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Gleanings and Musings from the Study of the Rector of Monken HadleyThomas Renz
Updated: 13 min 56 sec ago

Our Part in Unifying Humanity

Sat, 25/03/2017 - 22:11
I was impressed by the way Charles H. Talbert integrated Ephesians 5:8-14 in the letter as a whole and much of the following as well as quotations marked CT are from his Ephesians and Colossians (Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007). FT refers to Frank Thielman, Ephesians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010).

We live in a fractured world and this is evident both in hostile events such as the Westminster attack last Wednesday which nevertheless also create unity at least for a moment in a solidarity with victims, and in peaceful celebrations of unity such as the marking of the 60th anniversary of the treaty of Rome and the march in London in support of the EU which are of course over against those who cponsider the EU a wrong sort of unity.

Many of us long for a unity that does not compromise our diversity, or at least does not threaten our liberty, but we are struggling to discover how this can work. Some push the unity, arguing that we must be less tolerant of those who threaten it. In this way we buy our unity at the expense of deeper divisions with others and may seek to strengthen unity by enforcing greater uniformity. Others stress that we must now be extra careful to remain inclusive rather than shutting out others. In this way, we risk the stability of unity, as we are unsure how to restrain the forces that push us apart without forcing uniformity.

The church wrestles with the same issues. The latest attempts within the CofE to safeguard our unity in diversity run under the banner of “good disagreement” and “radical inclusion” but what do these phrases mean? It’s hard to tell. Does it mean that it is quite all right for Christians to completely disagree on something as long as they are nice to each other?

Is “good disagreement,” as someone commented, “only a different way of saying we should tolerate and respect one another’s beliefs because there is no such thing as truth, only what we believe to be true.” And does the call for “radical inclusion” take the place of the traditional call to repentance? Does it mean that we must not challenge immoral behaviour but celebrate different lifestyles? If so, is this Christian unity? Most certainly not.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is about “the plan of God to unify the cosmos through Christ.” Two “important pieces of the plan” are “reconciliation of Jew and Gentile in a new humanity and concord in the Christian household.” (CT) And Ephesians 5:8-14 belongs with this plan.

Dio Chrysostom, a famous Greek orator, writer, philosopher and historian of the Roman Empire in the 1st century, had this to say:
“Only by getting rid of the vices that excite and disturb men, the vices of envy, greed, contentiousness, the striving in each case to promote one’s own welfare at the expense of both one’s native land and the common weal—only so, I repeat, is it possible ever to breathe the breath of harmony in full strength and vigor and to unite upon a common policy.” (Or. 34.19)I think the apostle agrees, except for adding that ultimately this is only possible in and through Christ.

Let me underline this because so often we believe that what we really need is to find and stress the common ground and that this is where we find unity. But to pursue such a line single-mindedly what we hold in common must be valued more highly than what divides us and this means that the question which values and ideas trump others becomes hugely important and necessarily contentious.

And problematic. Because what we hold in common, probably a longing for peace and justice, possibly values such as “individual liberty” and “the rule of law” need to be supported and defined by a greater vision, a world-view which brings us to the kind of stuff on which we disagree. In addition, some of the values apparently are in conflict with each other, e.g., “democracy” which encourages short-termism (and selfishness?) and “sustainability” which requires long-term thinking and planning (and sacrifice?). Again, we need a greater vision to arbitrate.

Against this mistaken belief that unity is basically a matter of finding and stressing our common ground, ancient wisdom inside and outside the Bible points us to the need to get rid of the vices that threaten our unity.

It is a question of light and darkness, again both outside and inside the Bible. But what the apostle reminds us of here is that we are unable to move from darkness to light (and of course unable to move others from darkness to light). “In the Lord you are light. Live as children of light!” This is how we come into God’s project of unifying the cosmos through Christ. “The fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true” and the fruit is to be found in us.

The word for “good” here means benevolent – doing good to others in practical ways. Interestingly, these three words, “good and forthright and honest” are often found in ancient Jewish and Christian literature to describe the character of God (FT). The choice of these three virtues seems deliberate. After all, just a few sentences earlier the apostle has called us to be “imitators of God” (Galatians 5:1).

“Deciding what is benevolent, right, honest, and therefore pleasing to the Lord in any given situation is often complicated, and Paul recognizes this by” (FT) adding “Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.”

But note: the challenge is to be different for the sake of unity. We are to be “a contrast society” (Gerhard Lohfink), “a body of Christians whose common life and practice stand as a sharp yet appealing alternative to the surrounding world” (CT) and so exposes the deeds of the world.

Verse 11: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”

Exposing the unfruitful works of darkness not by harassing people but by living alternative lives that show up the deficiencies of a life without Christ, revealing how shallow, futile, sterile, and shameful the life choices of many are, and inconsistent with their own convictions. It means “stripping sexual immorality and greed of the attractive veneer placed over these activities by those who practice them and revealing their true colors” (FT).

In other words, this is not so much a matter of condemning others for sleeping around or cheating on insurance claims or pursuing a favourable deal regardless of the costs to others but of demonstrating through our lives
  • that true, faithful love is so much more attractive than cheap sex;
  • that honesty in all our dealings is so much more rewarding than single-minded pursuit for gain;
  • that concern for others is so much more truly human than a life of greed.
The challenge to the church is to stand as an appealing alternative to the world.” BUT this appeal does “not lie primarily in the moral superiority of Christians” (CT) to other people. Rather, it lies in the contrast between the unfruitful, unprofitable works of darkness and the “purposeful, goal-oriented existence that characterizes the believing community because of its union with Christ” (FT) and “in the manner in which believers confront their sins, seek and offer forgiveness, and live reconciled and reconciling lives.” (CT)

Verse 13: “everything exposed by the light becomes visible”.

In John 16:8 Jesus promised his disciples that the coming Advocate will “prove wrong” or “expose [same word as here in Ephesians 5] the world with regard to sin, righteousness, and judgement.” The Christian community appears to be the place where the Holy Spirit does this and “the vehicle through which the Spirit plays that role.” (CT)

And by the grace of God in Christ such exposure is the way to transformation, “for everything that becomes visible is light” (verse 14) and the apostle seems to quote an early Jewish-Christian liturgy to make the point: Where “unbelievers awake to the truth of the gospel and rise from their former lives of sin,” (FT), where in other words someone rises from death to life, you know that Christ shines “his powerful light on them” (FT).

How do we know this can happen? Hopefully because we have experienced it ourselves. The light of Christ has shone upon us; it has enabled us to be open and honest about our own sin and awakened us to a life in imitation of God’s goodness, justice and integrity.

This is the way God makes us one in Christ, children of our heavenly Father. And this is how we play a part in God’s plan of unifying the cosmos, as the light of Christ chases away the evil works of darkness that cause our divisions.
Categories: Friends

Hilasterion: Propitiation or Expiation?

Tue, 21/03/2017 - 09:23
"C. K. Barrett is a balanced and judicious interpreter who thinks that the idea of propitiation plays an important role because of its link to the wrath of God, even if (as he recommends) the word "expiation" is used in translations.In an oft-quoted passage from his commentary on Romans, Barrett says, "WE can hardly doubt that expiation rather than propitiation is in his [Paul's] mind," because there is no trace of a suggestion that God is the object rather than the subject. However, Barrett continues, "it would be wrong to neglect the fact that expiation has, as it were, the effect of propitiation: the sin that might have excited God's wrath is expiated (at God's will) and therefore no longer does so." Cousar summarizes Barrett's argument: "The propitiation is a secondary result rather than a primary cause of the atonement." That, in one sentence, tells us what we need to know at the conclusion of the debate.

God is not divided against himself. When we see Jesus, we see the Father (John 14:7). The Father did not look at Jesus on the cross and suddenly have a change of heart. The purpose of the atonement was not to bring about a change in God's attitude towards his rebellious creatures. God's attitude towards us has always and ever been the same. Judgment against sin is preceded, accompanied, and followed by God's mercy. There was never a time when God was against us. Even in his wrath he is for us. Yet at the same time he is not for us without wrath, because his will is to destroy all that is hostile to perfecting his world. The paradox of the cross demonstrates the victorious love of God for us at the same time that it shows forth his judgment upon sin."

Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 281-282.
Categories: Friends

Evening Service with Fauré Requiem

Mon, 20/03/2017 - 13:57
An Evening Servicewith music from the Requiem Mass by Gabriel Fauré
Gabriel Fauré wrote the Requiem, the best-known of his large-scale choral works, between 1887 and 1890, adding further instrumental parts in 1900. The text is based on the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead but it departs significantly from the standard liturgical text. John Bawden explains: “Fauré included two new sections, the lyrical Pie Jesu and the transcendent In Paradisum, with its soaring vocal line and murmuring harp accompaniment. He also omitted the Dies Irae and Tuba Mirum - for most composers an opportunity to exploit to the full the dramatic possibilities of all the available choral and orchestral forces. Consequently the prevailing mood is one of peacefulness and serenity, and the work has often been described, quite justly, as a Requiem without the Last Judgement.”

PreparationHymn 14 Eternal Light, shine in my heart
O God, make speed to save us.O Lord, make haste to help us.Lead your people to freedom, O God,and banish all darkness from our hearts and minds.The Rector introduces the service.
I Introit – Kyrie Rest eternal give them, Lord,and let light always shine on them.It is right to hymn you, God, in Sionand to you will be made a vow in Jerusalem.Hear my prayer, to you all flesh will come.Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.
II OffertoriumO Lord, Jesus Christ, king of glory, free the souls of the dead from the punishment of hell and the deep pit.O Lord Jesus Christ, king of glory,deliver the dead souls from the mouth of the lion,so they are not swallowed by hell and do not fall into darkness.Sacrifices and prayers to you, Lord, with praise we offerreceive them for those souls whom today we remember.Make them, Lord, from death cross over to lifeas once to Abraham you promised and to his seed.
The Word of GodOld Testament reading: Joshua 1:1-9Each Scripture reading concludes with This is the word of the Lord.Thanks be to God.
III SanctusHoly, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts,full are the heavens and earth with the glory of you.Hosanna in the highest.
New Testament reading: Ephesians 6:10-20
IV Pie JesuMerciful Jesus, Lord, give them rest,give them rest, eternal rest.A sermon is preached.Hymn 602 Blest are the pure in heartConfession and ForgivenessChrist the light of the world has come to dispelthe darkness of our hearts.In his light let us examine ourselves and confess our sins.Silence may be kept.Let us admit to God the sin which always confronts us.Lord God,we have sinned against you;we have done evil in your sight.We are sorry and repent.Have mercy on us according to your love.Wash away our wrongdoing and cleanse us from our sin.Renew a right spirit within usand restore us to the joy of your salvation,through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.The Rector declares God’s forgiveness.
V Agnus DeiLamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,give them rest.Let light eternal shine on them, Lord,with your saints for eternity,for you are merciful.give them eternal rest, Lord,and let light always shine on them.
IntercessionsThat the rest of this day may be holy,peaceful and full of your presence;in faith we pray.We pray to you our God.That the work we have done and the people we have met todaymay bring us closer to you;in faith we pray.We pray to you our God.That we may hear and respond to your call to peace and justice;in faith we pray.We pray to you our God.That you will sustain the faith and hope of those who are lonely,oppressed and anxious;in faith we pray.We pray to you our God.That you will strengthen us in your service,and fill our hearts with longing for your kingdom;in faith we pray.We pray to you our God.God of mercy,you know us and love us and hear our prayer:keep us in the eternal fellowship of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.
The Collect of the Day and the Lord’s Prayer
VI Libera meFree me, Lord, from death eternalon that day of dread,when the heavens will be shaken and the earth,while you come to judge the world with fire.I am made to shake, and am afraid,awaiting the trial and the coming anger.That day, day of anger, of calamity and misery,that day, the day of great and exceeding bitterness.
Sending OutThe Rector pronounces God’s blessing on his people
VII In ParadisumInto paradise may angels draw them,on your arrival, may the martyrs receive youand lead you into the holy city Jerusalem.May the chorus of angels receive you,and with Lazarus, once a beggar,may you have eternal rest.
Categories: Friends

Preaching alongside the Fauré Requiem

Mon, 20/03/2017 - 13:29
The Fauré Requiem was designed for a Roman Catholic mass for the dead which creates challenges for a devotional performance in a Church of England service. [Outline of service]The Church of England is separate from the Roman Catholic church not least because from the sixteenth century onwards such masses were considered an aberration. The Eucharist is a memorial of Christ’s atoning death; it cannot function as a sacrifice the living bring for the dead.John Bawden writes about the prevailing mood of the Fauré Requiem being one of peacefulness and serenity. This probably reflects the way many in our society think about death: an entry into peace and serenity. We like to think that those who have died are now at rest. But is this what we truly believe? And if so, on what grounds?Is this a little like people saying to someone who goes through a hellish illness, “I am sure you’ll be all right in the end; life will get easier!” Do we know that? Just this week I read a contributionfrom a woman suffering from chronic pain, saying how unhelpful such reassurances which have no basis in fact are.The rest for which we pray so hopefully is of course not the cessation of all activity which is simply death. The “eternal rest” is meant to be a peaceful life where instead of striving and fighting there is calm and refreshment; it is not the eerie silence of a place where nothing ever happens any more.The Requiem, from beginning to end, petitions God many times that he would give eternal rest. Now it seems to me that it is one thing to commend someone who has died to God at a funeral service, praying that God would give rest to the deceased. It is a differentthing to continue to petition God several times on later occasions. Why continue the petition? Is this for our sake or for the sake of the departed?Is there maybe a niggling doubt? Does God need to be urged to give eternal rest because we are not actually convinced that he has done so?This seems to lie behind the words of the Offertorium. The music may sound like “a Requiem without the Last Judgement” but the words of the Offertorium very much assume that there is “the punishment of hell and the deep pit” and that there is a real risk that the “souls whom today we remember” might be “swallowed by hell” and so the prayer asks for a passing from death to life.This reflects a very controversial doctrine, namely that purgatory is a part of hell. Hell is therefore seen as a place of punishment for two types of people – those, on the one hand, for whom all hope is lost, namely any who died unrepentant, and those, on the other hand, who have to endure sufferings before they are fit to enter the presence of God.This does not sit well with the overall testimony of the New Testament.Appeal is usually made to 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 where Paul writes,12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—13 the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. 14 If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If the work is burned, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.But it is quite a leap from the picture of a builder escaping “as through fire” with nothing to show for his efforts to the idea that many will need to spend some time in hell before they can enter heaven. We read in Hebrews 9:27that “it is appointed for people to die once, and after that comes judgement” and wherever the NT speaks of post-mortem judgement a clear division is implied between those who enjoy God’s presence and those who do not. In the story about the rich man and Lazarus, we hear in Luke 16:26 “And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.”Many Christians have read these statements as incompatible with the belief that the dead might move from the pain of hell to eternal bliss, let alone that they may do so through the prayers of the living.If there is a purgatory, it seems better to locate it in or with heaven than in hell in so far as hell indicates ultimate separation from God. As Geoffrey Rowell, a retired bishop in the CofE states, “Purgatory is a place of preparation for heaven, not a lesser hell.”Indeed, if there is a purgatory, its purpose is surely to purify us from every sinful thought and attitude and make us holy in desire, character, and habit. In this case the process will take as long as it takes and it seems to make little sense to believe that it can or should be shortened by our prayers, even if we wanted to accompany the process with our prayers.But it may be wrong in any case to think of purgatory as a temporal process to which we can contribute with our prayers.But maybe the prayers are not really about the departed, maybe they are about us. Maybe they are our way of saying that we have not forgotten someone. In this case would it not be better to mention our loved ones by name in our own private prayers and to do so with gratitude for what we have received rather than with anxiety about what is or might be?The CofE has prayed since 1552 “for the whole state of Christ’s church militant here on earth.” Militant here means the opposite of “at rest” and so ensures that the prayer is for the living only. Indeed, the 1552 Prayerbook (The Second Prayer Book of Edward VI) finally removed all prayer for the departed and even the Elizabeth Prayerbook of 1559 did not re-introduce them. The 1662 Prayerbook added a thanksgiving for departed Christians, coupled with prayer that we may share the glory with them hereafter. “And we also bless thy holy Name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear; beseeching thee to give us grace so to follow their good example, that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom.”This has a very different ring from the prayers in a Roman-Catholic Requiem. Except that the penultimate movement of the Fauré Requiem, Libera me, alsois a reminder that thoughts about death and the afterlife should lead us to pray for ourselves. Our main concern must be with the living.We hear the Fauré Requiem tonight alongside the second service readings appointed for this Sunday. The first reading [Joshua 1:1-9] is very matter of fact about the death of Moses and encourages a forward-looking perspective. It urges meditation on what has been received through Moses rather than reflection on the fate of Moses who famoulsy disappeared without his body being found.Similarly, our second reading [Ephesiasn 6:10-20] can remind us that we are “the church militant” – we are the ones in the midst of the battle of good against evil. Those who have gone before us are no longer in the battle. Our departed brothers and sisters in Christ are at rest, awaiting the resurrection. And those who do not belong to Christ are no longer in the battle between good and evil either. Those who are beyond this battle in Christ, the faithful departed, do not need our prayers; the departed who are not in Christ cannot benefit from our prayers. We need to pray for one another, the living. It is us who are called to take up the whole armour of God and to stand firm against evil.So tonight, for me, is not an opportunity to pray for souls in purgatory. But this is not because I dismiss all talk about purgatory as fanciful myth. Much of the imagery which we link with hell and purgatory comes from the middle ages when, so it seems, the pictures were often understood quite literally, more often than either in antiquity or in modern times. It is easy to dismiss these pictures of purgatory and hell by insisting on taking them literally but many Christians throughout history spoke of the fires of hell without thinking of literal flames and instead pondered what it is that is being symbolised here.In his encyclical SpeSalvi (Saved In Hope), Pope Benedict XVI wrote:“Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Savior. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgment. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves.
All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire” [1 Cor. 3:15].
But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God.
In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defile­ment does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, to­wards truth and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ's Pas­sion.
At the moment of judgement we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy. It is clear that we cannot calculate the “duration” of this transforming burning in terms of the chronological measurements of this world.” (par. 47)And it is also clear, to me anyway, that this process is meant to happen, or at least begin to happen now. As we encounter Christ in one another, in the poor and marginalized, in his word, and in the Eucharist we are to be cleansed of our falsehood.Purgatory is here – and now, as we meet Christ, whether or not it is also there and then in a post-mortem encounter with Christ.
Categories: Friends

“I have no husband"

Sat, 18/03/2017 - 16:23
“I have no husband” (John 4:17). Karoline M. Lewis, John (Augsburg Fortress, 2014), 59, comments:“Her brief statement is heartrending. It is not only a statement about her marital status but an assertion about her marginalized status. She is a woman, a Samaritan woman, without a name, who has been married five times. To have been married five times in ancient Palestine would be evidence of circumstances completely beyond the control of any woman at that time. Likely widowed or divorced, the fact alone of having had five husbands would have indicated some sort of curse against her or her family. What on earth did she do, or her ancestors, that she would be subject to such destitution. To have had five husbands could also mean that the woman had been divorced, often for trivial matters, but more likely because she was barren. If she was barren, that would mean that she would not have family to turn to in the case of being widowed [but what about extended family?], which would further exacerbate her dependent status. The fact that she is currently living with a man not her husband does not correspond to a modern-day “shacking up” or “living in sin.” Rather, her situation was probably a levirate marriage. By law (Deut. 25:5-10), the brother of the dead husband was obliged to take in his dead brother’s wife, either by formal marriage or by living arrangements of some kind.”Shawna R. B. Atteberry similarly notes:“She could also be trapped by the Levirate marriage law. Her five husbands could have been brothers for whom she was supposed to produce an heir (Matt. 22:24-28). Either the family ran out of sons or the next son could have refused to marry her. That she was living with a man now who was not her husband could have been the lesser of two evils. Since the culture provided economic security only within family structures, her only other choice after husband number five died or divorced her could have been prostitution. Regardless of why the woman had had five husbands, the implication is still that she is a woman who cannot keep a man.”As to why Jesus even provoked this statement Karoline Lewis notes:
“For the woman to be able to recognize who Jesus is means that Jesus has to reveal not only who he is but also who she is. her need for him must be named so as to make sense of the mutual dependence between believers and Jesus.”“At stake in this encounter is the incarnation itself. For Jesus to name anything else about her other than that which has completely defined her reality up to this point would be to not take the incarnation seriously.”
Categories: Friends

Who Gets Reconciled, God or Us?

Fri, 10/03/2017 - 14:07
"One of the objections brought against Anselm is that he makes it sound as if a change has to take place within God -- as though the crucifixion altered God's attitude towards his rebellious creatures. The New Testament, however, never mentions God being reconciled to us. It speaks only of our being reconciled to him." But Anselm does not claim that "somehow the sacrifice of Jesus caused the Father to change his mind".

"If we are to appreciate -- if not entirely adopt -- Anselm's language of satisfaction, we need therefore to be clear that the change effected by Christ's self-oblation does not occur within God. This is of primary importance. If we do not emphasize this, we end up with a dangerously capricious God who is indeed open to the critiques brought by those who think of the wrath of God as an emotion that must be appeased. In all our discussions of reconciliation, this underlying point is fundamental. It is not God that is changed. It is the relationship of human beings and the creation to God that is changed."

David B. Hart shows in his essay "Gift Exceeding Every Debt" that "the cross does not effect a 'mere posterior reconciliation of justice and mercy' but is -- in a lovely phrase -- the 'filial intonation' of the preexistent divine love. He sums up: 'In the God-man [Deus Homo], within human history, God's justice and mercy are shown to be one thing, one action, life, and being...the righteousness that condemns is also the love that restores.'"

Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 163-164.

Categories: Friends

Adam and Eve Breaking Apart

Sun, 05/03/2017 - 07:22
"Eve, the other person, was the limit given to Adam in bodily form. He acknowledged this limit in love, that is, in the undivided unity of giving himself; he loved it precisely in its nature as a limit for him, that is, in Eve’s being human and yet ‘being another human being’. Now he has transgressed the boundary and come to know that he has a limit. Now he no longer accepts the limit as God the Creator’s grace; instead he hates it as God begrudging him something as Creator. And in the same act of transgressing the boundary he has transgressed the limit that the other person represented to him in bodily form. Now he no longer sees the limit that the other person constitutes as grace but as God’s wrath, God’s hatred, God’s begrudging. This means that the human being no longer regards the other person with love. Instead one person sees the other in terms of their being over against each other; each sees the other as divided from himself or herself. The limit is no longer grace that holds the human being in the unity of creaturely, free love; instead the limit is now the mark of dividedness. Man and woman are divided from each other.

This means two things. First it means that the man claims his share of the woman’s body or, more generally, that one person claims a right to the other, claims to be entitled to possess the other, and thereby denies and destroys the creaturely nature of the other person. This obsessive desire [Sucht] of one human being for another finds its primordial expression in sexuality. The sexuality of the human being who transgresses his or her boundary is a refusal to recognize any limit at all; it is a boundless obsessive desire to be without any limits. Sexuality is a passionate hatred of any limit. It is extreme lack of respect for things-as-they are [Unsachlichkeit]; it is self-will, an obsessive but powerless will for unity in a divided [entzweiten] world. It is obsessive because it knows of a common human being from the beginning; it is powerless because in losing his or her limit a human being has finally lost the other person. Sexuality seeks to destroy the other person as a creature, robs the other person of his or her creatureliness, lays violent hands on the other person as one’s limit, and hates grace.By destroying the other person one seeks to preserve and reproduce one’s own life. Human beings create by destroying; in sexuality the human race preserves itself while it destroys. Unbridled sexuality is therefore destruction κατʼ ἐξοχήν; it is a mad acceleration of the fall, of the downward drop. It is affirming oneself to the point of self-destruction. Obsessive desire [Sucht] and hate, tob and ra—these are the fruits of the tree of knowledge.

From this dividedness, however, there now follows a second thing, humankind’s covering itself up. Human beings with no limit, in their hatred and in their obsessive desire, do not show themselves in their nakedness. Nakedness is the essence of unity, of not being torn apart, of being for the other, of respect for what is given, of acknowledging the rights of the other as my limit and as a creature. Nakedness is the essence of being oblivious of the possibility of robbing others of their rights. Nakedness is revelation; nakedness believes in grace. Nakedness does not know it is naked, just as the eye does not see itself or know about itself. Nakedness is innocence."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1–3, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works 3 (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1997), 123-124.
Categories: Friends

Did God Really Say?

Sat, 04/03/2017 - 21:03
The question is that is put by a forked tongue, for it plainly wants to be thought of as coming from God’s side. For the sake of the true God, so it appears, it wants to cause the given word of God to fall. In this way the serpent purports somehow to know about the depths of the true God beyond this given word of God—about the true God who is so badly misrepresented in this human word. The serpent claims to know more about God than the human being who depends on God’s word alone. The serpent knows of a more exalted God, a nobler God, who has no need to make such a prohibition. It wants to be somehow itself the dark root from which the visible tree of God then first stems. And from this strongly held position the serpent now fights against the word of God. It knows that it has power only where it purports to come from God and to represent God’s cause. Only as the pious serpent is it evil. In posing its question it derives its existence from the power of God alone, and it is able to be evil only where it is pious. So now it purports to be the power that stands behind God’s word and from which God then draws God’s own power.
The question that the serpent posed was a perfectly pious one. But with the first pious question in the world, evil appears on the scene. Where evil shows itself in its godlessness, it is altogether powerless; at that point it is just a bogeyman, something we have no need to be afraid of. Indeed evil does not concentrate its power at that point at all; instead it there most often diverts attention away from the other place where it really wishes to break through. And in this latter place it is veiled in the garb of piety. The wolf in sheep’s clothing, Satan in the form of an angel of light—that is the figure that is in keeping with evil. Did God really say …?—that is the utterly godless question. Did God really say that God is love, that God wishes to forgive us our sins, that we need only believe God, that we need no works, that Christ died and was raised for our sakes, that we will have eternal life in the kingdom of God, that we are no longer alone but upheld by God’s grace, that one day all grieving and wailing shall come to an end? Did God really say: You shall not steal, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not bear false witness.…? Did God really say this to me? Or does it perhaps not apply to me in particular? Did God really claim to be a God of wrath toward those who do not keep God’s commandments? Did God really demand the sacrifice of Christ—the God whom I know better, the God whom I know to be the infinitely good, all-loving Father? This is the question that appears so innocuous but through which evil wins its power in us and through which we become disobedient to God. Were the question to come to us with its godlessness unveiled and laid bare, we would be able to resist it. But Christians are not open to attack in that way; one must actually approach them with God, one must show them a better, a prouder, God than they seem to have, if they are to fall.What is the real evil in this question? It is not that a question as such is asked. It is that this question already contains the wrong answer. It is that with this question the basic attitude of the creature toward the Creator comes under attack. It requires humankind to sit in judgment on God’s word instead of simply listening to it and doing it. And this is achieved by proposing that, on the basis of an idea, a principle, or some prior knowledge about God, humankind should now pass judgment on the concrete word of God. But where human beings use a principle, an idea of God, as a weapon to fight against the concrete word of God, there they are from the outset already in the right; at that point they have become God’s master, they have left the path of obedience, they have withdrawn from being addressed by God. In other words, in this question what is possible is played off against reality, and what is possible undermines what is reality. In the relation of human beings to God, however, there are no possibilities: there is only reality. 
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1–3, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works 3 (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1997), 107-108.
Categories: Friends

The Serpent's Motivation

Sat, 04/03/2017 - 11:51
The serpent's motivation is not stated, but a clue may lie in the characterization of him as one of the wild animals that "the Lord God had made" (3:1a), perhaps a reference to God's creation of all the animals as possible partners for the man (2:18-20). Since the serpent was "more crafty" than all the rest, he must have been the most likely candidate as a helping partner [‎עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ] for the man, which may further explain the serpent's ability to speak, reason, and engage the woman in dialogue (she did not seem surprised). As the animal most like the man and therefore the best candidate as his companion, the serpent may therefore be motivated by resentment of the woman. He has been rejected as companion to the man, while the woman is the perfect fulfillment of the man's and God's desires. This may also explain why the serpent approaches the woman instead of the man; he is attacking his competition.Bill T. Arnold, Genesis (NCBC; Cambridge: CUP, 2009), 63-64, with reference to L. G. Stone, "The Soul: Possession, Part, or Person?" in What About the Soul? Neuroscience and Christian Anthropology (2004), 58-59.
Categories: Friends

The End of the World

Mon, 27/02/2017 - 15:37
Review of Ian Paul, Kingdom, Hope and the End of the WorldThe ‘Now’ and ‘Not Yet’ of Eschatology, (BS 82; Cambridge: Grove Books, 2017). Pbk/pdf. £3.95 from“The End of the World” makes a nice title for a blog post but if this evoked the future only, the heading has misled you. The full title and sub-title of this latest offering in the Grove Books Biblical Series reminds us of the striking claim made in the New Testament that the end of the world has in one sense already arrived, while in another it is still to come.With a doctoral thesis on the book of Revelation and a research focus on New Testament, Ian Paul, managing editor of Grove Books and author of this booklet, can be expected to know his stuff and he does. Running a very popular blog and being engaged in church teaching in a variety of ways, Ian can also be expected to communicate well and he does. So, in short, this is a very well written and reliable short introduction to biblical teaching on “the last things”.  Eschatology is a big field and it would be impossible even for someone of Ian Paul’s calibre to do justice to it in such a short booklet. Here you’ll find a reasonably detailed discussion of Jesus’ Olivet discourse (Matthew 24-25; Mark 13) but only a short comment on the “millennium” (Revelation 20) on which there is in fact a separate Grove booklet (B 5 The Meaning of the Millennium: Revelation 20 and Millennial Expectation) by Michael Gilbertson. You’ll find a short but effective discussion of “rapture” but not of “soul sleep” and related matters (in spite of a hint towards the end). Such decisions are inevitable and the ones made here about what to include and exclude seem to me good ones.The booklet’s introduction highlights the importance of eschatology, as in a way does the final chapter. Leaving the field to those that go crazy about it is not an option, if we take the New Testament seriously. Eschatology is too important for the fabric of Christian faith for us to be able to avoid getting a handle on it without compromising our faith. A brisk walk through the Old Testament gives us the “background to the theme of God as king and the hope of his intervention in the world” before chapters 3 and 4 explore the Gospels and Paul’s theology (with a glance at Revelation on which the author already published Grove booklets B 28 How to Read the Book of Revelation and E 136 The Ethics of the Book of Revelation). The Gospels, while written later than the letters of Paul, are treated before them on the grounds that they present the teaching of Jesus which shaped the apostle. The final chapter teases out some implications for pastoral practice.A few more comments under three headings: Old TestamentIan identifies three key assumptions on which biblical eschatology is founded.First, “the God of Israel is the rightful ruler of the world.”
Second, “humanity does not recognize his rule.”
Third, “God’s authority will not, in the end, be frustrated.”This is a simple but effective way of showing, among other things, the link between creation and new creation and between God’s kingship over Israel and hope for the whole world. Indeed, as I tried to show in my The Rhetorical Function of the Book of Ezekiel, the concept of God’s kingship is the key for the future hope in Ezekiel.Ian claims that the third “flows from” the first two but it seems to me in fact a distinct third claim which arguably flows from who God is as much as the first one does. It is only God’s character which makes the third a necessary development beyond the first two assumptions.Ian rightly points to “delegated dominion” as critical for understanding biblical eschatology as well as other areas of Christian theology. Maybe a stronger link between this concept in general (humanity in the image of God) and the development by which “kingship, especially as exercised by David, becomes the vehicle through which God most clearly exercises his sovereignty” should have been made.A number of comments on the prophetic eschatology are, maybe due to space constraints, more descriptive than analytical. Thus, e.g., Ian tells us that Jeremiah 30-33 express “profound hope for a full political, geographical and spiritual restoration of the people to new obedience and faithful worship” but does not explore where this hope comes from, logically or theologically.Where commentary is offered, I was not always at ease with them. E.g., Ian speaks of cosmic expressions in Joel and Isaiah 24-27, moving to “apocalyptic anticipation” in the final parts of the book of Isaiah: “it will not be enough for God to intervene in the present world in order to put things right and restore his authority, for it is the world as it is which is part of the problem (Isa 49.6).” The use of “apocalyptic” for “the final parts of the book of Isaiah” (especially as distinct from Isaiah 24-27!) seems questionable to me.Other comments do their job well. Thus Ian cleverly speaks of Ezekiel 37 as “a vision which finds full flower in the hope for resurrection from the dead for both the whole people and individuals by the time of the New Testament,” thereby hinting that originally the vision was not read in this way, while doing justice to the fact that this is where reception history took it.New TestamentThere is in the NT both a strong sense of experiencing the fulfilment of OT hopes in Christ and a firm future expectation. Ian captures this well with the phrase “surplus of hope” which he describes as “the difference between what we see already realized of the kingdom in Jesus, and what we do not yet see realized in the present age.” The discussion in chapters 3 and 4 does well to show that the NT can be heard to speak coherently about eschatology and it puts the emphasis where it also lies in the NT, on the giving of the Spirit in the end times, the language of ‘old’ and ‘second’ Adam, the distinction between this age and the age to come, the resurrection of the body, the vindication of Jesus in the destruction of Jerusalem, and the anticipation of his return to earth.Pastoral ImplicationsA proper understanding of biblical eschatology 
  • helps answering some sensationalist claims that every now and again hit the news, 
  • guards against seeing the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 as an eschatological event, and 
  • helps with relating an expectation that God can and does offer healing and alleviation of suffering in answer to prayer with the experience that he does not always do so. 

On these I would be in full agreement with Ian. Ian also points out that it guards against the belief that “social reform is the sum total of that the kingdom of God is about” and the view that technology offers human life unlimited possibilities (transhumanism). I agree with what he says here but wonder whether he short-changes us by not teasing out how a future expectation grounded in Scripture might in turn nourish a commitment to social reform.Finally, a fuller understanding of eschatology reveals to us that there is something not quite right about statements frequently made in the context of funerals. This booklet can help begin addressing an often privatised and disembodied vision of the afterlife.To order the booklet for £3.95 and post-free in the UK, go to the Grove website
Categories: Friends

‎Pausal Forms and Accents

Fri, 24/02/2017 - 22:41
The following three examples in which vocalization and accentuation reflect divergent views of the syntax or semantics of a text are noted in E. J. Revell, Raymond de Hoop, and Paul Sanders (ed.), The Pausal System: Divisions in the Hebrew Biblical Text as Marked by Voweling and Stress Position (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2015). They have been taken from the review in RBL 02/17 by Jerome A. Lund.
Psalm 10:15 שְׁ֭בֹר זְר֣וֹעַ רָשָׁ֑ע וָ֜רָ֗ע תִּֽדְרוֹשׁ־רִשְׁע֥וֹ בַל־תִּמְצָֽא׃
According to the accents,‎ וָרָע goes with what follows (ASV: “Break thou the arm of the wicked; And as for the evil man, seek out his wickedness till thou find none”).According to the vocalization (conjunctive waw with qamets), it belongs with what precedes (ESV: “Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none”). The Greek (Ps 9:36) reflects the vocalization division by reading σύντριψον τὸν βραχίονα τοῦ ἁμαρτωλοῦ καὶ πονηροῦ, ζητηθήσεται ἡ ἁμαρτία αὐτοῦ, καὶ οὐ μὴ εὑρεθῇ δι᾿ αὐτήν (NETS: “Crush the arm of the sinner and evildoer; his sin shall be sought out, and he shall no more be found on account of it”).
Deuteronomy 6:7b ‎ בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ֤ בְּבֵיתֶ֙ךָ֙ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ֣ בַדֶּ֔רֶךְ וּֽבְשָׁכְבְּךָ֖ וּבְקוּמֶֽךָ׃
Note the pausal form ‎ בְּבֵיתֶךָ (contextual form: ‎בְּבֵיתְךָ). According to the vocalization, there are two groups of words of unequal length, the first “at home” in general and the second consisting of three specific actions included in the “at home” context. [TR: Is it possible to be ‎בַדֶּרֶךְ and בְּבֵיתְךָ at the same time? I doubt it. Maybe the pausal form singles out ‎ בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ בְּבֵיתֶךָ as the most intentional context for teaching, while the other three examples are about snatching every opportunity?]By contrast, the accents divide the four items into two contrasting pairs, homelife and travel, rest and activity.
Genesis 16:4 ‎ ויָּבֹ֥א אֶל־הָגָ֖ר וַתַּ֑הַר וַתֵּ֙רֶא֙ כִּ֣י הָרָ֔תָה וַתֵּקַ֥ל גְּבִרְתָּ֖הּ בְּעֵינֶֽיהָ׃ 
According to the accentuation the main division comes with ‎וַתַּהַר which is marked by the accent atnaḥ, the first half of the verse leading to the pregnancy, the second half describing what happened as a result.According to the vocalization, the pausal form‎ הָרָתָה designates the main verse division, thus making Sarah’s reaction to Hagar’s pregnancy stand out. Cf. the way in which in Gen. 17:27 the pausal form‎ עָשָׂתָה (with atnaḥ; here vocalisation and accentuation agree) highlights the information that follows, “into the hand of Jacob her son.”
Categories: Friends

Poetry and Scripture

Fri, 24/02/2017 - 21:27
The weakness of this volume, however, lies in the fact that it perpetuates serious methodological confusion common to our discipline. In assuming that the book of Isaiah is a “collection or anthology” (13), Couey strongly implies that final-form readings of Isaiah are inherently anachronistic to the text, in that such readings inevitably treat Isaiah as a modern novel while recusing themselves of serious engagement with the text’s history of composition. While true of some scholarship, this characterization appears to misunderstand B. Childs’s primary historical-critical insight: the Bible in general, and Isaiah in particular, is a kind of literature generically distinct from nonscriptural literature. This distinction is relevant not because later readers frequently discuss theology with reference to biblical texts but because Isaiah has been written up to be a “scripture” in its “original,” written iteration. The only text to which we have access has been constructed for a reception community that is ancient and historical but also one that moves forward in tradition. In treating Isaiah’s poetry “in much the same way as other poems” (14), Couey reads the text as if it were a transcript of the prophet’s own words, originally uttered in the late eighth century BCE and preserved in hypostasis since that time. Redaction scholars have taught us that this assumption does not hold water. Isaiah has been constructed and reconstructed again and again for an ongoing audience, not an audience lodged at one specific point in time.Daniel J. Stulac in a review (not generally accessible) of J. Blake Couey, Reading the Poetry of First Isaiah: The Most PerfectModel of the Prophetic Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015) in RBL 02/2017. While Stulac rightly points out that this is a serious methodological flaw, he nevertheless commends Couey's work as an important contribution to the study of Isaiah and, more generally, Hebrew poetry.
Categories: Friends

Bonhoeffer on Proving Ourselves

Tue, 21/02/2017 - 10:39
For strong and moral people defeat shows the need for their powers to continue to grow before they can prove themselves in the test. This is why defeat for them is never final. Christians know that each time they face a trial all their powers will leave them. This is why the time of trial is a dark hour for them which can become final. This is why they do not look to prove themselves but pray, do not lead us into the time of trial...

But the God who brings forth day and night is the God who gives times of refreshment following times of thirst. God gives storm and peaceful passage, God gives times of sorrow and fear and God gives times of joy...

For Christians what is important is not how life is in and of itself but how God works on me at this moment. God casts me out and he accepts me again, he destroys my work and he builds it up again. “I am the LORD, and there is no other I form light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil” (Isaiah 45:7). Thus Christians live within the times appointed by God, not from their own conception of life. Thus they do not say that they are always in trials, always asked to prove themselves, but they pray in times of safekeeping, God would not let the time of trial come upon them.

Rough English translation of the following:
Eine Niederlage zeigt dem vitalen und ethischen Menschen, daß die Kräfte noch wachsen müssen, ehe sie die Probe bestehen. Darum ist seine Niederlage niemals unwiderruflich. Der Christ weiß, daß ihn in der Stunde der Versuchung jedes Mal alle seine Kräfte verlassen werden. Darum ist für ihn die Versuchung die dunkle Stunde, die unwiderruflich werden kann. Darum sucht er nicht nach Bewährung seiner Kraft, sondern betet: führe uns nicht in Versuchung…Der Gott aber, der es Tag und Nacht werden läßt, der gibt auf Zeiten des Durstes Zeiten der Erquickung, Gott gibt Sturm und er gibt ruhige Fahrt, Gott gibt Zeiten der Sorge und Angst und Gott gibt Zeiten der Freude …Nicht was das Leben an sich sei, sondern wie Gott jetzt mit mir handelt, ist dem Christen wichtig. Gott verstößt mich und er nimmt mich wieder an, er zerstört mein Werk und er baut es wieder auf. »Ich bin der Herr und keiner mehr, der ich das Licht mache und schaffe die Finsternis, der ich Frieden gebe und schaffe das Übel« (Jesaja 45, 7). So lebt der Christ aus den Zeiten Gottes und nicht aus seinem eigenen Begriff vom Leben. So sagt er nicht, er stehe allezeit in Versuchung und alle Zeit in der Bewährung, sondern er betet in den Zeiten der Bewahrung, Gott wolle die Zeit der Versuchung nicht über ihn kommen lassen.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Illegale Theologenausbildung: Sammelvikariate 1937-1940, DBW 15, 373-374

Categories: Friends

The Opponents in 2 Peter

Mon, 20/02/2017 - 15:16
"The opponents’ ethical practice, in which sexual immorality seems prominent, is plausibly seen as an accommodation to the permissiveness of pagan society, a perennial temptation in the early church, especially when Christian morality impeded participation in the social life of the cities. The false teachers may therefore be seen as aiming to disencumber Christianity of its eschatology and its ethical rigorism, which seemed to them an embarrassment in their cultural environment, especially after the evident failure of the Parousia expectation. From a general familiarity with Hellenistic religious debate they were able to deploy current skeptical arguments about eschatology and divine revelation. Perhaps they saw themselves as rather daring young radicals trying to clear a lot of traditional nonsense out of the church. Whether they also had any positive religious teaching our evidence does not allow us to say. The analogy with radicals in other generations suggests that a largely negative message could have sounded impressive enough (cf. 2:18a)."

Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter (WBC 50; Waco: Word Books, 1983), 156.

"They have abandoned Christian morality and embraced sexual immorality (2:2, 10, 14, 18), giving themselves over to the inordinate satisfaction of their desires, including drunkenness and gluttony (2:13). They engage in self-indulgent behavior and revelry in the context of the common banquet of the Christians. Although they promise “freedom” (2:19), they are people who live without moral law and are not subject to the divine command (2:21; 3:17). In truth, they are nothing more than “slaves of corruption” (2:19). One of their principal motivations is avarice (2:3, 14), viewing others as a means of gain, people to be exploited for their own ends. The heretics are arrogant in their denial of the Lord and their slander of celestial beings (2:2, 10, 12, 18), a trait especially evident in their strident skepticism (3:3–4)...

"The error of the heretics is doctrinal and not only moral. Peter calls them “false teachers,” who have tried to introduce “heresies of destruction” into the congregations (2:1) by using deceptive means (2:3). At the heart of the error is their skepticism regarding the coming of the Lord and the divine judgment on the day of the Lord (3:3–10). Their argument is that future judgment will never occur, and they rest their case on the apparent delay in the Lord’s advent (3:4, 9; cf. 2:3). They criticize the apostolic preaching regarding the coming as an invention of the preachers themselves and tag their proclamation as nothing more than “myth.” They even place prophetic inspiration in doubt, claiming that the prophets spoke of their own accord and incorrectly interpreted their own visions (1:20–21). This eschatological skepticism translates into an affirmation of liberty that throws off moral restraint (2:19; 3:3–4). Moreover, the heretics have sought support in Paul’s Letters, whose message they have twisted (3:15–16). The doctrinal and moral errors of the false teachers are joined at the hip. In fact, at the head of his denunciation Peter declares that the heresy is a denial of the Lord, who has bought them (2:1). At the heart of this denial is the rejection of his sovereignty over their moral lives (2:10).

"The false teachers are members of the Christian communities among whom they promote their error...

"The differences between the situations presented in Jude and 2 Peter argue against identifying the opponents as the same in both letters. The root of the moral problem that Jude combats is a perversion of the doctrine of grace (v. 4). On the other hand, the doctrinal error that is the foundation for the immorality of the opponents in 2 Peter is the negation of the parousia of Christ and future judgment (3:3–10)."

Gene L. Green, Jude and 2 Peter (BECNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 151–153.
Categories: Friends

Hauerwas on Matthew 5, Part Two

Sat, 11/02/2017 - 13:47

Jesus charges members of the church to confront those whom we think have sinned against us. He does not say that if we think we have been wronged we might consider confronting the one we believe has done us wrong. Jesus tells us that we must do so because the wrong is not against us, but rather against the body, that is, the very holiness of the church is at stake. Moreover, to be required to confront those whom we believe have wronged us is risky business because we may find out that we are mistaken.
Anger and lust are bodily passions. We simply are not capable of willing ourselves free of anger or lust. Jesus does not imply that we are to be free of either anger or lust; that is, he assumes that we are bodily beings. Rather, he offers us membership in a community in which our bodies are formed in service to God and for one another so that our anger and our lust are transformed...Alone we cannot conceive of an alternative to lust, but Jesus offers us participation in a kingdom hat is so demanding that we discover we have better things to do than to concentrate on our lust. If we are a people committed to peace in a world of war, if we are a people committed to faithfulness in a world of distrust, then we will be consumed by a way to live that offers freedom from being dominated by anger or lust.
Our speech always takes place in the presence of God. “Thus disciples of Jesus should not swear, because there is no such thing as speech not spoken before God. All of their words should be nothing but truth, so that nothing requires verification by oath. An oath consigns all other statements to the darkness of doubt. That is why it is ‘from the evil one’” (Bonhoeffer)
[Jesus] does not promise that if we turn the other cheek we will avoid being hit again. Nonretaliation is not a strategy to get what we want by other means. Rather, Jesus calls us to the practice of nonretaliation because that is the form that God’s care of us took in his cross. In like manner Christians are to give more than we are asked to give, we are to give to those who beg, because that is the character of God.
To be a disciple of Jesus, to be ready to be reconciled with those with whom we are angry, to be faithful in marriage, to take the time required to tell the truth – all are habits that create the time and space to be capable of loving our enemies.
We are be perfect, but perfection names our participation in Christ’s love of his enemies.
Excerpted from Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew (SCM Theological Commentary on the Bible; London: SCM Press, 2006), pp. 68-72.
Categories: Friends

Hauerwas on Matthew 5

Fri, 03/02/2017 - 16:22
The Sermon on the Mount cannot help but become a law, an ethic, if what is taught is abstracted from the teacher...the ecclesial practices that have legitimated questions about whether Jesus‘s teachings in the sermon are meant to be followed are but reflections of Christologies that separate the person and work of Christ...The not a list of requirements, but rather a description of the life of a people gathered by and around Jesus. To be saved is to be so gathered. That is why the Beatitudes are the interpretive key to the whole sermon – precisely because they are not recommendations. No one is asked to go out and try to be poor in spirit or to mourn or to be meek. Rather, Jesus is indicating that given the reality of the kingdom we should not be surprised to find among those who follow him those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek. Moreover, Jesus does not suggest that everyone who follows him will possess al the Beatitudes, but we can be sure that some will be poor, some will mourn, and some will be meek.For the church to be so constituted, according to Bonhoeffer, requires the visibility of the church. To be salt, to be made light for the world, is a call for the church to be visible...Christians, however, are tempted to become invisible, justifying their identification with the surrounding culture in the name of serving the neighbor...
This does not mean that those who would follow Jesus do so that they may be seen. Nor are disciples called to be different in order to be different. Jesus clearly thinks that disciples will be different, but that difference is because of what he is – the Son of God...
Each of the Beatitudes names a gift, but it is not presumed that everyone who is a follower of Jesus will possess each beatitude. Rather, the gifts named in the Beatitudes suggest that the diversity of these gifts will be present in the community of those who have heard Jesus’s call to discipleship. Indeed, to learn to be a disciple is to learn why we are dependent on those who mourn or who are meek, though we may not possess that gift ourselves...
the source for any understanding of the Beatitudes must be Jesus. It is from Jesus that we learn what it means to be “poor in spirit.” Thus Paul can commend the Philippians to have “the same mind...that was in Christ Jesus” [Philippians 2:5-8]
Paul does not assume that our poverty of spirit is the same as Jesus’s self-emptying, but rather that Jesus’s poverty has made it possible for a people to exist who can live dispossessed of possessions. To be poor does not in itself make one a follower of Jesus, but it can put you in the vicinity of what it might mean to discover the kind of poverty that frees those who follow Jesus from enslavement to the world. Not to be missed, moreover, is the political significance of such poverty. Too often we fail to recognize our accommodation to worldly powers because we fear losing our wealth – wealth that can take quite diverse forms.
Perhaps no beatitude is more christocentric that Jesus’s commendation of those who mourn, for they are, like him, prepared to live in the world renouncing what the world calls happiness and even peace...Like Jesus, moreover, the disciples endure injustice with the hard meekness that still hungers and thirsts for righteousness. Yet the righteousness of this new people is blessed by the mercy seen in the forgiveness that Christ showed even to those who would kill him. Such a people are capable of peacemaking because they are sustained by the purity derived from having no other telos but to enact the kingdom embodied in Jesus.
Excerpted from Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew (SCM Theological Commentary on the Bible; London: SCM Press, 2006), pp. 58-65.

Categories: Friends