Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Biblical Notion of Redemption

1.      Let us take a look at the document published by the International Theological Commission entitled “SELECT QUESTIONS  ON THE THEOLOGY OF GOD THE REDEEMER (1995)”. Let us select from this select some passages that are relevant to our discussion on Christology. We will focus on the Biblical reflections of the document (Part II, 1-20).
2.      First of all, it is worth noting that the document admits that there is “the internal Christian debate on redemption, and especially to the question of how the suffering and death of Christ is related to the winning of the world's redemption” (Part I, 40). Within Christianity there are people who question the “compensation or punishment” involved in redemption. God is very angry and wants to punish us; God wants to be compensated from the hurt that we have done to him. And so redemption occurred, in Christ, to appease God and to stop God from punishing us.
3.      The document also admits that life is very hard and harsh, even more so today. The pains and sufferings intensify. How relevant is this notion of redemption in our world today? (See (Part I, 40).
4.      A renewed reflection on redemption is thus felt imperative. So let us go into the biblical reflections of the document.
5.      Revelation, for the people of Israel, was given in the Torah. For the Christian it was given in Jesus Christ. This revelation, however, is engaged with a human world where we still “moan”. We are still in the “crying” mode and life is not that easy. Our human efforts to be free from the conditions that enslave us fail. We are finite creatures and yet we are called to be in communion with the Infinite. We cannot do that move with our own efforts, i.e., from the finite to the infinite. Our hearts are continuously restless. The document then asks: how do we find “redemption”?
6.      The document gives us a list of Old Testament practices all of which indicate the insight into redemption as a work for freedom. The go’el institution were designed for the liberty of an alienated family (or community). The rituals of expiation were meant to liberate the people and allow them to re-connect with God. The prophetic tradition showed the role of intercession again for the liberty of the nation. Biblically, and for the Old Testament in particular, redemption is a matter of making freedom possible for a people stuck in slavery, in injustice, in sin. (See Part II, 1-6).
7.      These practices which we read in the Old Testament “are brought to a sharper focus in Jesus Christ”. In fact a transformation happens with Jesus Christ. Let us dwell more on this because it is relevant for our study of Christology.
8.      Jesus showed the path of liberation (#7). His message of the Kingdom “at hand” included the call for everyone to get involved with it. The acts and words of Jesus manifested the Kingdom; hence they were words and acts of liberty. His parables shook ideas and thus liberated. They put down defenses and showed the importance of “vulnerability” to God. In other words, Jesus conveyed the importance of trust and confidence in God.
9.      Jesus himself was the living parable. He has such trust and confidence in God—Abba. Jesus was willing to face the negative conditions of his mission; he showed in trust and in confidence that God, and not the “bad things”, will have the last word. Jesus of Nazareth "had no desire to control his future, as his radical trust in his Abba-Father freed him from all such concerns” (#8).
10.  The freedom of Jesus allowed him, for example, to share the table with sinners and publicans. It allowed him communion with sinners (and this communion served as a sign of the Kingdom). Yes the teachings of Jesus created tensions and there was the threat of the cross. Jesus was willing to face even that. He was so free thanks to his confidence in his Father. Note the central place of confidence and  trust in the Father. This is liberating. Jesus showed that he was a man of trust and confidence—he laid his life in his Father’s hands. This allowed for the giving of oneself.
11.  Jesus, being so confident in his Father, gave his life to his friends. If we use contemporary words we can say that Jesus was “a-man-for-others”, he was “available” to others, he gave himself to others, he was “in solidarity” with them. The giving of self is glorifying, both for God and for us. “The way of Jesus of Nazareth indicates that the free gift of oneself to the ways of God, cost what it may, brings glory to ourselves and also to God” (#10). Note then that there is no talk here of punishment and compensation. There is nothing here about appeasing an angry God. The document states it well:
“The death of Jesus is not the act of a merciless God exacting the supreme sacrifice; it is not a ‘buying back’ from some alienating power which has enslaved. It is the time and the place where a God who is love and who loves us is made visible. Jesus crucified tells how much God loves us, and affirms that in this gesture of love a human being has given unconditional assent to God's ways” (#10).
12.  Jesus knew that love of God and he was in full confidence. He was willing to face consequences in his preaching his message; in full confidence Jesus said “yes” to God’s ways. Jesus showed who God was: it was a loving God all the time. No, it was not a God of vengeance asking for sacrifice and pain from us. By living that trust and confidence in God Jesus showed that God is love. This was made visible in Jesus himself. Even with the threat of the cross Jesus did not withdraw the loving identity of God. Jesus went all the way to show that God is loving.
13.  Let us pause for a while and look back at the institution of the go’el. In Jesus the go’el has taken a new sense. Recall from your first semester that the go’el is someone who “redeems” the family if, for example, the family falls in debt. The go’el pays the debt and sets the family free. Someone in the family has to play this role; vigilant that the family is always secure and free. It is in the Jewish culture. Hence the go’el is member of the family. Jesus is member of the family. He considers us his family and he is our go’el (or “ransom”). He sustains our being-family with God the Father. Our rejection of God has broken our family with God. Our go’el, Jesus, returns that unity—that community—with the Father. How does Jesus pay? In our alienation from the Father we go as far as crucify Jesus. (Remember that humans, and not God, killed Jesus.) We reject Jesus. Jesus continues his mission to unify us with the Father; he is willing to go up the cross. He risks his life. This is how he pays. He pays with his life; his life is the price he pays with to redeem us. He can do this thanks to his full confidence in the Father. He knows that “the Father loves him too much to forsake him in the hour of peril” (St. Therese of Lisieux).
14.  Part of giving one’s life is through solidarity. Jesus, trusting the Father, entered into solidarity with the suffering humanity. Note that the word used is “solidarity” and not “substitution”. In substitution God wants that we pay him—we compensate him for the hurt we have done to him. But we are so small and God is so big. Whatever we offer God, it is not satisfying, it does not compensate. So Jesus came to substitute for us. This is not Biblical. Biblically Jesus came to be in solidarity with us. God does not want our suffering. God is not taxing us for his compensation. We are a family with God and so God joins us in solidarity through Jesus Christ. Jesus came with the message of fraternity with God and with each other—we are a family. Please note how very different this is from the “substitution” type of redemption.
15.  God, in Jesus, was revealed as God of life and not a God of vengeance. God did  not want our death and suffering. God did not want these to be our destiny. In the teaching of Jesus “God is a God of the living, not of the dead” (#11).In the solidarity of Christ with humanity Jesus went “all the way”. The resurrection confirmed this.
16.  In the Old Testament we read about “expiation”. Ritually blood had to be shed, sprinkled on the altar, in order to please God and make God forgive sins. This was the “expiation” then. In Jesus it took a new form. In Jesus it meant the confirmation of our being “of the same blood”—expiation meant the confirmation of our being a family. Jesus was willing to shed blood—on the cross—so as not to lose our fraternal and family links. The early Church already saw it this way, that “the bloody event of Calvary demanded that the early Church explain, both for itself and for its mission, the atoning efficacy of a sacrificial death of Jesus on the Cross” (#11).
17.  Biblically blood marked life. The Old Testament saw it in terms of sacrifices, atonement and expiation. In Jesus a transformation took place in meaning, language and theology. So what was new in Jesus? (See #12).

  •         i.            In the Old Testament it was necessary to repeat sacrifices over and over again. The sacrifice of Jesus however was definite and final. There was no more need for another sacrifice and shedding of the blood.
  •       ii.            Death was not the work of salvation. Blood meant more than just death. To shed blood did not have to mean death. It also meant life. The document, in footnote 48, proposed these verses: Cf. Rom 6:5-11; Heb 9:11-12; 10:10. For St. Paul the blood of Christ went beyond the Leviticus tradition of sprinkling on the altar. Blood was not just to compensate (as in the rituals), in Jesus blood was his offering.
  •     iii.            Jesus died and it was a result of his obedience to the Father. Note that this obedience did not mean appeasing God. In other words God did not command Jesus to die on the cross. The obedience of Jesus was not about this. It was “not the placating of an angry God” (#12,iii). The obedience of Jesus meant that he accepted his mission to tell us about the Kingdom (God’s love) to the point of offering himself in solidarity with us and even facing the consequences of our rejection. It was an offering that made a new covenant possible. It is now possible to live in community—in family—with God. It is also possible for us to also follow Christ in obedience and patience (see Philem, esp. vv. 15-17). Note that the obedience of Jesus was not about appeasing God—“placating God”. The obedience of Jesus was a work of patience and justice. For us, in his footsteps, it will mean living in a way that we sustain justice, that we live fraternally with each other in communion with God. Later in Church tradition this will mean in communion with the Trinity. This is what God wants. No, God does not want our pains and suffering and punishment. He wants us to live well.
  •      iv.            There is a pneumatological dimension in the offering of Jesus. He offered himself through the Holy Spirit. The cross, paradoxically, was a way of witnessing to God. It was a way of showing how God is Father; this was done through the Holy Spirit. Jesus had full confidence in his Father even to the point of going up the cross. This was his acknowledgement of the Father. The Holy Spirit bore witness to this; that we really see how Jesus was so confident with the Father. Consequently even up the cross Jesus was already able to put up the Church. The Holy Spirit was commended to the Church; in his sacrifice Jesus also introduced the Holy Spirit.
  •        v.            The death of Jesus on the cross manifested, again paradoxically perhaps, the glory of God. It was praising of God. Jesus remained faithful all the way even to the cross. Jesus obeyed the Father that even the cross did not serve as obstacle to his obedience. The cross therefore meant that obedience of Jesus; the confidence that God was never absent. For us this obedience of Jesus is our principle of obedience. The death of Jesus was not just a passio it was also an act, an action. It was the act of obedience. “The sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross was not only passio, but also actio” (#12,v).
  •      vi.            The document emphasizes that this giving of self to the Father in the Holy Spirit is considered as the most important dimension of the death of Jesus. “…the voluntary self-offering to the Father, with its pneumatic content, is the most important aspect of his death. The drama is not a conflict between fate and the individual. On the contrary, the Cross is a liturgy of obedience manifesting the unity between the Father and the Son in the eternal Spirit” (#12,v). The cross was not an unfortunate destiny.
18.  Note how this perspective is so far from the usual “punishment and compensation” notion of redemption.
19.  Now, Jesus said “yes” to the Father. So the Father said “yes” to Jesus. The Father said “yes” to all that his Son did. In confirming this the Father raised the Son from the dead. The Church affirms this. Let us cite the whole paragraph:
“Jesus risen affirms God’s gracious response to such self-giving love. In the end, Christianity gazes upon an empty Cross. Jesus of Nazareth’s unconditional acceptance of all that was asked of him by his Father has led to the Father’s unconditional “yes” to all that Jesus has said and done. It is the resurrection which proclaims that the way of Jesus is the way that overcomes sin and death into a life which has no limits” (#13).
20.  The Church is called to proclaim the liberation from whatever dehumanizes us. The proclamation involves the revelation of God in Jesus who lived, died and rose from the dead. This proclamation reminds all of who they are—of who we are—as already inscribed in creation. “The revelation of God in and through Jesus of Nazareth, crucified but risen, calls us to be all that we were created to be: image of God. “The person who participates in the love of God revealed in and through Jesus Christ becomes what he or she was created to be: the image of God, as Jesus is the icon of God” (#14). Note the importance of this statement.
21.  The coming of Jesus was not exclusively to redeem us! He came to confirm who we are: image of God. We were created as God’s image and we are meant to live in communion with God. This is who we are with or without our sinning. It so happens, however, that we have sinned. Hence the coming of Jesus took the character of redemption. His redemptive work became his way of confirming our created order.
22.  We can still make a mess out of our lives. This is not to be denied. Adam’s history is still our history. The obedience of Christ, however, offers hope. We can live a redeemed life—that is, among us we work for fraternity were there are no slves, no Greek, no Jew, etc. We are called to be truly human in a divided world.
23.  St. Paul can help us. Redemption, according to his letters to the Ephesians and Colossians, is marked by peace. (See #17). Peace means being at peace with God, with others and even with our own interior selves. This peace includes our relationship with the whole cosmic world.
24.  In the Letter to the Hebrews redemption has taken the character of our being brothers and sisters to one another. We are a family. (It may interest you to note that historically, during the very early years of the Church, Christians called their communities as “fraternities”).
25.  Bear in mind that Jesus showed the place of trust and confidence in the Father. Christian living, also, is to be marked by this confidence. No more tears, so to speak, no more harming each other. We are free, liberated, with the Holy Spirit given to us. We move in confidence to the end of time. “Already gifted with the Spirit, the freedom and the guarantee57 which flows from the death and resurrection of Jesus, we move confidently towards the end of time crying: ‘Come, Lord Jesus!’ (Rev 22:20)” (#20).    

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