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Bread and Wine, Because Faith Comes by Seeing

Posted by Nathanael Szobody on

Why does God choose to put his Gospel into the physical form of the sacraments? Because it is in the very nature of faith to attach to what is not only heard but also seen. Pope Francis explains this dynamic in his recent encyclical Lumen Fidei:

30. The bond between seeing and hearing in faith-knowledge is most clearly evident in John’s Gospel. For the Fourth Gospel, to believe is both to hear and to see. Faith’s hearing emerges as a form of knowing proper to love: it is a personal hearing, one which recognizes the voice of the Good Shepherd (cf. Jn 10:3-5); it is a hearing which calls for discipleship, as was the case with the first disciples: “Hearing him say these things, they followed Jesus” (Jn 1:37). But faith is also tied to sight. Seeing the signs which Jesus worked leads at times to faith, as in the case of the Jews who, following the raising of Lazarus, “having seen what he did, believed in him” (Jn 11:45). At other times, faith itself leads to deeper vision: “If you believe, you will see the glory of God” (Jn 11:40). In the end, belief and sight intersect: “Whoever believes in me believes in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me” (Jn 12:44-45). Joined to hearing, seeing then becomes a form of following Christ, and faith appears as a process of gazing, in which our eyes grow accustomed to peering into the depths. Easter morning thus passes from John who, standing in the early morning darkness before the empty tomb, “saw and believed” (Jn 20:8), to Mary Magdalene who, after seeing Jesus (cf. Jn 20:14) and wanting to cling to him, is asked to contemplate him as he ascends to the Father, and finally to her full confession before the disciples: “I have seen the Lord!” (Jn 20:18).

How does one attain this synthesis between hearing and seeing? It becomes possible through the person of Christ himself, who can be seen and heard. He is the Word made flesh, whose glory we have seen (cf. Jn 1:14). The light of faith is the light of a countenance in which the Father is seen. In the Fourth Gospel, the truth which faith attains is the revelation of the Father in the Son, in his flesh and in his earthly deeds, a truth which can be defined as the “light-filled life” of Jesus.[24] This means that faith-knowledge does not direct our gaze to a purely inward truth. The truth which faith discloses to us is a truth centred on an encounter with Christ, on the contemplation of his life and on the awareness of his presence. Saint Thomas Aquinas speaks of the Apostles’ oculata fides — a faith which sees! — in the presence of the body of the Risen Lord.[25] With their own eyes they saw the risen Jesus and they believed; in a word, they were able to peer into the depths of what they were seeing and to confess their faith in the Son of God, seated at the right hand of the Father.

31. It was only in this way, by taking flesh, by sharing our humanity, that the knowledge proper to love could come to full fruition. For the light of love is born when our hearts are touched and we open ourselves to the interior presence of the beloved, who enables us to recognize his mystery. Thus we can understand why, together with hearing and seeing, Saint John can speak of faith as touch, as he says in his First Letter: “What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life” (1 Jn 1:1). By his taking flesh and coming among us, Jesus has touched us, and through the sacraments he continues to touch us even today; transforming our hearts, he unceasingly enables us to acknowledge and acclaim him as the Son of God. In faith, we can touch him and receive the power of his grace. Saint Augustine, commenting on the account of the woman suffering from haemorrhages who touched Jesus and was cured (cf. Lk 8:45-46), says: “To touch him with our hearts: that is what it means to believe”.[26] The crowd presses in on Jesus, but they do not reach him with the personal touch of faith, which apprehends the mystery that he is the Son who reveals the Father. Only when we are configured to Jesus do we receive the eyes needed to see him.

The Torah and the Sermon on the Mount

Posted by Nathanael Szobody on

Sometimes there is a theological issue on my mind that is more a matter of perspective than proposition. Often such an issue is particularly paradoxical–perhaps to the point of contradiction. But I don’t think so. That makes it hard to express and defend succinctly. So I’ll try this.

Was he a Jew so I would be one too,
A Torah-loving man for human good
As spoke he on the Mount in Sermon true?
His life was also sermon, good as would
Bestow a God of love who bore his law–
Which was no law but kind command!
He drew us all from where in fear and awe
We’d froze afraid to love, afraid to stand
Before a God who’s good; afraid to hope
That we, not Jews, but “gentile sinners” might
Be known by God like Abraham and Job,
Like Aaron in the temple day and night.
Messiah on the Mountain opened once
His mouth and Torah gave the rest of us.

On the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy

Posted by Nathanael Szobody on

I was reading the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy today. Couple of quotes I thought I would reflect upon:

[…]history must be treated as history, poetry as poetry, hyperbole and metaphor as hyperbole and metaphor, generalization and approximation as what they are, and so forth.

Yes, the sticking point, though, is in which parts of the Bible are considered to be history, metaphor, etc.

Differences between literary conventions in Bible times and in ours must also be observed: since, for instance, non-chronological narration and imprecise citation were conventional and acceptable and violated no expectations in those days, we must not regard these things as faults when we find them in Bible writers. When total precision of a particular kind was not expected nor aimed at, it is no error not to have achieved it.

Indeed, it is helpful to point out how ancient writers’ understanding of the role and nature of their work differs from modern literary assumptions. The one area this document does not address is how the ancient writers’ culture viewed the nature and composition of history itself.

Scripture is inerrant, not in the sense of being absolutely precise by modern standards, but in the sense of making good its claims and achieving that measure of focused truth at which its authors aimed.

In this statement the entire doctument becomes relative to future insights concerning what might be “measured focus of truth” at which a particular author of a particular passage aimed. I am thinking particularly of stories such as the Creation, the Flood, and Jonah.

In short, it would be helpful to Christian unity to realize that the principles on which the conservative Evangelical camp bases its position on inerrency, does not necessarily exclude opposing positions. As the Rabbi says: “As long as the Book is open, all questions are permitted.”

Jesus and the Law

Posted by Nathanael Szobody on

Following is a somewhat lengthy quote from David Bosch’s book “Transforming Mission”. I appreciate his treatment of Jesus’ mission, his approach, and how that might relate to how the church might go about her mission to the world.

It is important to first understand how Jesus related to the culture and religion of his day. It is not enough to simply say “Jesus said” or “Jesus did”, and make an immediate inference for our approach to ministry. Rather, we need to understand how Jesus related to the particular set of practices and attitudes of first century Judaism and their history. Only when we have isolated such principles can we make an eventual comparison to the unique set of practices and attitudes of our society. Only then can we begin to understand what Jesus means by “As the Father has sent me, so I send you”.

This approach is both demanding and liberating. It requires a lot of work; it requires us to make good use of the best exegetical insights of all the ages, including modern scholarship. It means we cannot be content with a shoot-from-the-hip approach to missions that simply applies Bible verses to modern questions.

Yet it is liberating–and I mean that in a gospel way; it is life-giving to learn to understand how Jesus gave life to the people he met, each in a unique way, each according to a transcendent set of principles that he referred to as “the Kingdom of Heaven.” The first of these principles is, of course, love for one’s neighbor, inseparable from love for God.

Towards such an approach, here is what Bosch observes concerning Jesus’ relationship to the Law:

According to the gospels, particularly Matthew, Jesus seems to view the Torah in a way that is not essentially different from that of his contemporaries, including the Pharisees. At closer look, however, there are some fundamental dissimilarities. For on thing, Jesus attacks the hypocrisy of allowing a discrepancy between accepting the Law as authoritative and yet not acting according to it. For another, he radicalizes the Law in an unparalleled manner (cf. Mt 5:17-48). Third, in supreme self-confidence he takes it upon himself simply to abrogate the law, or at least certain elements in it.

Why does he do that? This, of course, is the question his contemporaries also ask, either in utter amazement or in bitter anger. The answer lies in several mutually related elements, all of which involve Jesus’ understanding of his mission.

First, the reign of God and not the Torah is for Jesus the decisive principle of action. This does not imply the annulment of the Law or antinomianism, as though there could be a basic discrepancy between God’s reign and God’s Law. What happens, rather, is that the Law is pushed back in relation to God’s reign. And this reign of God manifests itself as love to all. The Old Testament knows of God’s unfathomable and tender love to Israel–dramatized inter alia, in the enacted parable of the prophet Hosea’s marriage to a prostitute. Now, however, God’s love begins to reach out beyond the boundaries of Israel. This, says William Manson, was an absolutely new thing in the religious history of humankind.

Particularly enlightening in this quote is the fact that Jesus reversed the rapport between Torah and Kingdom. Where the people of his day understood the Kingdom as an institution governed by the Torah, Jesus understood the Torah as a particular application of his Father’s Kingdom principles. This explains why he both radicalizes and abrogates the law, each in their respectively appropriate context to the respectively appropriate audience.

Applying the Torah in this way gives rise to the seemingly paradoxical situation where Jesus assumes, epitomizes and radicalizes the values of his day, all while subverting them in favor of the novelty that is his advent–a reality that, incredibly, supersedes the Torah and religion itself.

Jesus’ Contextual Ministry Approach

Posted by Nathanael Szobody on

Reading “The Shape of the Liturgy” by Dom Gregory Dix, I have been astounded by the following realization: liturgically speaking, Jesus did not institute any new rite for his followers. He left them with his teachings, with a new paradigm for understanding the kingdom of God, but he really did not create any new religious practice.

He told his disciples to baptize, which is what John the Baptist and others were already doing. But he told them to do it in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. He invested a fuller theology into a repentance ritual already in use and presumably well understood in his day. Essentially, by attaching God’s Name to it, he made it finally efficacious in what it had always been designed to do: bring people back to God.

In the Last Supper he was eating a meal with his disciples as many Jewish religious “associations” did on a weekly basis. The blessing over the bread at the beginning of the meal is one he would have pronounced hundreds of times over during his life according to Jewish custom. The cup at the end of the meal that he took and blessed was the normal conclusion to any weekly meal of a Jewish religious association. What he did differently that night was to give them a new way of looking at these customary practices: the cup of blessing he referred to as a new covenant in his blood. The bread that he blessed according to Jewish custom he now referred to as his body. Just as they had been having this sort of meal all throughout his ministry (presumably), he assumed they would continue to do so even after he had gone. So he told them that they should henceforth do it in memory of him, making him forever present among them by their partaking in faith.

What may be seem even more surprising is that neither of these rituals—baptism or the Lord’s Supper—are customs prescribed in the Law of Moses or anywhere else in Jewish scripture. They were just pious traditions. They were rituals that Second Temple Judaism had developed in order to live out their lives in the presence of God. They took Temple activities, like ritual washing and ritual eating, and made it part of everyday life, extending, as it were, the presence of God in the temple into everyday life. In a sense, Jesus assumed the logic of those “extra-biblical” practices and realized them fully: he invested those customs with his promises, with himself, and through them made God truly present among his disciples.

The implications for contextual ministry are overwhelming. Where are those practices in our world that express a yearning for God’s presence? We can’t fight them, ignore them, or replace them. We can let Jesus fulfill them.

An Overview of Theological Method

Posted by Nathanael Szobody on

1. Hebrews’ Method:
Tell a story about great stuff God has done in the past. Conclude he can do it again—if we behave.

2. Pharisees’ Method:
If you’re not obsessive compulsive about cleanliness, learn to be, then you’ll understand the law.

3. Jesus’ Method:
Agree with the majority position on most issues. Apply it to all the “wrong” people at precisely the “wrong” moment.

4. Apostles’ Method:
Use some obscure rabbinical method to make unrelated passages, read allegorically, speak to the issue at hand. Plus, “God told me”.

5. Agnostic Method:
Well, I’d tell you, but if you were one of the elect you would already know.

6. Early Fathers’ Method:
Systematically read the OT allegorically as referring to Christ and the church. Don’t quote your sources so it sounds like you speak scripture itself. Add an argument from nature. If your reader is not yet completely sick of the topic at hand, add some philosophical principles for good measure.

7. Medieval Method:
Take allegory to a whole new level: make any passage speak about anything. Sound devotional. Mary is always appropriate.

8. Orthodox Method:
Quote the Early Fathers. If it’s not there, you shouldn’t be asking.

9. Reformers’ Method:
Make all of your theology revolve around a couple novel insights into a few passages. Say that they are actually not novel but obvious. Insult the Papists and the Enthusiasts as often as possible for thinking they are novel. No holds barred.

10. Historical Critical Method:
Point out that no two Bible authors say exactly the same thing. Relativize the ones you don’t like. Use the others.

11. Fundamentalist Method:
Pick a contentious issue. Find a bunch of passages that make your point. String them together in scripture reference short hand and declare yourself the winner.

12. Modern Lutheran Method:
Quote the Lutheran Confessions. If it’s not there find a Church Father who agrees with you.

13. Modern Calvinist Method:
Fundamentalist Method + Aristotelian Logic = “unassailable” conclusion.

14. Post-Modern Method:
Use the Historical Critical Method to outline the historical development of a doctrine. Conclude that the popular Post-Modern intuition is the naturally evolved—ahem, divinely guided—outworking of that development.