Archive for October, 2017

The audio for Matthew 5:17-48, focused on Jesus’ six so-called “antitheses” that “fulfill” the law and the prophets, can be found here.

Here are Dale Allison’s helpful comments on what “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” mean (and do not mean) in the climactic statement of 5:48:

SermononMount“What does [perfect] mean?  ‘Be perfect’ can have nothing to do with sinlessness.  For one thing, nothing else in Matthew points to such an idea, and the Lord’s Prayer, in which one asks for daily forgiveness, points directly away from it.  For another, with the words, ‘if you, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children’ (7:11), Matthew’s Jesus displays his concord with Paul and the author of 1 John: there is none that is righteous, and if we say we have not sinned, we deceive ourselves.

How then do we understand 5:48?  The first pertinent observation is that although the verse concludes 5:43ff., it is also the fitting culmination to all of 5:21ff.  Now throughout this section Jesus has asked for a sort of perfection—not the perfection of being without sin but the perfection of what we might call completeness.  He demands that all anger and adulterous thoughts to be eliminated.  He enjoins a comprehensive dedication to the truth that makes oaths otiose.  And he commands a love that is universal in scope.  In each case Jesus orders something that cannot be surpassed.  What more can be done about lust if it has been driven from one’s heart?  And what more can one do about integrity of speech if one always speaks the truth?  And who else is left to love after one has loved the enemy?  Jesus’ call to perfection is a call to completeness, to do certain things utterly.  This is confirmed by 19:16-30, the story of Jesus’ encounter with a rich man [who is exhorted to be ‘perfect’]…Here, as in 5:48, perfection has nothing to do with sinfulness.  Rather, once more the central idea is completeness.” (Dale Allison, The Sermon on the Mount: Inspiring the Moral Imagination, pp. 104-05)


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Kingdom and Church

Lohfink“Jesus’ entire activity was related to Israel.  Jesus’ preaching of the reign of God cannot be isolated from his turning to the people of God.  It led necessarily to the gathering of Israel…For Jesus the idea of the reign of God automatically implied the gathering of Israel.  A people of God simply must belong to the kingdom of God…[As Joachim Jeremias has observed]: ‘We must express this very pointedly: the sole meaning of the entire activity of Jesus is the gathering of God’s eschatological people’…Jesus’ preaching of the reign of God had its Sitz im Leben [situation in life, i.e. historical context] in his turning to Israel.  His goal was that the rule of God be fully established, that it come visibly into appearance.  Where could this visibility, this tangibility of the rule of God be more appropriately realized than in the people of God?…As K. Muller rightly notes, ‘God’s eschatological rule is not to be present generally and absolutely in the world; it is to affect a concrete people, long since chosen and with clearly defined outlines’…

The rule of God evidently presupposes a people, a people of God, in whom it can become established and from whom it can shine forth.  The texts of the New Testament must not be read through the lens of a theological individualism able to imagine the reign of God only as a universal, interior reality in the souls of individual believers scattered over the face of the earth….

Foundational to…Old Testament theology is the idea that God has selected a single people out of all the nations of the world in order to make this people a sign of salvation.  His interest in the other nations is no way impeded by this.  When the people of God shines as a sign among the nations (cf. Isa. 2:1-4), the other nations will learn from God’s people; they will come together in Israel in order to participate, in Israel and mediated through Israel, in God’s glory.  But all this can happen only when Israel really becomes recognizable as a sign of salvation, when God’s salvation transforms his people recognizably, tangibly, even visibly.

Jesus did not envision the people of God which he sought to gather as a purely spiritual, purely religious community–as a society in human hearts.  Theses of this sort, which are frequently defended either covertly or openly, fail to do justice to his intentions.  The discipleship to which Jesus called was not invisible discipleship; his eating with sinners was not invisible eating; his cures of the sick were not invisible cures–no more than his bloody death on the cross was an invisible event.  Jesus’ effort to gather Israel was very concrete and visible…God selected out of the many peoples of the world a single people, precisely in order to make this people a visible sign of salvation.  According to biblical theology, God establishes his eschatological rule, which should in principle encompass the entire world, precisely by beginning very small: with a family (in biblical terms: with Abraham), a clan, a group, a small people.  According to this divine pedagogy, the reign of God does not mean subjugation of the world but a call into freedom–a call, actually an alluring, according to the model of those called first.” (Gerhard LohfinkJesus and Community, pp. 26-28)

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Newbigin“It is surely a fact of inexhaustible significance that what our Lord left behind Him was not a book, nor a creed, nor a system of thought, nor a rule of life, but a visible community.  I think that we Protestants cannot too often reflect on that fact.  He committed the entire work of salvation to that community.  It was not that a community gathered around an idea, so that the idea was primary and the community secondary.  It was that a community called together by the deliberate choice of the Lord Himself, and re-created in Him, gradually sought–and is seeking–to make explicit who He is and what He has done.  The actual community is primary: the understanding of what it is comes second.  The Church does not depend for its existence upon our understanding of it or faith in it.  It first of all exists as a visible fact called into being by the Lord Himself, and our understanding of that fact is subsequent and secondary.” (Lesslie NewbiginThe Household of God: Lectures on the Nature of the Church, pp. 24-25)

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Kierkegaard“A person is not eternally responsible for whether he reaches his goal within this world of time.  But without exception, he is eternally responsible for the kinds of means he uses.  And when he will only use or only uses those means which are genuinely good, then, in the judgment of eternity, he is at the goal.” (Soren Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing)

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“Lack of success and enmity cannot dissuade the messengers from the fact that they are sent by Jesus.  As a mighty strength and consolation, Jesus repeats: ‘Behold, I send you!’  It is not their own way or their own enterprise; they are sent…

BonhoefferWho can always distinguish between spiritual wisdom and worldly cleverness?…Wherever the word is, that is where the disciples are to be.  That is their true wisdom and their true innocence.  If the word must retreat, because it is obviously being rejected, then the disciples should retreat with the word.  If the word remains in an open struggle, then the disciples should remain.  They will have to act wisely and simply at the same time.  But the disciples should never set out on a road out of ‘wisdom,’ when that road cannot be approved by the word of Jesus.  They should never justify with ‘spiritual wisdom’ a way which does not correspond to the word of Jesus.  Only the truth of the word will teach them to recognize what is wise.  But it can never be ‘wise’ to break off the smallest piece of the truth, for the sake of some human prospect or hope.  Our own evaluation of our situation cannot make us see what is wise; only the truth of the word of God can do that.  The only thing that is always wise is staying with the truth of God.  Here alone is the place where of God’s faithfulness and aid are promised.  At all times it will prove to be the ‘wisest’ for the disciples at this time and in the coming time to simply stand by the word of God…

The good news will be propagated by suffering.  That is the plan of God and the will of Jesus…Jesus’ messengers can receive no greater consolation in all this than the certainty that in their suffering they will be like their Lord…So Jesus will be with them and they will be like Christ in everything.” (Dietrich BonhoefferDiscipleship, pp. 193-95, in the section entitled “The Suffering of the Messengers”)

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Wayne Meeks argues that this is the particular strategy and purpose of the book of Revelation:

Common“The business of this writing is to stand things on their heads in the perception of its audience, to rob the established order of the most fundamental power of all: its sheer facticity.  The moral strategy of the Apocalypse, therefore, is to destroy common sense as a guide for life.” (Wayne Meeks, The Moral World of the First Christians, p. 145)

Robert Jenson contends that all Christian theology is meant to share in this subversive task:

“The gospel’s contrariness to human proclivity [means that] the history of Christian theology within any culture can always be read as a sustained effort to dislocate that culture’s ‘common sense.'” (Robert Jenson, “A Reply,” in Theology as Metaphysics, p. 3)

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The audio for my take on Matthew 5:13-16–Jesus’ call to his followers to be salt, light and a city set on a hill–can be found here.

SermononMountI argue that Jesus alludes in these images to the profound ancient vision of Isaiah that the destiny of Zion (see Christopher Seitz’s work on Isaiah for this framework) is the key to unlocking God’s purposes for the rest of creation.  Until God’s people get on track, the nations stumble in the darkness.  Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount is calling his followers to finally be what God has always intended Israel to be, but until now in the story has utterly failed to be.  The city of God must be different from the city of man, precisely for the sake of all that is not yet the city of God.  As Augustine put it:

“We see then that the two cities were created by two kinds of love: the earthly city was created by self-love reaching the point of contempt for God, the heavenly city by the love of God carried as far as contempt of self.  In fact, the earthly city glories in itself, the heavenly city glories in the Lord.  The former looks for glory from men, the latter finds its highest glory in God, the witness of a good conscience.  The earthly lifts up its head in its own glory, the heavenly city says to its God: ‘You are my glory, the lifter of my head.’  In the former, the lust for domination lords it over its princes as over the nations it subjugates; in the other both those put in authority and those subject to them serve one another in love, the rulers by their counsel, the subjects by obedience.  The one city loves its own strength shown in its powerful leaders; the other says to its God, ‘I will love you, my Lord, my strength.’ (AugustineCity of God, 14.28)

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