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"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, con
cerning the word of life -- the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it ...." I John 1:1-2 (RSV)

"After his resurrection the disciples saw the living Christ, whom they knew to have died, with the eyes of faith (oculata fide)." Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, III, 55, 2 ad 1, as quoted in D. M. Stanley, Jesus in Gethsemane (New York, Paulist Press 1980).

Monday, September 5, 2016

John P. Meier - The Future Kingdom in the Beatitudes of Jesus

This is my second post on the book,  A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus Vol. 2 - Mentor, Message and Miracles by Fr. John P. Meier,  Volume 2  of Meier's five-volume study of the historical Jesus. 

Meier provides background information on the structure of OT beatitudes in the Psalms and Proverbs. He states that "sometimes the reward or fortunate consequence of such wise action is mentioned in the context," as in verse 3 of Psalm 1 (shall be like a tree planted near streams of water).  Meier at 324. 

Credit:  alittleperspective.com
What is a beatitude?  In the OT and in the Intertestamental literature it is a “cry of admiration, congratulation, and felicitation.” Meier at 323.   The wisdom teacher describes the happy person and "while formally descriptive,”  the beatitude is“functionally parenetic.” P. 323. The happiness “explicitly described is implicitly held up as a goal to be pursued.” P. 323. While the OT beatitudes are "basically sapiential [focused on rewards in this life] rather than eschatological," the beatitudes of Jesus reflect the change that came post-exile.   

After the exile, the beatitudes become more realistic (Book of Job), and then after the Seleucid persecutions with apocalyptic literature the horizon extends to the next world, and we see this view of the future kingdom in the beatitudes of Jesus. 

Jesus' beatitudes come in this form: 1) the makarios (happy are), 2) followed by the designation of the sufferers and 3) the  hoti or causal clause which promises the reversal of their "present misery" by an eschatological gift or action from God. Meier at 330.

In the background here is "the whole OT picture of God as the truly just king of the covenant community of Israel, the king who does what Israel's human kings often failed to do: defend widows and orphans ...." Meier at 331.

In Jesus' beatitudes:

“We begin to see why Jesus was not interested in and did not issue pronouncements
about concrete social and political reforms, either for the world in general or for 
Israel in particular. He was not proclaiming the reform of the world; he was
proclaiming the end of the world.”  

Meier at 331.  Here Jesus differs from the prophets who were concerned about the social and political evils of their  day.  Jesus, by contrast, did not denounce slavery, Roman rule in Judea, unjust economic practices “oppressing the poor in the face of inflation,” because:

“The definitive arrival of God’s kingly rule was imminent; calls for social and 
political reform, launched - and often botched - by human beings, were thus beside
 the point.”

Meier at 331.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

John P. Meier - Jesus' Two "You Petitions"

For the next four weeks I will be posting on the book,  A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus Vol. 2 - Mentor, Message and Miracles by  Fr. John P. MeierVolume 2  of Meier's five-volume study of the historical Jesus.  My citations to this book will be to "Meier" or "Meier Vol. 2."  

At page 317 Meier states: 
[T]he historical Jesus did expect a future coming of God's kingdom, and that kingdom was in some way a transcendent one, surmounting this world's barriers of time, space, hostility between Jews and Gentiles, and finally death itself.  A completely un-eschatological Jesus, a Jesus totally short of apocalyptic traits, is simply not the historical Jesus, however compatible he might be to modern tastes, at least in middle-class American academia.

What does the prayer which Jesus taught his disciples tell us about these kingdom expectations?  Jesus begins the prayer with, "Our Father," Greek pater which reflects Jesus' "striking use" of the address,  Aramaic "Abbe" which means  “my own dear father” for God. Meier at 294. The petitions of the prayer "are meant to reproduce the trusting and unaffected attitude of a child dependent on an all-powerful and loving father." Meier at 294.

In the words of the prayer, “Your kingdom come,” we have a petition asking for this kingdom to come soon. Meier at 295, 297.  The "symbol of God's kingship is central to his message." Meier at 294. That may be common knowledge to believers and we take that for granted, but God's kingship is a message which is not central to the NT outside of the Synoptic Gospels and is not central to the OT or to ancient Jewish literature. God's kingship soon coming to this world was an expectation of Jesus that he brought to this prayer, the only prayer in the NT which Jesus taught to his disciples. Meier at 294.

There is beautiful parallelism in the two phrases:  “hallowed be your name,” and “your kingdom come.” Meier at 295. In both the Aramaic and the Greek there are two beats in both, one on the verb and one on the noun, both ending with the same sound (from the pronoun)  and that creates a rhyme in the prayer.  Meier at 295.   This means that these two parallel lines go together and help to explain each other. And what does this  have to with Jesus' thoughts of God's kingdom?

Jesus says, "hallowed be your name." To hallow is to sanctify the name of God. This means two things. First, Israel should "sanctify God's name, as opposed to profaning it" (Meier at 295): "This sanctification includes believing God's word, trusting his promises, standing in awe of his majesty, praising him in worship, and observing his precepts in cult and in everyday life."  Meier at 295.  

Second, to sanctify the name of God means he manifests power and glory "in the blazing of a theophany that can bring either salvation or condemnation." Meier at 296 (citing OT). Meier discusses the “equivalence of a person and the name of the person …” Meier at 296.   God does this "by manifesting his power, glory, and holiness (= his transcendence, his "otherness," his "God-ness") ...." Meier at 295-296.  He sanctifies himself by a “powerful intervention.” Meier at 296 (citing Ezekiel where God brings his scattered people home to their own land).  

Which of these two meanings of "sanctify your name" does Jesus have in mind here? In the context of this prayer, the call to sanctify God's name "is probably neither a prayer that people will honor and praise God's name nor, as it were, an exhortation to oneself to do the same." Meier at 297. For Jesus the "theological concentration" here (citing OT, Qumran literature and the OT) is a petition for God himself to sanctify his name:

God alone can rightly and fully manifest himself in all his power and glory, that is to say, God alone can sanctify his name, which, it is hoped, he will do soon. This interpretation is supported by the close connection between the first and second "you petition." Certainly only God can make his kingdom come; the tight parallelism between the two petitions would seem to argue that the same is true of sanctifying the name.

Meier at 297. 

The prayer creates a picture of a great change coming, not from human actors  but from God (“Abba”), our loving Father.   For those who are praying with Jesus, there is no need to fear.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Encapsulation - Surprised by Hope

One last thing, from Surprised by Hope, at page 122:

The word eschatology, which literally means “the study of the last things,” doesn’t just refer to death, judgment, heaven, and hell, as used to be thought (and as many dictionaries still define the word). It also refers to the strongly held belief of most first-century Jews, and virtually all early Christians, that history was going somewhere under the guidance of God and that where it was going was toward God’s new world of justice, healing, and hope. The transition from the present world to the new one would be a matter not of the destruction of the present space-time universe but of its radical healing. As we saw in the last chapter, the New Testament writers, particularly Paul, looked forward to this time and saw Jesus’s resurrection as the beginning, the firstfruits of it. So when I (and many others) use the word eschatology, we don’t simply mean the second coming, still less a particular theory about it; we mean, rather, the entire sense of God’s future for the world and the belief that that future has already begun to come forward to meet us in the present. This is what we find in Jesus himself and in the teaching of the early church. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Easter 2016 - Back to Surprised by Hope

read N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope back in 2011 and decided to come back to it this year as an Easter celebration over the 50 days of Easter, which run from Easter to Pentecost.  This time I’m reading the book along with occasional glances at the  Surprised by Hope Participant’sGuide, where at page 26 Wright says:

The resurrection of Jesus is more than a belief that his body was dead and came to life again, though this is quite true. It is an awareness that there was a cosmic explosion when Jesus rose again, and the power and repercussions of this reality echo through the ages to our day and into eternity. From the earliest years of the church, followers of Jesus were uniform in their affirmation and confidence that Jesus had raised, bodily, from the dead. He had come through death, out the other side, and a new reality was born. The tomb was empty! The risen Jesus had met with them, taught them, shared meals, and instructed them. The one who had died on the cross was alive again. Because Jesus has risen, we have more than confidence that our eternity is secure. We have an invitation to become his ambassadors in the world today. Through his church, Jesus wants to bring justice, lift up beauty, and lavish his gifts on the earth. And the primary way he plans to do this is through you and me.

As to that last sentence, the kingdom of God is not going to come "through you and me."  God will finish that work himself.   But I get Wright's point.   Believers are part of God's plan of redemption, as participants in Jesus'  "new creation" or what he called at his last supper the "new covenant."  I've been listening to 1 Cor. chapter 15 over and over during this Easter time, where Paul calls the resurrected Jesus the "first fruits" of this transformed world.  He is alive today and he  continues to work, to "bear fruit,"  through his people.   That's the message of Surprised by Hope. 


Friday, February 26, 2016

Richard Hays - Conversion of the Imagination

Here is a portion of Colin James Smothers' blog post review of  Richard B. Hays' book,  The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), describing St. Paul's method,  which has been helpful to my study of First Corinthians: 

In Chapter 1, Hays turns to the book of 1 Corinthians to examine the question of the eschatological identity of the church of Corinth in Paul’s correspondence. He begins by looking at the direct quotation of Isaiah 45:14 in 1 Corinthians 14:25. Via the concept of metalepsis, Hays analyzes the context of Isaiah 45, which is alluded to in Zechariah 8:20-23 and Daniel 2:46-47, to point out that in their original contexts these passages are about the Gentile outsider being brought to worship Israel’s God after having recognized God’s presence with Israel (3). Hays argues that Paul has intentionally placed the predominantly Gentile church into the theological shoes of OT Israel by identifying the church not simply with OT Israel but as OT Israel. Hays calls this Pauline reading of these texts “apocalyptic,” since it makes use of an “eschatological hermeneutic” that has been shaped by the revealed event of the cross (4). According to Hays, this was “Paul’s missionary strategy in his confrontation with pagan culture … [to] draw[] upon eschatologically interpreted Scripture texts to clarify the identify of the church and to remake the minds of his congregations” (5). Hays sees this “hermeneutical move” deployed by Paul elsewhere—this time typologically—in 1 Corinthians 10:1-22. Here Hays argues that Paul describes the Corinthian church in terms reminiscent of the wilderness generation, which again identifies the church as occupying the theological space of OT Israel. Hays argues for the same church-Israel re-identification in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, and from all of theses passages taken together Hays makes the case that Paul intentionally connected the NT church with OT Israel in order to effect a “conversion of the imagination” in NT believers, an imagination that allows the NT church to read Israel’s history as their history, and even to read themselves into Israel’s history.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

James Dunn

I like this from James Dunn:
The Spirit opened up a whole new vista for the first Christians, and they were brave and bold enough to follow where the Spirit showed the way. If we are to fully appreciate Paul the apostle, Paul the theologian, Paul the church founder, we must take full account of this vital aspect of his gospel. Having been converted by the Christ to recognise that God’s saving righteousness reached out to embrace Gentile as well as Jew, Paul was also quick to recognise that God’s Spirit was breaking away from the old patterns established by scripture and sanctified by tradition. This is why Christians need to rediscover Paul and to let him provide a fresh challenge to our own traditions where they no longer express the life of the Spirit, and to restore to us a fresh vision of how the initiative of the Spirit may once again be taking us in unexpected directions.
Jesus, Paul, and the Gospels(William B. Eerdmans 2011) by James D.G. Dunn

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Richard Hays - First Corinthians

I’m enjoying Richard B. Hays’ fast-paced commentary on First Corinthians.  The text of Paul's letter offers excellent support for Hays’ comments on the “conversion of the imagination,” as this passage illustrates:

            But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—

1 Cor 2:9  (NRSV).  In First Corinthians Paul challenges the believers to see with the "eyes of faith" realities which appear foolish to the people of that day.   Hays states, for example, “The scandal of this message is difficult for Christians of a later era to imagine. To proclaim a crucified Messiah is to talk nonsense.”   Here from Hays’ comments to chapters 1 and 2 are beautiful remarks on what First Corinthians opens with and promises to deliver:

“By the end of the first nine verses [of ch. 1], Paul has sketched a sweeping picture of the Corinthian church’s calling: They have been called by God to participate in a movement, along with others all around the known world, to extend the destiny of Israel by living as a covenant people set apart for the service of God. God has lavished upon them spiritual gifts that enable their mission of bearing witness to the grace of Jesus Christ, and God supports and strengthens the community during the present age, while they await God’s final judgment of the world.”
Consequently, to enter the symbolic world of the gospel is to undergo a conversion of the imagination, to see all values transformed by the foolish and weak death of Jesus on the cross.”

Hays, Richard B., First Corinthians: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Westminster John Knox Press 2011). 
Richard B. Hays  Credit:   Duke Divinity School