Friday, August 16, 2013

When the Messiah Comes

25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:25-27 (ESV)
This is kind of funny. The woman at first perceives that the man is a prophet, so she asks the question that is bothering her most, and perhaps her whole community. It seems she wants affirmation for what her and her ancestors are doing. This is too often true of all people, we go into God’s word not seeking truth but affirmation. We are all guilty of this to some extent or another.
For instance, I see “social conservatives” run to scripture and pull pieces affirming that marriage is a monogamous relationship between one man and one woman. They completely ignore the fact that polygamy was practiced, and condoned throughout scripture and never once condemned. I have to scratch my head when people make the argument that if we allow gay marriage, then next we will have to allow polygamy. Seems to me allowing polygamy makes more sense, at least there the plumbing is right and the state has an interest in the relationship because of the citizens it may produce. It would be much better than turning a blind eye to all the one flesh unions that occur and produce children in society with mistresses, kept women, sugar daddies, etc.
On the liberal side, well you have people going into scripture and looking to condone such things as women’s ordination. They grab onto verses such as Galatians 3:28 talking about there being neither male nor female etc. And they ignore all the verses that describe who should be appointed to the pastoral office, and passages like 1 cor. 14 and 1 Tim. 2, which prohibit women from speaking or having authority over men in the divine service. On the flip side of that, some “conservatives” will try to apply this much too liberally to society and even auxiliary functions of the church such as a board of directors or regents. It is telling to me that both of those verses in question pop up in a greater discussion of how the divine service ought to be conducted, and say nothing whatsoever of secular affairs or the governance of the church. I think we need to remember that Paul made great use of women in his ministry, and some of his largest supporters were women of not a little clout. My readings in early church history I was a bit shocked to find out that when Paul referenced members of Caesars household being believers, he was referencing first and foremost Nero’s mistress Acte. But then you have women like Lydia, and Priscilla mentioned explicitly. It also seems that Priscilla may have been the one wearing the pants so to speak when it came to her marriage to Aquilla. Just saying.
Baptists go into scripture looking to affirm “Believers baptism” and ignore all the verses that talk about what God does in baptism, or the little ones who believe in him. The Zwingliists will reference John 6 and ignore the words of institution and 1 Cor. 10-12. Calvinists are hell bent on denying that God wants all people to be saved, despite the clear words of Scripture to the contrary.
And when you get into these conversations, and try to have reasonable conversation with someone over what scripture does and does not say, and what applies to what, people take this dodge: we see now through a glass darkly, when Christ comes we will see things clearly. It’s an excuse. It’s a pious sounding way of saying, well my parents and my friends and everyone I love believe x, so I don’t really care to hear what Scripture and therefore Christ have to say on the matter now. It is the same as this woman standing in front of Christ and saying: ““I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” What she is really trying to say is, I don’t believe you because what you have to say isn’t what I like. He may have something different to say. But then Christ reveals himself as the messiah. Jesus actually identifies himself here as the Messiah with another “I am” statement. It doesn’t translate well that way so it gets lost, but he does employ the “ego eimi” formula he uses elsewhere to identify himself with Yahweh.
It’s a bit strange because Jesus doesn’t identify himself explicitly as the messiah much elsewhere. But he does here. He does what he does elsewhere, speaks in code to John, lets the Jews and Pharisees struggle with the question. But here he identifies himself as the messiah, not to the chosen ones of Judah, but to the lost sheep of Israel, to a Samaritan. Part of the reason for this is possibly the fact that the Jews conceive of the Messiah as a political figure who will throw off the yoke of the Romans, and set up an earthly kingdom of prosperity that will last a thousand years etc. All the Jewish myths that Paul warns Titus about. But the Samaritans believed the Messiah would be a teacher, a prophet who would teach them everything. In this they were at least more right than the Jews on the nature of the messiah. Jesus could reveal himself here and not worry about becoming the center of a political movement, as when the people tried to take him by force and make him king after he fed them.
But just then, the woman is faced with a choice. She can go on with the façade and worship as she always has, what she does not know. She can put the fourth commandment in place of the first as she has always done, or she can listen to the messiah, and take God’s word seriously. This is the choice that is place before us every day. We can pay God’s word lip service by cherry picking quotes to support our positions, or we can take it seriously. There are mysteries of the faith that we will never understand fully until heaven. But this does not mean that God has not spoken clearly through his son on other issues. And he is the key that makes scripture accessible, it is all interpreted through and by him, and the apostles he sent to speak for him. As John says: “We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” (1 John 4:6 (ESV) With the coming of Christ things change because so much finds its fulfillment in Christ. Old Testament case law and ceremonial law is done away with. All food is made clean. The injunction to stone your children because they have been rebellious is done away with, as with the admonition to stone those guilty of same sex activity. Paul tells us to baptize them, 1 Cor. 6. And the laws God applied to Israel, need not be applied to any society today. They were only meant for Israel at the time they were given. Today is the law of love, it remains. And we learn to love because Christ first loved us. This has much to do with forgiveness. How is that for an understatement? Forgiveness when it comes to our relationships with others, because God has forgiven us. We can learn a lot from Old Testament case law and ceremonial law, it is worth a lot of study, sometimes there are profound things to be learned in there, but this because they find their fulfillment in Christ. What remains for our following today is the Ten Commandments, precisely because they are the result of love and nothing else. And neither can you ignore them and love your neighbor. To break them is to not love God or your neighbor. But then that shows us the need we have for Christ and his love for us shown in the forgiveness he attained for us on the Cross in his divine blood shed for you. And we may not always understand why it is women aren’t supposed to teach or have authority over men in the context of the divine service. That is why women can’t be pastors, or stewards of the mysteries of God which are explicated and distributed in the divine service. We may not ever understand completely how the bread can be his body, and the wine his blood. We may never know why I is Christ chooses to save us through something like water. Or why it is not all people are saved and come to a knowledge of truth, if this is the desire of an all powerful God. But that does not mean that God has not spoken clearly about such things. He has. And if we are to love him with all our soul, all our mind and all our might, well then we will listen to His Son, the one whom he loves and has told us to listen to. We will take God’s word seriously, we will read it for what it says, and not what we think it says, or want it to say. And we will find that this means reading it often and closely, but also joining in the conversation with others, perhaps those who have a difference of opinion with us currently, it will mean reading the great teachers of the church who have come before, men like Augustine, and Jerome, Eusebius and Athanasius. It will mean reading at times men like Aquinas, and Luther. It will not mean agreeing with them. At times, it will mean understanding precisely where and why a misconception has come into the church. I mean it is a revelation when you realize that Chrysostom defrocked the bishop of Ephesus because the man conferred with his wife in a convent over in issue regarding their children and the family estate. And how the reasoning involving that and the concept of digamy (yes digamy not bigamy) played into the interpretation of “husband of one wife.” But then most of all it comes down to believing this: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:16-18 (ESV)

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