Sundays in Mark (48) The Destruction of the Temple (4)

Continuing our simple Sunday reflections in the Gospel of Mark. This week 13:24-27 and the vision of the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great glory and power.

A lot of ink has been spilled over these verses. Is Jesus switching from the immediate to the future?; from local and specific events soon to happen in Jerusalem to events of global significance at the end of the age?

To even begin to answer that question is to get into the OT imagery in which the text is soaked.

– Joel 2:10 and 3:15 talk of the coming Day of Yahweh when the sun and moon are darkened, as do Is 13:10; 34:4; Ezek 32:7-8 and Amos 8:9

– The gathering of the people of God in the OT is done by God himself (Deut 30:3f; Ps 50:3-5; Is 43:6; Jer 32:37; Ezek 34:13, 36:24; Zech 2:6, 10). Here it is by the Son of Man. The imagery is of a royal celestial figure celebrating a triumph, in full public view before all.

– The gathering of the elect by angels combines Deut 30:4 and Zech 2:10.

– The ‘four winds’ and ‘ends of earth and ends of the heavens’ are also familiar expressions from OT texts (Deut 30:3-4; Is 11:12, 27:13, 56:8; Jer 23:3, 29:12, 31:8; Ezek 11:17, 20:34, 28:25, 34:13. This is the gathering of Israel as a sign of eschatological hope.

So what’s going on here?

Jesus is using future ‘Day of the Lord’ imagery well known to the disciples. Imagery that would speak of the triumph of God, a restored, purified and united Israel at one with her God.

What is so astonishing (and so often missed by our reading of this text) is how profoundly Jesus reinterprets Israel’s eschatological hope in light of the Son of Man.

It is the Son of Man who comes in glory and power. It is he who sends the angels to gather the elect. Until this point the hope of Israel rested in the visible presence of the Temple – it was where Israel would gather in the Day of the Lord. The coming destruction of the Temple will show that hope to have been misplaced.

According to Jesus, it is around the Son of Man [Jesus] that Israel will gather. Jesus replaces the Temple as the locus of Israel’s hope and identity. As one commentator [William L Lane] says …

“The remnant of Israel will recover their lost unity through Jesus, the triumphant Son of Man. To be gathered by the Son of Man is to participate in the eschatological community and to experience the messianic blessing.”

And such blessing will be open to all – the elect will be gathered from everywhere (v.27).

So I’m open to correction, but yes, I think that these verses are talking of future hope. But their main thrust is pastoral and Christological rather than a detailed literal description of the last days. Jesus is encouraging the disciples that the there is hope beyond the terrible events to come. That the destruction of the Temple is not the end of hope, but that they should put their hope in the triumphant Son of Man [Jesus], God’s Messiah. It is in him that the presence and glory of God is displayed.

The paradox, of course, is that he has also been telling them that this Son of Man is about to suffer and die …..

Reflection

Perhaps, for good reason, you fear the future. It is full of darkness and uncertainty. Perhaps your world has been coming apart. Perhaps hope is but a distant memory. These verses tell us that Christian hope is forged in the fires of adversity. It is hard won. And it rests on the triumph of the Son of Man who has defeated evil, sin and death and has risen to new life. It is only in him that hope is found. As another Christian wrote, seeking to encourage those in need of hope in hard times, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” {Heb 12:2}

The Triumph of the Son of Man

24 “But in those days, following that distress,

“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

One.Life (8) What does it mean radically to follow Jesus?

The next chapter of Scot McKnight’s book One.Life; Jesus Calls, We Follow is called Committed.Life

I want to ask a question at the top of this post to which I will return below:

Can a life of radical commitment to Jesus be squared with the ‘normal’ expectations of life within Western capitalist culture?

According to Scot, Jesus was an ‘extremist’. And anyone who claims to be a Christian and follower of Jesus is called to a pretty extreme form of commitment, such as;

– Let the dead bury their own dead. Come follow me now.

– Sell your possessions and give to the poor, then come follow me.

– Those of you who do not give up all you have cannot be my disciple

– Why worry about what you are going to wear? Trust God.

– Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees you certainly will not enter the kingdom of God

– Anyone who says ‘You Fool’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

– Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart

– Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you

– Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect

McKnight concludes that Jesus is perfectly serious in these sorts of uncompromising demands. Jesus is a ‘moral zealot’. [I’m sure about this language; it makes Jesus sound a bit grim and possibly unhinged]. But the bigger point stands: Jesus asked and expected total commitment from his followers.

And the test, Scot says, of whether someone is a follower of Jesus or not, is, quite simply, whether they are following Jesus or not. And the problem, he says, with big swathes of Christianity is that there are many Christians who are not following Jesus.

The mark of an authentic disciple is a whole-hearted commitment to Jesus. And that looks like a life given over to Jesus’ kingdom vision: a vision committed to love, justice, peace, wisdom, church community …

But is such a life almost impossible to live within a Western capitalist culture?

I was preaching at MCC last Sunday on Luke 6:1-11. One point I tried to make was how Jesus claims extraordinary authority [“the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath”] and offers a stark challenge that to obey ‘the Law’ is really to accept and follow him wherever it leads – and that is towards the radical call of life within the kingdom of God.

But in preparing that sermon I found it much easier to say this than spell out what it actually means for everyday life without resorting to ‘extraordinary hero’ examples.

Too often, examples given of a radical commitment to Jesus involve the ‘extraordinary hero’ model that few if any ‘normal’ people in a church can relate to. In older evangelicalism, people like C T Studd and Hudson Taylor, or the martyred missionary Jim Elliott (“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose”) were such heroes.

I gotta say Scot does a bit of this himself in this chapter – he holds up the example of Richard Stearns of World Vision, an extremely wealthy man who, in reluctant response to the call of God, sold up his mansion, left his business life behind and went to work as Director of World Vision.

‘Radical commitment’ to Jesus is virtually equated with a rejection of life within contemporary Western culture.

But for the vast majority of Christians in the West such rejection is not an option. Most people are working (or looking for work), are married with children, have mortgages or maybe college debts, wider family responsibilities, are plugged into their local communities and friends and so on. People whose lives are already shaped by non-negotiable commitments – working 40, 50, 60 + hour weeks while trying to snatch the occasional hour or day of ‘free’ time.

For most of these people, the evangelical ‘hero’ model is both irrelevant and probably only guilt inducing. It implies that if you don’t leave the Western way of life behind you are ‘compromised’, ‘half-hearted’ or ‘second-best’ in your commitment to Jesus.

This brings back to mind Philip Jenkins’ brilliant book The New Faces of Christianity that I did some posts on last year. One of many fascinating points he made was how the Bible ‘comes alive’ and ‘speaks’ so much more naturally and directly into life within the Global South – in countries suffering from famine, persecution, dictators, war, insecurity, injustice and so on.

Does the Western way of life so stifle, flatten and squash Jesus’ call to radical kingdom living that the only way authentically to follow him is to, like Scot’s example, resign from demands and values and comforts of Western capitalism?

Archbishop Martin on post-Catholic Ireland

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin continues to talk realistically about implications of a post-Catholic Ireland – and honestly about the failures of Catholic Ireland.

And it is refreshing to hear a leading member of the hierarchy taking the initiative to talk about the profound implications of the decline of ‘Catholic Ireland’ for the religiously based Irish education system rather than just trying to ‘hold on to’ the past.

From a long address last Monday, here are some brief clips of what he had to say:

Ireland is today undergoing a further phase in a veritable revolution of its religious culture. Many outside of Ireland still believe that Ireland is a bastion of traditional Catholicism. They are surprised to discover that there are parishes in Dublin where the presence at Sunday Mass is some 5% of the Catholic population and, in some cases, even below 2%. On any particular Sunday about 18% of the Catholic population in the Archdiocese of Dublin attends Mass.  That is considerably lower than in any other part of Ireland ….

… That the conformist Ireland of the Archbishop McQuaid era changed so rapidly and with few tears was read as an indication of a desire for change, but perhaps it was also an indication that the conformism was covering an emptiness and a faith built on a faulty structure to which people no longer really ascribed.   The good-old-days of traditional mid-twentieth century Irish Catholicism may in reality not have so good and healthy after all …

… The change that has taken place in Irish culture requires radical change in the life of the Church of such an extent that in the face of it even experts in change management would feel daunted …

But his main concern is to see spiritual renewal within the Catholic Church in its new and disorientating ‘post-Christendom’ context.

Christian faith is not just a faith about doctrines or about rules and regulations or about ethical standards against which we have to measure our own moral behaviour.   It is not just about reforming structures. It is about the ability to preach and witness to the message of Jesus.  The leader in the Church is not a manager, but a witness and a prophet. Reform in the Church is not in the first place about the redistribution of power, but about the redefinition of power in terms of the way in which Jesus revealed who God is  …..

…. I am convinced that one of the principal ways in which the Church can reform itself and bring its message more incisively to society is through developing a renewed biblical apostolate.  The Irish Church at times in its recent history got so focussed on the formulae of orthodoxy that it failed to introduce its people into a real relationship with Jesus and his life and teaching.  All our pastoral structures are still poor in scriptural content and approach. Such a biblical basis for its action is also a sound basis for ecumenical collaboration.

 

Hurtado: God in NT Theology (2)

Continuing our discussion of Christology around God in New Testament Theology by Larry Hurtado

Chapter 2 asks “WHO IS GOD IN THE NT?”

Big theme – I can only sketch some key points here. And I’m focusing on Jesus. More on the Spirit later.

So often we assume that the word “GOD” has an obvious and universally understood meaning within wider culture. “I do/don’t believe in God” thus assumes a generic idea of who God is.

Hurtado reminds us that in the polytheistic Ancient world it was a radical and dangerous thing to believe in one God. Given the public nature of religion, to believe in one God, was to not only ‘believe’ differently, it was to act differently. The robust  faith of the early Christians in the one true God led to charges of “atheism” and eventually persecution.

The pervasive theme about God in the NT is that he is the same God as in the OT. Christians stand in continuity of worship and faith in Israel’s God and Israel’s story. The identity of Jesus is understood only in relation to the God of the OT. He (Jesus) is the fulfilment of God’s promises of eschatological deliverance for his people and the world (Jew and Gentile).

“God” in the NT is undeniably quite a specific deity, whose record of revelatory and salvific actions is known in the OT and in the gospel message and who is historically connected to very specific times, places and people. [34]

And this God is only known in and through his actions. There is virtually no metaphysical speculation about God in the NT, he is known through his actions to establish relationship with his people, most remarkably that he “loves” humans.

GOD and JESUS

And this ties in with how “God” and “Jesus” become so inseparable in the NT. “God” is known through his actions in Christ.

The NT presents Jesus as God’s greatest act of redemption and revelation. [37]

This is seen everywhere in the NT. Jesus is sent by God, empowered by God, proclaims God’s kingdom, announces God’s judgement, does God’s will, is raised from the dead by God’s Spirit, is vindicated by God and glorified by God. Jesus-Father language emphasises how Jesus is God’s unique son. Paul talks of the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”. The Gospel writers, to differing degrees, stress the Father-Son relationship. The outflow being that, although Jesus has a unique status as son,  disciples can enter into a filial relationship as well – think the Lord’s prayer, Gal 4:67; Rom. 8:15-16.

Hurtado’s point here is this:

“God” is presented as “Father” of believers primarily and directly on account of Jesus. It is Jesus relationship to “God” as his own “Father” that is the paradigm and basis for believers to speak of and approach “God” using this epithet … In short the Christian practice of addressing “God” as “Father” originates as a profoundly christological statement. [41]

Similarly for thinking of “God” as life-giver. His raising of Jesus from the dead, exalting him to glory and vindicating him as Lord [Phil. 2:9-11] leads to a reconfigured and deepened theology of God himself. To smuggle in N T Wright here, it is in Jesus that the victory of God is most supremely displayed.

All this is to say that Hurtado sees a “new” theology of God in the NT. One that is shaped and framed in light of Jesus. In the NT you can’t talk of Jesus without talking of God and vice versa. Each is defined in light of the other. Jesus does not ‘displace’ God, far from it, he is functionally subordinate to his Father. Yet he is integrally involved in God’s attributes and actions – even creation itself.

And this inclusion of Jesus within “God” led to a new form of worship by the first Christians; worship of God in and through Jesus Christ.

Comments, as ever, welcome.


David McWilliams, Ireland Inc, ‘reckless trading’ and the need for a Referendum

David McWilliams continues to make sense to me. What the Irish Govt has signed the nation up to – in paying 100% of private debt incurred by an out of control banking system – now amounts to ‘reckless trading’. It is immoral, unpayable, unjust and short-sighted. European banks and the ECB are deeply implicated in the mess – they lent to the reckless Irish banks after all.

David McWilliams

The key issue this election is what the new Govt is going to do to separate private debt from sovereign debt in order to ‘save’ the ecomomy from descending into a hole it will take a generation to climb out of.

I agree that a Referendum on splitting private debt from sovereign debt should be the first thing a new Govt organises. It is obscene that the people have had no say in being forced to pay for vast amounts of private debt. With a certain huge NO vote, at least the new Govt can go to Europe to negotiate.

So ask yourself – which party is going to have the courage, toughness and vision to do this? Certainly not Fianna Fail which was the architect of the bank guarantee. Fine Gael and Labour are making some encouraging noises, but neither sound too convincing in grasping how radical the renegotiation needs to be.

His full article is well worth reading – here’s a clip.

It is obvious that Ireland is heading towards default (as close as a country can get to being insolvent) so racking up further debt, rather than trying to reduce it, is close to criminally negligent.

If a private company takes on debt when it is insolvent – ie, knowing that the company will not be able to meet repayments – it is known as ‘reckless trading’. If it can be proven in court that the company is trading recklessly, the directors of that company become personally liable for the debts.

If someone accuses the Irish government of ‘reckless trading’ by taking on debt we know we cannot pay, who will be brought to court?

We are now trading recklessly and we are hard-form insolvent. So we, the people, need to decide what we are going to do. Is it too late? Clearly not. There is more than €85 billion at stake. And there is a mechanism in the Constitution for this.

Article 27 provides for a referendum on ‘‘issues of national importance’’. We should be allowed to vote on this. None of the big parties are giving us this option now, but privately they too want to see the end of this. So there is a chance. Maybe the best thing a government could do after the election would be to call a referendum on the bank debt straight away.

This would give them the mandate to say to the ECB that we can’t do anything other than give the debt back to the people who own it.

The ECB, as faceless bureaucrats, would be stumped and the process of recovery would start. As someone who has worked in distressed debt markets for a large bank, I know the bond market would reward us for such a move by opening up and financing us readily.

The balance sheet would be strengthened based on bank debt renegotiation; therefore the sovereign would be saved from debt default and the game changed.

Only a referendum can deliver it. Now is the time.

Hurtado: God in NT Theology (1)

I’ve been reading stuff on Christology at the moment for a course I’m teaching at IBI.

Following the post on Bauckham’s ‘divine identity’ proposal, another key author in this area is Larry Hurtado

He published another book related to Christology in December 2010 called God in New Testament Theology. Building on his earlier work on the origins of NT Christology, he takes a step back in this book to look at how “God” is understood and talked of in the NT.

I’m going to do some posts on what he says over the next few days. His bigger question here is :

What new or distinctive contribution does the NT make towards an understanding of God?

Hurtado’s particular interest is how an OT understanding of “God” is developed or reconfigured in light of Jesus and of the Spirit – he devotes a chapter to each – but more of that in later posts.

Hurtado notes the curious neglect of the study of “God” in NT theology and surveys recent works (1990s on) that have gone some way to rectify this oversight.This post is related to just some of what he says in this chapter. Some interesting quotes and observations include:

“God in Pauline Writings”

Neil Richardson (1994) asked how much Paul’s language and understanding of God changed after his conversion to Christ? On the one hand Paul is deeply and profoundly theocentric – but on the other hand this very theocentric outlook was intimately linked to his powerful experience of Jesus as the climatic revelation of God. Thus Paul is both theocentric and Christocentric. There is a “vital interdependence” between Paul’s ‘Christ language’ and his ‘God language’. Richardson says,

If it is true that Paul uses God language in order to interpret and ‘define’ Christ, it is also true that language about Christ also in turn redefines the identity of God.

This is very close to what Gordon Fee concludes in his massive and excellent Pauline Christology, a book I have reviewed here.

Similarly Francis Watson (arguing against Jimmy Dunn) …

Paul’s texts everywhere assert or assume a distinctively Christian view of God … traditional God-language is relocated within a framework in which the word “God” is misunderstood and misused if it is not always and everywhere accompanied by reference to Jesus and his Spirit.

He also says that “Jesus is integral to God’s own identity.”

Jesus and God in John’s Gospel

Hurtado judges that the most important recent work on the “God” in the Gospel of John is by Marianne Meye Thompson (2001). She says that Jesus’ significance is explained wholly in connection with “God the Father” and that “God” is identified emphatically with Jesus.

… terms for God, as well the whole understanding of God, must now be delineated with respect to Jesus.

God and Jesus are, in other words, inseparable, in the sense that it is in Jesus’ role and status that the very nature and character of God is revealed in a new and climatic way.

A Question:

We’ve spent a lot of time on this blog talking about ‘the Gospel’ being all about Jesus being God’s promised King in whom redemption of Israel and the world comes. How do ‘Christology’ and ‘Gospel’ reinforce and inform each other ? In other words, how does who Jesus is relate to the good news of what God has done in Christ?

Sundays in Mark (47) The Destruction of the Temple (3)

Continuing our simple Sunday reflections in the Gospel of Mark. This week Mark 13:14-23

Jesus’ grim forewarning of the disciples continues with specific mention of ‘the abomination that causes desolation’. This image is from Daniel and would have been familiar – such desecration had happened before in 168 BC when Antiochus IV Ephiphanes set up an altar to Zeus in the Temple and sacrificed a pig on it.

We can only imagine the despair and horror at the thought of a repeat of such disgrace and humiliation – especially in light of the hopes resting in Jesus as Messiah bringing glory and spiritual renewal to Israel? How square warnings to flee Jerusalem and the rejection of the Temple as God’s sacred dwelling place with God’s blessing on his covenant people?

It’s likely this is why Jesus mentions false Messiahs – perhaps ones who will desperately offer the false hope of deliverance and victory rather than understanding the unfolding disaster as the judgement of God and rejection of the Temple. They are not to be listened to because they will deter the disciples from what they need to do – get out of Jerusalem as fast as possible.

Everything points to events not far off. The question in verse 4 (when will these things happen?) has been answered, if hardly comfortingly. The imminent confrontational climax of Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem foreshadows the destruction of the Temple to follow.

In this whole discourse there is a strong sense of ‘end game’ – the coming of the Messiah is inaugurating a whole new ordering of God’s relationship with his people.

The Destruction of the Temple

14 “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. 16 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 17 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 18 Pray that this will not take place in winter, 19 because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.

20 “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. 21 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.