February 22, 2013

Lenten Journey: Messiah

For Reflection...

Jesus was a faithful Jew, but Christian history has often downplayed, even denigrated, the Jewishness of Jesus.  On the other hand, some people are adamant in saying that Jesus was nothing more than a faithful Jew, a prophet or maybe a wise teacher.  The latter group may claim that Jesus never meant to found a new religion apart from Judaism, that he expected Judaism to carry on as it had before he came on the scene, while the former suggests that Jesus himself disavowed his Jewishness,.

If we adhere to the view of a non-Jewish Jesus, we find that we have to throw out the Old Testament.  With the latter perspective, the New Testament has to go.

There is a middle way.  This view understands Jesus as the very Jewish Messiah who embodied and brought to completion all that Israel was meant to accomplish through its election.

Remember, God made creation, and humans in particular, to be in relationship with God, even as God knew that things would go terribly wrong.  God's plan to make things right always culminated in Jesus, who, as John the Evangelist avows, was with God "in the beginning" (see John 1:1 and Genesis 1:1).  Humans are made in this image, the image of the Word who would be made flesh (John 1:14) in the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4).

Humans' election as stewards of creation prepares the way for the election of the remnant of the nation of Israel -- which itself is reduced to a remnant after the Babylonians conquer the land and exile the people; only a small remainder of Jews would return to the Promised Land under the rule of Cyrus the Persian, and these few would need to carry the responsibility of being the "light to the nations" (Isaiah 49:6).  Out of this remnant comes the final remnant, the one man, Jesus of Nazareth.

Both Matthew (1:1ff) and Luke (3:23ff) offer us a genealogy of Jesus, planting him firmly within Jewish history.  The title he bears in throughout the New Testament, Christ, is a Greek translation of a Hebrew word, anglicized as Messiah, which means anointed one.

In Israel anointing was for the king, the high priest, and the prophets.  The king is the head of the nation and its figurehead, standing in for and representing the whole.  The high priest is a stand-in too, offering up the sacrifice to God for me and for the nation as a whole.  The prophet faces the other direction speaking to the people, to us, on God's behalf, almost always by acting out that message (see, for example, Jeremiah 18 and Hosea 1).  In Jesus, the anointed one, Messiah, Christ, we get all three.

At last, God's purpose is to be accomplished.  One man will stand as the representative for all of humanity, offering up the sacrifice, enacting God's message of reconciling love.

This One accepts his Messianic office by passing through the waters of baptism and thereby identifying entirely with humankind's universal and personal, individual enslavement to sin. Then he is driven into the desert, exactly where we are, where we've been waiting for him.

For Entering In...

Enter your quiet space.  Take a deep breath or two and spend a few moments becoming present to yourself.  Notice how it feels to be in your body to be in this place at this time.

Invite God to be present with you.

Reflect on these questions:
  • What have you thought about Jesus?  How have you understood him in relationship to what you believe or don't believe about God?  What, if anything, does your view of Jesus have to do with your experience of church?  Of the world?  Of your own life?
  • Do you think of yourself as a Christian?  What does that mean to you?
  • In the ancient world most people lived under the rule of some sort of monarchy.  What might it mean for us, for you, today, to consider Jesus as a king?
  • Based on what you know about Jesus' ministry, make a list of some of the signs that he enacted -- e.g., healing the blind (John 9), multiplying the loaves and fishes (Mark 6), turning water to wine (John 2), raising the dead (Mark 5).  Choose one or two and reflect:  What does this action reveal to you about who God is and what God has to say to you?
  • As we journey through Lent, we will eventually arrive at Good Friday, the passion of Jesus, and the cross.  We will look at Jesus as both the high priest and the object of sacrifice.  For today, consider this:  What might you be called to offer back to God from what you've been given?  How would that sacrifice look?  Is it something you need to surrender altogether, or something for which you need to offer up a sacrifice of thanksgiving (Psalm 50:23)?  
When you have answered these questions in your thoughts or in writing, pause and again become present to yourself and to God.  What do you notice?

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