Friday, June 9, 2017
The usual understanding of redemption
The word "redemption" is, at times, interpreted to mean being pulled out and spared from the anger of God. God is so angry with us, humans, because our very first parents, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God. We inherited that disobedience and we too are quite disobedient. Traditionally we would say "we are sinners".
Christ pulled us out of that anger of God, the Father, by dying on the cross. Christ substituted for us: he took upon himself the effects of God's anger. We can say that it was Christ instead of us, humanity, who was crucified. This death of Christ on the cross satisfied God the Father.
Many Christians still accept this view of redemption. Surely we can discern the wisdom underneath this notion of redemption. But it has been questioned and criticized for many reasons and we can mention two reasons. One is that this notion of redemption gives a wrong picture of God the Father. It looks like God, here, looks bloodthirsty. He wants to see blood and death to be satisfied. He has been hurt and, in revenge, he wants to see blood and death. Furthermore, he does not want any ordinary blood. He wants a very special blood--that of his own Son.
Second, this notion of redemption is quite far from the Biblical notion of redemption. It is a later development with the theological reflections of Christians who were so influenced by their cultures that contained practices of revenge and feudal relationships.
In passing we can add that today the Church is working on this question of redemption. Although there is no--not yet--dogmatic affirmation about redemption, surely the "sense of the faithful" with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, will find a more definite formulation.
Jesus and his mission
Let us try looking at redemption from a different angle. Jesus himself revealed that God, the Father, is a loving Father. He is a Father who never wishes bad things to happen to us. The Father is not looking for blood and death; he has no intention to revenge and to recuperate from the hurt Adam and Eve gave him. So when he sent Jesus to us, humanity, it was not in order to get Jesus crucified on the cross. No, Jesus did not come to be killed in substitution for us. Jesus came to tell us that we are beloved in the eyes of the Father.
Jesus came on the mission to reveal to us, humanity, the love of the Father for us. This love is embodied in what Jesus called as "Kingdom". The Father loves us so much in spite of the many bad things we have been doing. This is why Christian morality is based on this love of God. We do our best to lead good lives in response to God's love for us. Because we know we are loved we will avoid doing bad things. This is very different from the idea that we do good things and lead good lives to avoid God's punishment.
Jesus came to reveal the Love of the Father. We have always been destined to live in communion with God. It was not easy for Jesus on mission. The Love of the Father meant justice, respect for human life and dignity, respect for the weak, the poor, the marginalized, the people rejected by social norms. It meant God's desire for human integrity, wholeness, and gowth. Jesus proved this in his relationships with the marginalized of his society. He proved it in his healing of the ill. He proved it in his rejection of social, cultural and religious norms and practices that burdened people.
The mission of Jesus was rejected. This is why Jesus had to face the threat of the cross. Jesus was confronted, for example, by the dominating religious authorities. Jesus continued with his mission; he did not back off. His full confidence in his Father kept him faithful to his mission. Even with the threat of being killed--and it meant crucifixion--Jesus in full confidence to his Father went on with his mission.
Note then that the cross was not sent by the Father. The cross was built by humans who rejected Jesus and his mission. Jesus was crucified not because the Father willed it but because people killed him. The will of the Father was to get the message of his love across, to us, humanity. When Jesus was crucified, it was not the blood and death that satisfied the Father. What satisfied the Father was the fidelity of Jesus to the mission. Jesus was so faithful to the mission his Father commanded that he was so willing to face the consequence of rejection and even crucifixion.
Jesus said yes to his mission. The Father said yes to the faithfulness of the Son and rose him from death. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ God sealed, in a definite way, everything that Jesus said and did. It was God's way of "proving" that all that Jesus said and did was true. The Father so loves us, humanity, that even death cannot win over us. Jesus said it so well, "In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world (Jn16/33)”. Be of good cheer, Jesus has won!
Notice then some elements of redemption here. Redemption is Christ's message of our true human destiny, namely, communion with God. Christ proved it--revealed it--in his confidence to his Father and his fidelity to his mission. We have been asssured by the revelation of Jesus. The Father himself gave it his "seal of approval", so to speak, by raising his Son, Jesus Christ, from the hold of death. Christ, the Son, came to say were meant for life in fullness with God, and the Father confirmed it in the resurrection. Starting with Jesus Christ, all steps we make are destined to move to eternal life in God where we really belong.
In everyday life
How does this link up with everyday life? First, we need a shift of perspective. We do not live in daily life wary about God's eyes watching us all the time and waiting for us to do bad things. Our view of daily life is far from the notion of "reward-and-punishment". We start with the basic fact that we are beloved by God. God holds no grudges against us and he is not grinding an axe.
In the footsteps of Jesus we move daily in full confidence that God loves us; God never wishes us harm--NEVER. In response to that love we do not bring death to the world. Death is not our daily life option. Corruption, injustice, disregard for human dignity, the marginalization of others...these are not our options. This is why we need to check now and then if what we say and do daily keep life--not death--moving. In the footsteps of Jesus we need to regularly ask, "Are my words and actions redemptive?"
One of the major obstacles we face daily is the tendency to be so "full of myself". It is the tendency to behave as if "I am the only person" in this family, or school, or workplace, or community. This is not strictly a problem. We need a good amount of ego maintenance too. The problem is when it leads to diminishing the lives and fullness of others. I am so full of myself that I fail to notice that others have feelings, thoughts, dreams, intelligence, ignorance, joys and pains. I am so full of myself that my words and actions prohibit others from blooming and living decently. From the ordinary events in the family to the major political decisions in society, this "being too full of oneself" has strategies of dominating.
We can be reminded of the wisdom underneath what St. Therese of Lisieux called as "the little way". St.Therese sensed that everything of her life was a result of generous love of God. So in her most very ordinary life the little things she did--like wash clothes--she saw herself manifesting the love of God. For St. Therese it was perfectly alright that others find their space to bloom, be full human. She did not have to be too full of herself because she was already beloved by God. This liberated her. Daily life need not be a place of competing with others for love and respect. Everyone is already God's beloved.
We can also be reminded of Blessed Charles de Foucauld. He wrote about "the lowest place". He wrote that when God came on earth, "God so completely took the lowest place, that no one has ever been able to take it from Him". Blessed Charles intuited that Jesus went into complete solidarity with all humanity to the point that Jesus identified himself with the least--the lowest in society. This was the way by which Jesus made himself available universally to all. This insight liberated Blessed Charles and he wrote, "See Jesus in every human person. Live for others more than for myself". There is no need to live being so full of oneself competing against the existence of others. Jesus has become our model, follow him, follow his foosteps, by "sharing his life in every way".
The crucifixion comes in. In spite of the active presence of being too full of myself can I live in ways that life--not death--is promoted? This being too full of myself rejects my promotion of life. It crucifies me now and then. In society there are many practices that stimulate this being too full of myself. A society might even take it as a norm, "Be full of oneself" at the cost of damaging justice and respect for human dignity. Redemptive life is constantly being put to the cross--constantly threatened.
In the footsteps of Jesus, confident about his Father's love, are we willing to face the threats of our personal and social practices promoting injustice and rejection of dignity? We find this symbol of the cross in many places; often people even wear this symbol. We say it is "redemptive" because it tells us about our own confidence in the Father, like Jesus, and we lead a combat against elements that promote death knowing that human destiny is in life with God. Jesus has won already!
The cross is not to tell us about God's revenge and punishment. It is not to tell us that we will accept bad things (like corruption and inhuman poverty and injustice) to test our fidelity to God. Remember that Father never wanted the Son on the cross. The cross tells us that we are in combat against elements of death and we have been guaranteed by Christ of victory.
Sunday, June 4, 2017
Last night as I was "surfing" the AM of my radio I chanced upon a program in which a priest with an angelic voice was offering lessons on the Pentecost. Two of what he said kept me awake for a big chunk of the night. One was that DIFFERENCES AMONG PEOPLE WAS A CURSE, A PUNISHMENT. God, in the Tower of Babel story, punished people by making them different from each other and making them speak different languages. So it is bad and unfortunate that we speak different languages.
Second, the Pentecost HEALED THE WOUNDS OF THE TOWER OF BABEL STORY. The Pentecost came allowing the Apostles--and, by extension, the Church--to reach out to peoples and traditions AND TO UNIFY THEM UNDER THE CHURCH. So people can now discard their differences; unify themselves under the language of the Church.
Did God really make pluralism a curse? Is that what the Tower of Babel story says? Is the Pentecost really the correction done to the Babel error?
Biblically, God is Creator who blessed multiplicity--pluralism. Already from the very beginning God created a multiplicity of space, time and creatures. God created man and woman, two different creatures. God blessed the multiplicity of races, nations, cultures...and dare we say religions.
The Tower of Babel is about God rejecting human pride. Chapter 10 of Genesis ends with multiplicity: “These are the descendants of Shem, according to their clans, according to their languages, by their lands, by their nations. These are the clans of Noah’s sons, according to their origins and by their nations. From these the nations of the earth branched out after the flood” (Gen 10/31-32). There came a point when "the whole world had the same language and the same words" (Gen.1/1). The multiplicity, the pluralism seem to have ended. So what exactly did God do? He put people back to their original human condition: "the LORD confused the speech of all the world. From there the LORD scattered them over all the earth" (Gn 11/9). The original human condition has always been this: pluralism. It is a human fact that we have ALWAYS communicated in different languages. We have always been communicating through our differences; through pluralism. God, in the Tower of Babel story, re-instated that human condition.
THE PENTECOST MANIFESTS THIS DEFINITIVELY. It is the "ultimate stage" in which the multiplicity of people--cultures and traditions--launch into a discovery of he whom the Apostles call as the Lord God. The Pentecost is a CONFIRMATION OF WHAT GOD AFFIRMED in the Tower of Babel story. We adventure together--we in our cultural, religious and language differences--in seeking the Absolute.
In the Pentecost the Apostles spoke in different "tongues" allowing others to feel understood in their own languages. It was to become the main feature of the Church. She is to become an institution in which we all, people of different languages, "hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God (Act2/11)”.