Good Friday

Today is the day that the creatures hang the Creator upon the cross; the effect kills the Cause; the subjects slay the King.  Today is also the day that speech must turn to silence in order grasp the mystery of the death of God. Today is the day that sin takes its final strike at the heart of God in an attempt to usurp His throne completely.  Today can be summed up by these words of Patrick F. Kirby:

They drove the hammered nails into his hands,
His hands that shaped the hot sun overhead;
Then all prepared to return to their own lands,
Glad in the knowledge God at last was dead.

“Now Babel can be built, and none deny!
In its cool gardens shall we take our ease;
Nor need we fear the everseeing eye,–
Our gods shall be whatever gods we please.

“Ishtar shall guard us, mother of all men,
And Bel rejoice us when the winds blow spiced
From Indus.  Wine and song shall glad us then,–
We never loved this wistful, pallid Christ!”

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Let Us Pray

God has provided us a way to ask of Him for whatever we need: prayer.  Just as one who is in need of money or goods must beg for a living if he is unable to work himself, so too must we approach the Lord in prayer to ask for those things that we need that we cannot provide for ourselves.  The fall of our first parents has shut us out from our Father’s home, and it is by prayer that we knock to gain entrance.  This entrance is promised to us by Jesus if we pray aright.  Just as a good parent would provide those things that she deems fit and good for her child, so too will God, our parent par excellence, grant to us all those things that are most beneficial to us if we only approached Him and ask.  Do not be fooled into thinking that God would ask us to pray and refuse to listen to our prayer, or to give us something harmful.  He gives us what we need and at the correct time when we need it – we may be rash in our timing, but God is kairosian in His.

More importantly, God has made it so that prayer is available to all.  Prayer is for the Christian and the non-Christian, for the poor and the rich, for the adult and the child, for the priest and they lay person, for the general and the cadet, for the courageous and the cowardly, for the wise and for the foolish.  Prayer is for all, and all are welcomed to God’s throne filled with grace ready to be dispense to each according to his or her need.  Let us pray! Mt 7:7-12

A Prayer – Digby Mackworth Dolben

From falsehood and error,
From darkness and terror,
From all that is evil,
From the power of the devil,
From the fire and the doom,
From the judgment to come,
Sweet Jesus, deliver
Thy servants forever.

Repent and Return

We are reminded in today’s Gospel reading that the path towards God is often one that requires the carrying of crosses.  The world offers convenience and ease as temporary fulfillment for our permanent thirst.  These drinks require our returning to them over and over again because they do not fully satiate our thirst.  None of us are strangers to these drinks.  However, Christ’s words are clear: the way of the Lord is difficult and tough, but while the body aches the soul rejoices.  And just as St. Monica prayed and waited patiently for the young Augustine to turn from his wayward ways, God, our parent par excellence, remains in waiting for our return to Him.  Allow Ellen Gilbert’s words from Prodigal to be our own words to God and guide us back to Him this Lent:

Like a bird that trails a broken wing,
I have come home to Thee;
Home from a flight and freedom
That was never meant for me.

And I, who have known far spaces,
And the fierce heat of the sun,
Ask only the shelter of Thy wings,
Now that the day is done.

Like a bird that trails a broken wing,
I have come home, at last…
O hold me to Thy Heart once more,
And hide me from the past.

The Christian’s Hopeful Melancholy

Indeed, the wisdom of Augustine’s felix culpa allows us to understand that there is hope in a fallen world that seems hopeless.  And at no other time during the liturgical year are we reminded this more than on Ash Wednesday: remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.  In the these very words uttered is an unmistakable hope that every Christian clings on to: this returning to dust does not mark the end, but rather the very beginning of an eternal reality that has been awaiting him since he was first formed in his mother’s womb.  Praying, Repenting, and Fasting are ways that the Christian is called to prepare himself for this eternal reality.

Richard Crashaw’s A Song of Divine Love reflects so beautifully the hope of the Christian as he faces his return to dust.  On this Ash Wednesday, let us reflect upon Crashaw’s words along with this question: how am I preparing myself to meet my God when the day comes?

Lord, when the sense of thy sweet grace
Sends up my soul to seek thy face,
Thy blessed eyes breed such desire
I die in love’s delicious fire.
O Love, I am thy sacrifice.
Be still triumphant, blessed eyes.
Still shine on me, fair suns, that I
Still may behold though still I die.

Though still I die, I live again,
Still longing so to be still slain;
So gainful is such loss of breath,
I die even in desire of death.
Still live in me this loving strife
Of living death and dying life:
For while thou sweetly slayest me,
Dead to myself, I live in Thee.

Jesus: The Son Of God, Part 2 of 2

In part 1 of this posting, I pointed out what God meant to first-century Palestine Jews and what they saw in the title “Son of God”.  I will use James DG Dunn and NT Wright, two conservative and traditional New Testament biblical scholars, as primary sources to tackle the task at hand.

Whether or not Jesus thought of himself as the Son of God is a question that raises a lot of difficulties for Christology scholars.[1]  However, given that we have no recorded autobiographical text of Jesus, there doesn’t seem to be a definitive way to make an argument in favor of either position.  Yet, Dunn argues that we can hope to penetrate into the mind of the first-century Palestinian Jew named Jesus, however implicitly through his words and actions, to learn of his own sense of divine sonship.  Dunn and Wright conclude that any movement that suggests that Jesus thought of himself as a divine person sharing in the divinity of God is ludicrous and does not take into account the historical context and development of the New Testament texts.  On the other hand, it is not altogether moot for us to approach the question “did Jesus ever claim his divine sonship?” since we have enough evidence from to the scriptural text, as well as other historical works, to insist that Jesus saw himself having an eschatological uniqueness in his relationship with God.

One argument for the self-knowledge of Jesus as having an eschatological uniqueness is his addressing of God as abba in the Gospel writings.  Dunn insists that this piece of evidence is a good starting point insofar as this way of addressing God was not very common in the Jewish tradition of Jesus’ time.  When Jesus addressed God as abba, it seems that there is an intimacy striking of someone familiar to the subject who is the object of his affection in a very familial way.  Distinctively, and worthy of noting, is when Jesus taught an adaptation of the Kaddish, where he addresses God as abba instead of the traditional ‘Lord of the world’ as how these prayers normally begin.  Further, Dunn points to Paul’s usage of abba as something distinctive for the Christians as another piece to the argument since, as Dunn argues, “had it been in common usage within any other large group or class within Palestine or Judaism Paul could hardly have thought of it in this way, as a distinguishing mark of those who shared the Spirit of Jesus’ sonship, of an inheritance shared with Christ.”

Yet, the question remains why it seems that Jesus saw himself as the great I AM in the gospel accounts, most prominently in the Johannine text.  Here, we find that the historical argument from the Johannine scripture is moderate, if not weak, for the self-knowledge of Christ as the Word of God, born before all ages.  In fact, Dunn, citing C.H. Dodd, argues that much of what is said about the person of Jesus as the pre-existent being proceeding forth from the Father in the Johannine tradition is a literary product of the author’s meditation or sermons.  This is the result of comparing the synoptic and the Fourth Gospel, which provides us with various sayings and affirmations that Christ made about himself which are present in the Johannine tradition, but are not present in the Markan, Matthean, and Lukan traditions.  This means that Jesus did not see himself as the very God of Israel who created all things from the beginning and to restore it to its former glory.

Conclusions

First century Judaism was situated amidst a variety of religious beliefs that saw god in various ways.  For the Jews of this time, God was seen in a twofold manner: the One existing before all things Who created all things and Who has called Israel to be his people and offer Himself to them as their God.  All of these religious traditions, along with Judaism, saw the title son of God in a variety of different ways.  Some pagan religious traditions and myths saw the title as a conferring of divinity by god himself to the one he has chosen, or that a god as copulated with a human being to give birth to a demi-god and so forth.  For Judaism, son of God is used in reference to one who lives in a holy manner and who has kept the Law of the Lord.  Accordingly, this title is used of various persons, as well as to refer to Israel and the Israelites themselves.

With this in mind, we do not think that Jesus thought of himself as the Son of God in the manner that modern Christians think of this Christological title.  There is little evidence to suggest that Jesus thought of himself as the same substance (homoousios) as that One God who created Heaven and Earth, and Who called Israel to be His people.  What little evidence we do have of this exists only in the Johannine tradition and, when placed side by side with the Synoptic traditions, does not provide a good enough argument for us to insist that Jesus understands himself as the Son of God with the same understanding that the Nicene Creed claims of him.  Yet, this in no way negates the expression of faith that the Nicene Creed claims of Jesus.  Instead, we must remember that the Nicene Creed is an extended proclamation of faith expressing in a more coherent manner what the early Christians understood by claiming Jesus as the Son of God.


[1] Cf. James DG Dunn “Christology In the Making”  and NT Wright “The Resurrection Of the Son of God”

 

The Greatest Commandment

There is much written and spoken about these days about love of neighbor.  This is a great approach to living the good life, and properly so because God has commanded it of us.  There can never be enough talk about love of neighbor, given that it is not just all talk but that it is lived out as proper to Christ’s commandment.  However, we must not forget that the greatest commandment is not to love our neighbor, but that it is to love God with all our hearts and all of our minds (Mt 22:37-38).  This greatest commandment cannot be replaced by simply living out that second great commandment of loving our neighbor.  In other words, a great philanthropic life does not fulfill this greatest commandment.

The commandment to love God with all of our hearts, all of our souls, and all of our minds is quite strange for two reasons.  First, the commandment demands that we love God with a freedom that recognizes Him as lovable in Himself and not because we are commanded to.  This is strange because it is the commandment that directs us to love, and yet our love ought to overlook its commanding nature.  Secondly, the commandment does not demand a performance that is measurable, and thus can be said as having been fulfilled once we have done what is asked.  The commandment asks for us to love, and love stems from our hearts, our innermost being, ourselves.  We can measure whether or not we have not killed or stolen, but we cannot measure whether or not we have loved with all our hearts and all our beings.  For this reason, we would rather give anything and everything we own because anything and everything can be measured; that is, anything and everything except the heart.  And this is the thing we are asked to give to God without hesitation and forever.

But can we love God as this commandment demands of us?  Our hearts are weary and worn from everyday life that they seem unable to carry out what is demanded of us.  Added to this, God seems so far away and distant from our everyday lives that we only call upon Him when we really truly need him, like when a family member suffers or dies.  And so we gather from this that we cannot love God like this commandment asks us to.  But it is precisely here that we ought to realize that we ourselves cannot give God the love that this greatest commandment asks of us; rather, it must God who has to provide us with this love to love Him.  The first and greatest commandment asks that we love God with all our hearts, then the very first prayer that we utter needs to be asking God for this love in order to love Him properly.  He must give strength and life to this love to us in order that He can love Himself in us and through us by the power of His Holy Spirit.  This is the only way our love can be worthy of Him.

For our own part, we should believe God that when He demands it of us that He would give us the proper tools to fulfill the demand.  Here, we should trust God more than our own heart and pray for love.  If the heart prays for love, it will love.  This is true even if the heart feels saddened at fulfilling so little of that very first and greatest commandment.

Happy Thursday, friends!

Jesus: The Son Of God, Part I of 2

God According To First-Century Judaism

In chapter nine of his work titled The New Testament and the People of God, the New Testament scholar N.T. Wright argues that first-century Judaism’s belief can be summed up as creational and covenantal monotheism.  Surrounded by various beliefs in divine beings like Epicurean gods who are as far away as possible from their own world and a Stoic god who ends up being synonymous with nature itself, the Jewish tradition saw their God as a kind of combination of both and yet utterly different in His nature and relationship to Israel than the two.  For the Jews, YHWH was not only the One who interacts within the created world, but is the One Who has created all things.  We can find evidence of this throughout the part of the biblical text we now call the Old Testament.  Take for example chapter 40 of the Book of Isaiah where YHWH is praised for His mighty powers and wonders that He has done, and the many Psalms that sing of YHWH’s glory and mercy.  Indeed, for the Jews of Jesus’ time, the belief in YHWH can be summed up in that daily Jewish prayer: “YHWH is our God, and YHWH is One”.

Classic Jewish monotheism’s belief in God was twofold.  First, this Jewish tradition believed that God was first in the order of existence, was One, and created all things; and second, that God called Israel to be His chosen people.  Because of this, God was seen as completely other than the world, but also is continually active within the world.  This is a God who is to overthrow the pagan gods and powers of those nations belonging to these pagan gods.  And in His vindication, He will free His people from oppression of these pagan worshipers, as well as show the nations His glorious name.

Son Of God In First-Century Palestine

James DG Dunn reminds us that whatever we may say about Jesus’ title ‘Son of God’, we cannot claim that first-century Christians had the same understanding as our own Nicene profession of this title in mind when they posited it of Jesus.  Divine sonship was not something novel to the Early Christians.  In fact, the title ‘son of God’ was a title ubiquitously used in reference to many people in the time of Jesus.  Take for instance the various attributions of divine sonship to the legendary heroes of Greek mythology, like Dionysus and Heracles.  Or take for another instance where the title ‘son of God’ is found throughout the scriptural texts as being attributed to Israel, Israelites, and the king.[1]

Divine sonship, or attribution of divinity, in the first two centuries of Palestine is liberally used when talking about men for numerous reasons.  First, we need to understand that early Christianity was not inhibited by a fear of attribution of divinity to men because they did not approach the predication as modern day Christians approach it.  Dunn tells us that when this predication is used in these first centuries “in reference to individual human beings it could denote anything from a righteous or pious man, one who lived in close accord with the divine, to a heavenly or semi-heavenly being, including or the way particularly kings and rulers and especially wise or gifted or inspired men.”[2]  As a result, those who are seen as “son of God” are not necessarily seen as, to borrow Nicene terms, begotten by God from before all ages and consubstantial with God.  Rather, these men are seen as people who reflect the goodness of God through living their lives in accordance with the divine law.

Drawing from various evidence of the ancient world, Dunn argues that because of the variety of beliefs about the divine and humanity that when the ancient people spoke of someone as being “son of God,” it is not positing anything about a divine relation insofar as their natures are concerned; instead, it is a reflection of the person’s relationship to the divine in terms of their living out the divine mandates.  This leads Dunn to conclude that “there is little or no good evidence from the period prior to Christianity’s beginnings that the Ancient Near East seriously entertained the idea of a god or son of god descending from heaven to become a human being in order to bring men salvation, except perhaps at the level of popular pagan superstition.”[3] Thus, we can reasonably conclude that first-century Christians did not understand Jesus’ divine sonship as contemporary Christianity does.


[1] Ibid. 15 – Here Dunn provides the reader with a list of Old Testament text ranging from Ex. 4:22  where Israel is called God’s firstborn son to II Sam 7:14 where God tells David that his descendent will be a king who will be a son of God.
[2] Ibid. 18
[3] Ibid. 22