bible blog 270

This blog follows the daily bible readings of the Catholic Church

Reading 1, Ephesians 1:15-23

15 That is why I, having once heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus, and your love for all God’s holy people, 16 have never failed to thank God for you and to remember you in my prayers. 17 May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and perception of what is revealed, to bring you to full knowledge of him. 18 May he enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope his call holds for you, how rich is the glory of the heritage he offers among his holy people, 19 and how extraordinarily great is the power that he has exercised for us believers; this accords with the strength of his power 20 at work in Christ, the power which he exercised in raising him from the dead and enthroning him at his right hand, in heaven, 21 far above every principality, ruling force, power or sovereignty, or any other name that can be named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 He has put all things under his feet, and made him, as he is above all things, the head of the Church; 23 which is his Body, the fullness of him who fills all things everywhere.

The resurrection and enthronement of Jesus means that God has placed Him above all earthly and heavenly powers, from the power of the world economic system to the power of the evil one. All things are under his pierced feet. But the Assembly (Church) of believers shares the identity of its Lord. Indeed the Assembly is the means by which the crucified Lord fills all things. This language points to the glory and humility of the church’s calling to be the universal presence of the crucified Christ. It has to challenge to powers of the world in the name of the true king. It has to share the suffering of the world in the name of the suffering servant of God. It has to cross the petty boundaries of the world in the name of the one who fills all things.

A Chinese House Church, the fullness of him who fills all things everywhere

If all this seems a million miles away from the life of the church we know and love, maybe we need to re-assess our parochial modesty.

My grandfather, Alex Mair, who left school at fourteen years, in the tiny village of Portknockie on the Moray Firth, went to China in 1911 and became a famous teacher of missionaries, with a special gift for the Chinese language. Today he is remembered in the records of church communities there as a founding father. He was a profoundly courteous and modest man with a great ambition: to be part of a universal witness to God’s love.

Gospel, Luke 12:8-12

8 ‘I tell you, if anyone openly declares himself for me in the presence of human beings, the Son of man will declare himself for him in the presence of God’s angels.

9 But anyone who disowns me in the presence of human beings will be disowned in the presence of God’s angels.

10 ‘Everyone who says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven, but no one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will be forgiven.

11 ‘When they take you before synagogues and magistrates and authorities, do not worry about how to defend yourselves or what to say, 12 because when the time comes, the Holy Spirit will teach you what you should say.’

I interpret the phrase, “Son of Man” as indicating the corporate identity of Jesus and his disciples. In this world, they serve and suffer; in the world to come, they reign. This is the same doctrine as taught by Ephesians, in different language. Taking sides for or against Jesus and his people in this world is decisive for one’s destiny in the next. We are not to imagine that this could be a mere choice of stated belief either way. It is rather a question of fundamental allegiance. Moslems and atheists who have demonstrated this allegiance may well be acknowledged by Jesus ahead of me.

Ahead of me. Sophie Scholl a non-violent protester against Nazism

But Jesus also says that in this world he and his followers share the ambiguity of all things earthly and may therefore attract criticism which is forgivable. The unforgivable sin is to “blaspheme against the Holy Spirit”. This refers to those who see all too clearly the just and loving character of God’s presence in Jesus, and reject it. They do not want this God’s forgiveness, and they won’t be forced to receive it. One of the first Christian theologians, St Irenaeus, says that God in his love never forces people to acknowledge him. “He will leave them in the darkness they have chosen.”

6 comments

  1. Lots to think about here, so just a couple of comments.
    First, thanks for the (very brief) mention of your grandfather. You are perhaps being modest with respect to your family, but I would have loved to have seen a picture of him here.
    Second, you write, “It is rather a question of fundamental allegiance. Moslems and atheists who have demonstrated this allegiance may well be acknowledged by Jesus ahead of me.” I am unclear on what this means exactly, and am wondering if you could expound a bit on this.

    1. Yes, I’ll post more about my grandfather in the blog, although I don’t have a usable photo!
      As to the other point, I’m just spelling out Jesus’words, ” Not those who call me “Lord, Lord, but those who do the will of my father in heaven…” It is possible to have a clear verbal confession of faith in Jesus and to reject the will of the Father, as it is possible to deny any faith in Jesus but to obey the will of the father. I don’t mean salvation by works, but by the fundamental allegiance of a life to its maker and its neighbour in spite of verbal statements. I know there are more questions on this point, but perhaps this can start the process

      1. I am disappointed to hear your grandfather was camera shy (or, perhaps, simply lacked a camera).

        To continue the discussion . . .

        You write about “the fundamental allegiance of a life to its maker and its neighbour.” I think I know what you mean here, but it might help if you unpacked this a bit.

        I am not sure how my lack of obedience to the Lord’s command makes my Muslim or athiest neighbour’s “fundamental allegiance” to him any better or more efficacious for salvation “in spite of verbal statements” – or lack thereof. My understanding is that one is saved according to one’s confession of Christ, and that our deeds confirm the reality of that confession.

        I suppose, too, that I disagree with your comment that it is possible to deny faith in Jesus and still be in obedience to the Father, since having faith in Jesus is an important aspect of obedience.

        Over to you.

      2. “God is love; and he who dwells in love, dwells in God and God in him.” Yes, “here is love: not that we loved God but that God loved us and sent his son to be the means of forgiveness of our sins.” Still, God is revealed, appallingly to some, as unqualified love, in Jesus.

        It is because I believe God is uniquely revealed in Jesus Christ that I believe Him to be love; and that love is not, so to speak, packaged, so that it’s only available to those who declare their faith in Jesus Christ. It is the very being of God as Trinity.

        Those who have a fundamental trust in the love that is God, without verbally confessing Christ, are saved by their faith, just as much as those of us who name the name of Jesus. The specific revelation of God’s love in Christ shows the universal availability of that love at all times and places. Of course there’s more to this argument. Over to you, with thanks for rising the issue.

  2. Thanks for bearing with me here Mike. I feel like I am bogging things down while the blogging goes on.
    So I will just focus on one aspect, which for me is the most troubling since it is also (for me) the most glaring.
    I agree that one does not need to pesonally know Jesus in order to be saved by him, but when you say that “it is possible to deny any faith in Jesus but to obey the will of the father” I confess I am stuck as to how that is possible. I know a person can still love, and so on – I am not disputing that. But I doubt that someone can truly dwell in love while denying the Son of Love. Perhaps I am too bent on the propositional truths I read in scripture, but there it is.
    I’ll leave this here and let you have the final word on this.

  3. You’re right to keep questioning Jeff. It forces me to clarify my thoughts. I was thinking of my friend Mohammed who is a Ba’hai. Because of his experience in Lebanon he sees both Christianity and Islam as demonic forces competing violently for power. He would “deny faith in Jesus,” for that reason, while holding to a faith in goodness, purity and compassion, which he sees as the will of God. In my overview of his faith, I tell him he does have faith in Jesus, only he gives him other names. In this way I qualify his denial: it is not Jesus whom he denies, but a travesty of Jesus proclaimed by violent and sectarian people.

    Another travesty of Jesus peddled by those who see him as identical with “western interests” in the world, makes it hard for many people in Asia and Africa to see the true Jesus Christ. Denial of “false Christs” is the will of God.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: