A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Friday, June 03, 2011

The Storyline for Jesus' Ministry

The nation of Israel was created for a purpose. Long before Abraham's birth, God was planning to redeem the world, and Israel was to be the vehicle by which that redemption would be proclaimed and embodied. Israel was called out by God from among the nations, not to be isolated from the Gentiles, but to model for the nations what God desired of them. It was absolutely essential, therefore, that God's people keep the covenant, not only for their own sake, but for the sake of the world. Israel existed for the sake of the world.

The problem, however, was not only idolatry and the trampling of the covenant, but the attitude later on in Israel's history that what it meant to be the people of God was primarily a privilege, not a responsibility. There were some Jews who came to see their chosen status as more of a statement as to how special they were as God's people, better than everyone else, instead of understanding their calling as a claim as to how much God cared for the entire world—Jew and Gentile as well.

The theme of Israel's calling and witness for the sake of the world is not the only narrative thread that runs throughout the Old Testament. But what is critical for our purposes is that it is precisely this storyline that Jesus draws on for his ministry. Just like Jeremiah before him, Jesus will criticize his fellow Jews for failing to be a light to the nations.

That Jesus called twelve disciples was no accident. As Israel consisted of twelve tribes, so Jesus gathered around himself twelve men to take his message of his work to the world. It was a powerful symbolic act in which Jesus was making the extraordinary claim that in his ministry he was reconstituting the people of Israel and its mission of witness to the world. What Jesus was doing was much more than calling a few guys to save souls. He was announcing the revolutionary movement in which God was at last making good on his promise to secure deliverance for Israel and offer that same salvation to the Gentiles as well. The disciples were to be the light to the nations, to bear witness in word and in deed that the God of Israel was going to save the world.

For Jesus, one of the biggest failings of his people was the decision not to reject violence but rather to utilize it as a tool in an attempt to bring in God's Kingdom. Time and time again, Jesus continued to insist that God's people could not be a light to the nations if they insisted on beating the nations over the head. On more than a few occasions, Jesus refused to be taken off and made king by the people in order to lead a revolt. For Jesus, the end did not justify the means; the true end of what God wanted for his people could not be achieved apart from a certain means. The world's ways of power and coercion were not to be the ways of the church. Tom Wright notes, "From [Jesus'] point of view, Israel at that time was making a pretty poor fist of being the light of the world. Many of Jesus' contemporaries were hot-headed, zealous would-be revolutionaries. Was that the way the kingdom would come? Was that how to be the light of the world?... Jesus’ answer was an unequivocal No."
From Allan R. Bevere, The Politics of Witness: The Character of the Church in the World. Forthcoming shortly from Energion Publications.

1 comment:

Michael Cecil said...

As suggested by Marcus Borg in a book entitled "Jesus and Buddha--the Parallel Sayings", the parallels between the Teaching of Jesus and the teaching of the Buddha--especially with regards to non-violence--resulted from a "similarity in religious experience".

That is, both the Buddha and Jesus received memories of previous lives, as described figuratively by Jesus in his response to the Sadducees in Chapter 20:36 of the Gospel of Luke.

In other words, Jesus taught the Doctrine of "resurrection" as a Doctrine of 'Rebirth' in opposition to the doctrine taught by both the Egyptians and the Pharisees.