bible blog 1463

The readings are from the Catholic lectionary for daily mass while the headlines are meant to keep my thinking real:


"Christian" Militiamen -proving their God is great

“Christian” Militiamen -proving their God is great

First reading
Philippians 2:5-11 ©
In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus:
His state was divine,
yet he did not snatch
at equality with God
but emptied himself
to assume the condition of a slave,
and became as men are;
and being as all men are,
he was humbler yet,
even to accepting death,
death on a cross.
But God raised him high
and gave him the name
which is above all other names
so that all beings in the heavens,
on earth and in the underworld,
should bend the knee at the name of Jesus
and that every tongue should acclaim
Jesus Messiah as Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

In yesterday’s blog (1462) I reflected on the radical nature of Paul’s ethical teaching, which I said, is modeled on the life of Jesus Messiah. Paul had identified the human will to over over others as the origin of sin: those who want to be “God” separate themselves from God and their neigjhbour. Especially in his correspondence with the Corinthians he defined this fundamental wrongness and exposed its effects. 

His own religious training gave him a representative figure for this wrongness: Adam, the archetypical man who wanted to “be like God” although he had already been created in God’s likeness. This figure was in Paul’s mind when he wrote this passage about Jesus. He, like Adam, enjoyed divine status. Paul imagines Jesus as pre-existently part of the divine being. Unlike Adam however he didn’t try to assert equality wirh God, but “emptied” himself. This is an important theological concept: in Jesus God empties himself of divinity and accepts the condition of a slave, that is, of one subject to all the forces of worldly existence, like other men and women. This downwardly mobile trajectory took Jesus to his crucifixion, in obedience to God. Because of his faithful transmission of God’s goodness to humanity, God lifted him up in resurrection and gave him “the name that is above all names”, which can only mean the holy name of God. Jesus is not a secondary God; he truly shares God’s being. He is, to use a phrase invented by the theologian Karl Barth, the “humanity of God.”

Yahwe, the name of God

Yahwe, the name of God

Paul tells the “story of Jesus Messiah” with its climax in his resurrection into God’s life, but of course he experienced this story the other way round. He experienced the presence of the resurrected Jesus in his own life and deduced that the one who was now with God, must always have been with him before his life on earth. ( I say Paul did this although scholars have described this passage as a Messiah hymn that Paul may have borrowed. No matter its origin, Paul used it and identifed with its teaching.)

The true God is the one who empties himself out of love for his world.

Nothing in the bible gives us an answer to the question of how a loving creator can allow so much suffering in the world. This pasage however, along with others about the presence of God in the crucified Jesus, shows the direction in which the answer lies. Maybe the whole image of God with its trappings of monarchical glory is already skewed by the human will to power. Maybe the complete relationship of the creator to the universe has to be seen as an emptying, as an enabling act of love rather than an effortless act of power. This perspective would demand that Christian thinkers work their way through all biblical images of God, interpreting them in the light of Jesus Messiah. This of course is what Christian thinkers claim to have done, but the truth is that they have been far too respectful of the biblical tradition, and not nearly as radical as St Paul and the other New Testament writers. The language of Christian worship is still cluttered with images of the old celestial thug who has never emptied himself of the power to give his enemies a good doing. 

The image of the self-emptying God doesn’t solve all problems in theology-in fact it creates new ones. For example, how can the creator be subject to the forces of his/her own universe? But it seems to me to be faithful to the basic Christian faith that the life of Jesus is a revelation of God.

Paul was using this story of Jesus, however, to provide a model, a new Adam, for the personal and communal lives of the Philippians. For him this emptying of the self is no negative process; it is the outpouring of human goodness just as the divine emptying is the outpouring of Gods goodness.

Luke 14:15-24 ©

One of those gathered round the table said to him, ‘Happy the man who will be at the feast in the kingdom of God!’ But he said to him, ‘There was a man who gave a great banquet, and he invited a large number of people. When the time for the banquet came, he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, “Come along: everything is ready now.” But all alike started to make excuses. The first said, “I have bought a piece of land and must go and see it. Please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen and am on my way to try them out. Please accept my apologies.” Yet another said, “I have just got married and so am unable to come.”

‘The servant returned and reported this to his master. Then the householder, in a rage, said to his servant, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in here the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.” “Sir” said the servant “your orders have been carried out and there is still room.” Then the master said to his servant, “Go to the open roads and the hedgerows and force people to come in to make sure my house is full; because, I tell you, not one of those who were invited shall have a taste of my banquet.”’

Messiah's banquet

Messiah’s banquet

The story of the mad banquet – giver tells the reader about the image of God. Here is a rich man who finds that inviting other rich people to a banquet is not a surefire winner; rich people have their own business to look after. So in a rage, to show them what they are missing his invites the poor, the blind, the crippled and the lame.Surely Jesus was not saying that God was like this madman!

He was replying to a question that assumed the traditional Jewish teaching about God’s kingdom: this age is evil but there will come a new age when God will rule the world, and faithful people will be invited to his banquet.

Jesus was saying that God’s rule had arrived, in his ministry. But  if so, what had happened to the victory banquet? The story suggests that the rich people who had been invited had of course better things to do than hang about with a preacher from Galilee. The poor, the crippled the blind and the lame on the other hand had responded joyfully to Jesus’ invitation. And what about the element of rage in the master’s behaviour? Well, Jesus might have replied, the idle rich will soon find out what that means. Yep, I’d written those words, “idle rich” before I realised how wrong they were. Jesus doesn’t describe the rich as idle. On the contrary they are busy on tasks related to their professional and personal lives. Too busy, indeed, with these important matters to share with poor people the joy of God’s goodness. Attention to their own affairs means they have no attention for anything else. Like Gods they must accomplish their work; they’ve no wish to empty themselves and rediscover their humanity.

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