earthly volumes are precise copies –  though the Quran itself implies relying on a recited word, not one committed to print.

Babel was aimed at preventing humans from conspiring against heaven, not to prevent humans from understanding God who intended Babel to be a lesson.

But science in information theory sees itself moving in a particular direction.  Dexter Palmer wrote:

“In a modern age without an Author looking down on us from heaven, language is not a thing of definite certainty, but infinite possibility; without the comforting illusion of meaningful order we have no choice but to stare into the face of meaningless disorder; without the feeling that meaning can be certain, we find ourselves overwhelmed by all things that words might mean.” (p 419)

This seems to assume that humans are isolated and alienated from each other, and from all others and from God – extreme individualism with no shared anything.   But we share a world, and can share not only information but also understanding and meaning.  We can interpret and debate because we can share meaning.  Everything is not random.  Humans do some things with intention and with intended meaning – in other words, we do communicate.  It is also the nature of divine revelation, which is at the heart of Christian claims.  The reality may be that there is a pattern to all that exists, but we simply lack the perspective – the God view – to see it.  We are limited beings and do not like such limitations.

The English language according to Claude Shannon’s   (d 2001) statistics has close to 75% redundancy.  Certain letters follow other letters regularly, some combinations are totally rare.  It is what enables Google to “read my mind” when I do a search as it “guesses” the next letter in my search.  Randomness is not complete, order is both in the information and imposed on it.     And Gleick can write a 526 page book about it which does convey meaning in written form to any who read his book.   Even in the quantum world of unpredictability, there is a great amount of information conveyable to those who know how to read the signs.

Too bad that I read his book, and got my e-reader afterwards.  His may be the last of its kind for me – I’ll look for “books” that are available on Kindle.   It is a technology made possible by information theory.

“In the beginning was the Word…”   And that word was not coterminous with printed letters, but as a spoken word had no physical form, no letters serving as bookends to contain it within certain symbols.

The word became print, but that never altered the Word which retains all of its divinity.  Perhaps technology is freeing that Word once again so we will never mistakenly equate the Word with a written script, but rather will understand that the Word in its electronic manifestation (no incarnation, but an electronation?) will be much closer to its original revelation when God said, “let there be light.”

See also my blogs:  From Incarnation to Encryption and Knowledge and Wisdom, Fact and Truth

The Samaritan Woman (1992): The Truth Will Make You Free

Whatever is true is Christian          John 4:5-42

Sermon notes for   May 24, 1992     The Samaritan Women

What is truth?

Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor who ordered the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ, once asked Jesus, that question, “What is truth?”

The answer to that question is the key to understanding Christ and to being a Christian. The 4 Gospel writers use the word true or truth, 44 times, which can give us some idea of how important truth is to the entire mission and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ.

How does the Lord answer the question? Long before Pilate asked, Jesus had answered the question, What is truth?

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the [truth], and the life. (John 14:6)

To the question, What is truth, Jesus tells us, “I am.” And the Evangelist John tells us that it is Jesus alone who gives us truth (John 1:17).

You all heard Jesus tell the Samaritan women in today’s Gospel lesson:

“But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”  (John 4:23-24)

The Lord spoke to us constantly about TRUTH, and when He wasn’t speaking about truth, He was revealing to us the Truth about God in everything He did and in His very person. Truth becomes one of the main criteria by which we can judge spirituality and religion.

All religions claim to speak the truth, but Jesus Christ lays down for us the criterion for truth:  Himself.    True religion reveals to us the Lord Jesus Christ, and help us to know Jesus, the Son of God. You can critically judge any religion or any spirituality by asking yourself the question, does this help me to know Jesus the Son of God? Does this religion, or this religious information help me to know God the Holy Trinity as revealed in the Bible and through the Church?

I offer you these thoughts on the critical evaluations of religion, because all of us living in this country are bombarded by diverse religions and spiritualities. These messages come to us through the papers and magazines we read, are beamed into our brains through radio and TV, and come knocking at our doors in the form of Jehovah witnesses and Mormons. New Age and Pagan ideas are constantly being sent to us through the media. So we all need some simple criteria by which we can judge the religious messages aimed at us:

Does this message or this religion help me to know Jesus the Son of God and the Holy Trinity as revealed in the Bible and through the Church?

Truth is essential to Christ Jesus, and we must never lose sight of this through religious claims which offer us warm-fuzzies or promise to unlock hidden potential.

There is one more aspect of the truth which I want to remind you of today. There is a tendency in our lives to treat Jesus and Christianity as if they speak to us only about “religious” truth. As if there other truths in life – religious truth say is somehow unrelated to scientific truth or truth in government or personal truth.

However, St. Justin the Martyr said it well when he said, “Anything which is true is Christian.” Truth is truth and all truth is related to Jesus Christ.  Even scientific truth.  Christ is not opposed to us understanding what is true about life or the universe.

In the Gospel lesson today, Jesus reveals to the women, truth about her personal life when he speaks to her about her 5 husbands. The women perceives that there is something special about Jesus, that he is a prophet, but this perception and religious experience comes in the midst of their discussion on her personal life. Jesus helps connect in the women the truth about herself with the truth about God. It is only when we are truthful about ourselves, about our sins, about our relationships with others, that we become open to the truth about God. Why? Because truth is truth.

Jesus unmasks the women’s religiosity, not to embarrass her, but to help her experience the connection between her private life and religion.

This same experience is available to us when we become open and honest about ourselves, by examining our consciences, by confessing our sins, by repenting of sinfulness rather then making excuses for our sins or trying to hide them. Being painfully truthful about ourselves leads us to the purely joyful experience of God.

The one who is Lord of the world and is worshiped as God in the churches is also to be Lord of our hearts, minds and homes.

As Jesus said, “If you know the truth, the truth will make you free.”

Mary: The Book in Whom the Word of God is Inscribed

In Isaiah 7:14, the Prophet announces that a Virgin shall conceive and bear the son who will be Immanuel – “God with us.”

Isaiah further prophesied:

“In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the poor among men shall exult in the Holy One of Israel”   (Isaiah 29:18-19).

Isaiah’s prophecy inspired the author of the Canon for the Sunday of the Paralytic to write these words:

In days of old Isaiah beheld you, ever-Virgin,

as the book in which the timeless Word

was written by the finger of the Father!

He saves us from all senseless lack of reason,

as we sing songs of praise to you with holy words!

(From the 8th Ode of the Canon) 

St. John the Theologian in his Gospel is clear that Jesus is the Word of God.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. …  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.   (John 1:1)

Indeed, Mary as Theotokos can be poetically perceived as the book in whom the Word of God was written as the Canon Hymn has the Holy Prophet Isaiah saying.

For if Christ is the Word of God, then indeed Mary is the one who gives flesh to that word and makes the Word visible to us.

Some Scriptural Thoughts on Death (A)

This is the 2nd Blog in this series reflecting on death.  The 1st Blog is Death: The Last Enemy of God.

God warned Adam that should he disobey God’s command not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he would die (Genesis 2:17).  This was a warning from God, for Adam’s own good, not a punishment. What would make me think so?   We can look at God’s attitude toward death in several other Biblical passages. 

“Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?  …  For I have no pleasure in the death of any one, says the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.”  (Ezekiel 18:23 … 32)

 “And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, Thus have you said: ‘Our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?’  Say to them, As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?”   (Ezekiel 33:10-11)

God could not make it any more clear, that death is not what God hopes for anyone and He finds death to be unacceptable to Him, but He still recognizes it as a human choice.  And in the New Testament, death is described as the last enemy of God.

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”   (1 Corinthians 15:26)

In fact the Good News of God’s Kingdom is that death is being overthrown and no longer has dominion over humanity.  Additionally, in what is a transfiguration of death’s origins, God comes to value His servants who die.

“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.”  (Psalms 116:15)

Here we have in the Psalms a prophecy which will see its fulfillment in the Suffering Servant, Jesus Christ.   For when God allowed the first Adam to die because of his disobedient sin of eating of the forbidden fruit, God the Father already knew what this meant for His Son, the new Adam.  God intended for humans to share in the divine life, but God was willing to share in the human life to make it possible for humans to attain full communion with Him.  Thus death which was the direct result of human sin against God, became part of what God would experience to save humanity from its fallen state and to lift humanity to heaven.  This is God’s plan of salvation.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”   [Philippians 2:5-11 (RSV)]

Unlike the first Adam – in fact, the exact opposite of the first  Adam – who was disobedient unto death, Jesus Christ, the new Adam, is obedient unto death.   The first Adam disobeyed in sin to bring death into the world, Christ the new Adam obeys God and dies in order to give life to the world.

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.”   (Hebrews 2:14-15)

How was it that humans created in God’s image and likeness, created to have dominion over the rest of creation, become subject to death?  How did it happen that all of humanity, created to share in the eternal divine life, became mortal?

“Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned— sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.  Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.”   (Romans 5:12-14)

 It was human sin that brought death to humanity.  The first Adam sinned as did all his descendants until the time of Christ.   Torah given by God for humanity, did not stop sin or death.  

The incarnation of the Word of God (John 1:1-14) was God’s plan for taking on death.  The Word became flesh in order to die in the flesh with the purpose of destroying death.

(see also my Blogs:   Why did God become Human?   and  Job: My redeemer lives!)

Next:  Some Scriptural Thoughts on Death (B)

Jesus Fulfills Torah

This is the 8th Blog in this series which began with Reading Scripture: the Old Testament, the Torah and Prophecy.   The immediate preceding blog is Reading Torah and Keeping God’s Word.

“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”   (John 1:17)

Christ and Moses

A purely literal reading of John 1:17 might cause one to conclude that the Evangelist John was claiming that there is no truth in Moses, only law, and thus no truth in the Torah, our Old Testament.  Of course that is not the contrast John the Theologian is making.  He is not rejecting the Moses and the entire Old Testament as being void of truth, for it is the entire Old Testament which points to and makes Jesus Christ known to us all.  Later in his Gospel, John writes: “You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life”  (John 5:39-40).  John obviously doesn’t think the Torah is devoid of truth for it bears witness to Christ and thus is true.  Jesus in fact fulfils Torah.

As the Fifth Century bishop Theodoret of Cyrus wrote:  “It was the Law, after all, that guided us to Christ; so the one who believes in Christ the Lord fulfills the purpose of the Law.”  (Theodoret of Cyrus, COMMENTARY ON THE LETTERS OF PAUL  V 1, p 107)

Generally the New Testament writers understood that with the coming of the Christ, the Old Covenant (=Testament) had been fulfilled.  Its purpose accomplished and thus the new Covenant which God had promised has been ushered in (Jeremiah 31:31-34).  They describe the Law as being but a shadow of the reality to come or a custodian – a temporary condition until the time had come for God to reveal His perfect salvation.

“So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian;  for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Galatians 3:24-26).

“For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices which are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who draw near”  (Hebrews 10:1).

“The early identification of Jesus as, in the words of the Psalm, ‘a priest for ever’ and as ‘the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ – therefore simultaneously and uniquely both the sacrificial victim and the sacrificing priest—became part of an elaborate scheme of interpretation by which the liturgy prescribed in the Torah, especially Exodus and Leviticus, was seen as having become obsolete now that the One it pictured had finally come into human history in the person of Jesus Christ.  What had been ‘foreshadowed’ in the Torah had now been ‘overshadowed’ in him as the fulfillment.”   (Jaroslav Pelikan,  WHOSE BIBLE IS IT?, p 96)

The Torah foreshadowed Christ, but alas, also represents a stumbling block (Romans 9:30-33) because people can begin to trust in their own righteousness achieved through their own efforts rather than seeing that even the Law was a gift to those who believe the God of Love is working for their salvation.  When we trust in our own efforts to keep the Law, we don’t even need God for our salvation!  We can keep twisting our interpretation of the Law to make it more possible for us (and us alone!) to keep Torah.   The downside? If we believe we save ourselves through our own effort to keep every detail of the Law, we will find ourselves condemned if we fail in any one detail of the Law.

“If you really fulfil the royal law, according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well. But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ said also, ‘Do not kill.’ If you do not commit adultery but do kill, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy; yet mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:8-13).

What happens to those who rely on their own ability to keep the Law is they forget the purpose of Torah was not to simply develop fanatical adherence to the details of the Law, but it was rather a way to help us remain faithful to God and to help us love God with all our heart, mind and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5, the great “Shema Israel”), and to love neighbor as oneself (Leviticus 19:18).   St. Paul recognized that demanding strict adherence to Torah meant God had no intention of saving the world, whereas he had come to recognize that it was faith in God which in fact was what God wanted from all His human creatures as witnessed in the life of Abraham who was the father of many nations.

“In other words, the law poses a religious problem for the apostle to the Gentiles.  On what basis does a Gentile become a member of the community of Christ?  Is it through circumcision and adherence to the law of Moses?  Or is it on some other basis?  In this regard, the apostle is clear.  Obedience to the law of Moses is not an entrance requirement into the community of Christ for the Gentiles.  Indeed, the law of Moses is not a universal requirement for the people of God in Christ.  … In effect, Paul has transformed Judaism from a national religion into a universal religion through the incorporation of Gentiles into the community of Christ. Paul did not perceive this to be a negation of Judaism but a completion of Judaism and its task of being a blessing to the nations.”   (James Aageson, WRITTEN ALSO FOR OUR SAKE: PAUL AND THE ART OF BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION, p 27)

Next:  A Christian View of Prophecy

Repentace: Responding to the Light of Christ

Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”   (Matthew 4:12-17)

Note the call to repentance does not occur while the people are sitting in darkness.

The call to repentance comes with the dawning of the light.

When we are darkness, we are not prepared to repent.

Only when we begin to see the light do we see the need to repent.  The light makes it possible for us to see things in a new perspective, to bring about metanoia – repentance.

Repentance doesn’t bring about the light, nor does it cause us to “earn” the light.

Repentance is a response to the Light.  Repentance doesn’t earn us the right to see the light. 

The dawning light doesn’t chase away the need to repent, rather it brings us to repentance!

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God;  all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him.  He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.  The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.  He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.  But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God;  who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.”  (John 1:1-14)

Christ the Wisdom, Word and Power of God (2)

This is the conclusion of the blog Next:  Christ the Wisdom, Word and Power of God (1) which began my comments on Lecture 15 of  Luke Timothy Johnson’s JESUS AND THE GOSPELS (The Teaching Company).  Professor Johnson makes several comments which seemed particularly significant to me in understanding Matthew’s Gospel.

 “Most impressively, Matthew artfully suggests that Jesus even personifies Torah, making it possible to declare that Jesus is ‘Torah made human.’”

Matthew makes Jesus like Torah:  to be wisdom personified, to be eternal, and to be with the faithful forever.   This certainly is the sense in which Jesus can be said to be the Wisdom and Word of God incarnate. 

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. … And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (John 1:14-18).

For the Christians, as they spread the Gospel through the world of the Roman empire and among their fellow Jews, they were intentionally competing with the ideas of wisdom both from Greek philosophy and from the Jewish sense taken from Torah of the divine Wisdom.  To both, they boldly claimed that Jesus, the Jewish carpenter’s son, was not only also the Son of God, but was Wisdom incarnate.  Wisdom and philosophy were valued by both Jews and Greeks, but their understanding of each was different.  For Greeks, wisdom was the supreme reason/rationality of the universe which remained hidden and had to be discovered by philosophers to help man to become wise and to pursue pure mind, liberated from the body.  For the Jews, Wisdom, God’s presence on earth,  meant God’s own powerful action in the world, for Wisdom was revealed by God, but also was a revelation that moved history and individuals to godliness.

Christ Teaching

As St. Neilos the Ascetic (d. 430AD) understood it, Christ and Christians had laid hold of both Wisdom traditions and found them pointing to Christ as Lord.   He wrote:  “only the disciples of Christ have pursued true wisdom, because they alone have Wisdom as their teacher.”   The Great Church in Constantinople was named Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) and is dedicated to Christ, who the Church proclaimed as the Wisdom of God.   St. Paul the Apostle’s writing in 1 Corinthians 1:18-30 can best be understood as both comparing and contrasting Jesus Christ to the wisdom of Hellenic philosophy as well as the Wisdom of the Torah.  Christ as Wisdom is not a noetic abstraction to be sought by the bodiless and pure minds of Greek philosophers, but the incarnated AND crucified Lord.   Christ is not a conquering power over the Gentiles as the Jews imagined, but is the power of God to destroy death the last enemy through the death of God’s Son obediently carrying out the Father’s will, as Israel was supposed to but failed to do.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.”  Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.  For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,  but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,  but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.  For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth;  but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong,  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,  so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.  He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption…” (1 Cor 1:18-30)