11/10/2013 @ Vintage Fellowship, Fayetteville, Arkansas
“Thy Kingdom Come.”
The question of the Parousia remains the great question of Christianity: and of course in itself it is no question at all. The Kingdom is already established, but not yet definitively mani¬fest—we remain in a time of development, of choice, and of preparation.
We remain in a time of decision. A Christian is, or should be, one who has “decided for” the Parousia, for the final coining of the Kingdom. His life is oriented by this decision. His existence has meaning in so far as the Parousia is crucial to him.
But the Parousia is, it seems, indefinitely delayed. This is no accident either. It must be taken as part of the question. The Parousia by itself is no question. The delay of the Parousia is not the whole question. This delay raises the question.
The question is as follows.
As Christians we are men who have based all our hopes on the Kingdom of Christ, to be definitively manifest by final victory in the Parousia—this is the final victory of life over death.
The Parousia having been “delayed,” we have been for two thousand years left to construct for ourselves in the world a kind of kingdom, a cultural-religious-political Christendom, which is admittedly not all one would have looked for, but which has its advantages.
Now the question is—if the Parousia means the end and destruction of this provisional structure, indeed its judgment, should we really desire the Parousia? Should we not in all earnestness pray for the Parousia to be delayed indefinitely, and indeed, with all the power given to us over the will of God, by prayer, should we not rather attempt to change His plan, and forget the whole business?
Should we not rather make it our duty to ask Him to let us build the Kingdom in our own way, a kingdom consistent with what we have begun, a Kingdom of God that is at once a sacred enclave in the world and also politically in collaboration with the world?
Should we not insist that the Parousia should simply be regarded as our social, cultural, religious, and political triumph in the world, so that we are no longer an enclave, but have finally succeeded in taking it all over? We tried it once, beginning in the eighth century and going on through the Middle Ages—it was a good attempt, but some important points were overlooked. Can we not get ourselves into a position to make a better try? And this time to succeed?
Thus we find ourselves, in effect, deciding against the Parousia. “Thy Kingdom come”—but not now, not in that distressing way—but in our time and our way. Thus the Christian has learned to pray against judgment, and for an eternity that is an indefinite prolongation of time, because time is what we need: time to try it over and over again.
Suggested emendation in the Lord’s Prayer: Take out “Thy Kingdom come” and substitute “Give us time!”
But then what? What are we going to do with “time?” Make deductions from past history, devise a system—a Christian system—and put it to work? Or rather consider carefully the systems devised by others and baptize their systems, making them suddenly Christian, and discovering in them the unexpected Kingdom?
Mirgeler* shows how the Stoic concept of “Natural Law” became extremely convenient for a Christianity which was reconciled to settling down in the world of late antiquity and getting along without the Parousia.
* See A. Mirgeler, Mutations of Western Christianity, pp. 17-18.
(Thomas Merton, pg. 124, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander)
Paul especially uses terms and phrases such as “in Christ”, “dead in Christ”, “made alive in Christ”. I think his operative phrase repeated more often than any is “in Christ”—and it seems to me that in that phrase can be summed the totality of Paul’s theology and Christology.
Older theological vocabulary used the term “recapitulation” which was taken from Eph. 1:10 (especially, but the same idea is present in Col. 1);
“…toward the administration of the fullness of the times, to head up all things in Christ – the things in heaven and the things on earth.”
The Koine word Paul used is “ανακεφαλαιωσασθαι” (anakephalaiosasthai; from aná, “up,” intensifying kephalaióō, “bring to a head, recapitulate” – properly, head-up, summing up all the parts as a comprehensive, organized whole.) I think “recapitulate” came to us via Latin translations and passed into English.
Now, here’s the point. The entirety of creation—past, present and future—is “in Christ”—recapitulated. That is why Paul can say in Romans 5 and 6 that “all are made alive in Christ” and that we have also “died with Christ”. Both are true, not one or the other, nor is one conditioned upon the other. The only “condition” is the reality of Christ Himself.
Also, as a side note, in two specific places Paul describes what Christ accomplished in terms of removing us and creation out of one dominion/domain and then transferring it/us into another domain. The most obvious reference is Col. 1:13. The other, which is not so obvious in some newer translations is Rom. 6:1 ff where Paul makes something of a play on words by using “Sin” as a noun, not a verb.
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?”
The rhetorical question is not “shall we keep on sinning?” but rather “shall we continue (to live in the domain/country) of Sin? And then he answers the obvious, “how can we continue living where we used to after we’ve died??!”
Christ’ death + resurrection has changed the entire geography of Creation. Despite what we experience which suggest the contrary, thangs just ain’t the same no more.
A friend asked this question of me knowing my promiscuous appreciation for Robert Capon…
What do you think Robert Capon would say about Matthew 5:13-20?
(Thinking about Sunday’s sermon)
I don’t find at this point anything that RC has said on that text. I’m sure that he homilied it more than a few times.
The Beatitudes are not simple. I’m constantly being challenged by what Jesus is recorded to have said in this setting. I’m constantly in flux relative to what I think it means to me and us as “church”.
Be that as it may, let me start with what Dallas Willard says about the Beatus;
“The Beatitudes, in particular, are not teachings on how to be blessed. They are not instructions to do anything. They do not indicate conditions that are especially pleasing to God or good for human beings.
“No one is actually being told …that they are better off for being poor, for mourning, for being persecuted, or so on, or that the conditions listed are recommended ways to well-being before God or man. Nor are the Beatitudes indications of who will be on top ‘after the revolution.’ They are explanations and illustrations, drawn from the immediate setting, of the present availability of the kingdom through personal relationship to Jesus. They single out cases that provide proof that, in him, the rule of God from the heavens truly is available in life circumstances that are beyond all human hope.”
-Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy
I think that Willard is correct that in the parables Jesus isn’t telling us to do anything—they are not moral stories, rather stories that give us some insight into what the Father (and at times the Son) is like and how radically varient is the oikonomia of the Kingdom of the Heavens from the powers and principalities of the present age. I know from my extensive reading (even a superficial reading would serve) that Capon wrote the same kinds of things and had the same understanding of Willard in this.
To establish the context I’ll copy/paste Eugene Peterson’s take on the passage;
When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down 2 and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:
3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
11 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. 12 You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.
13 “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
14 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. 15 If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. 16 Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. 17 “Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures— either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama. 18 God’s Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God’s Law will be alive and working.
Knowing full well, as we do, that RC’s shibboleth that Grace rest on the lost, the least, and the last—I’m now forced/constrained to view the Gospel narratives through that systematic lens. How do we–the down and out’ers at the end of our ropes, we who have lost everything we once thought indispensable (especially our own egoic pride), we have ceased from taking ourselves seriously, have entirely different “appetites” than what is considered “normal” by our competitive and sex and violence addicted society, we who would rather spend time in contemplation than amusing ourselves to death with “reality” TV, and have more appetite for constructive relationships than rather trying to figure out who’s in and who’s out with God…Yeah, us “nare do well’s” who just don’t get “how this world works”, so to speak.
So, how are we, the Failures in the sight of the world (everybody are losers, it’s just that some admit it and some don’t…in the final analysis none of us have the power to hold our life intact) who apparently spend our lives in the “lost and found” section of Sears, how is it that Jesus says we are “salt and light”?
My short answer?
By being willing to be viewed as “failures” and “dog dirt” (I Cor. 4:13) by the powers that be (“The World”). In doing that—in reality allowing that to be in us—we are to the world sacraments of Jesus, the Light of Life which has come into the world. Being vulnerable to others will at the surface look like a total failure.
Maybe I can “channel” RC with a paraphrase…
“Jesus is the penultimate loser of a god dying on a loser’s cross—a loser right to the end when he prays, “Father, FORGIVE THEM….”
Nietzsche didn’t criticize Jesus as a failure or loser, rather his criticism was directed toward those who claimed to be Jesus’ followers while at the same time buying into a “tame” successful life in the present which is a repudiation of Christ and thus the “death of God”.
I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these.
Is. 45:7 KJV
“ In God’s world good and evil are an ecology. The whole world is an ecology of opposites dancing with each other. And God loves their dance. The real sin at the tree of knowledge of good and evil was man trying to manage good and evil as God does not manage them. God lets evil be. Given the actions of people God does not, except in very rare circumstances, in the business of preventing their consequences.”
“Faith is not something that is rewardable. Faith is the illumination of our darkness. Faith accepts whatever is there already.”
46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.
2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids-blind, lame, and paralyzed. 4 - – - 5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
Bartimaeus ask for sight and gets it.
The invalid when asked by Jesus if he wants to be healed only complains about how he can’t drag himself into the water ahead of others—and Jesus heals him.
As is common with all systematic theologies—a particular truth is treated like a horse then ridden until the poor beast can’t go another plodding step, and then shot in the head.
What is true is that if we’re left totally to our own devices we’ll never come close to what God desires for us. We’ll continue to operate in our fallen, egoistic way (“The World and all that is of it”; might makes right; I can figure out on my own what’s right and wrong [Tree of Knowledge thing]; if I just get the right formula and try harder I can make things work out for me, etc.) That is the broad road that leads to perpetual destruction. However, because God is loving toward us his creatures he took the initiative to rescue us by seeking the lowest level–in becoming one of us and identifying with our predicament. God doesn’t love us by beating the bejubus out of himself (the Son), rather he loves us so much that he’ll allow us to have our way with him by venting our anger and frustration and allowing us to kill that which we fear the most—our (mis)perception of a god who is opposed to us. “I love you so much that I’d rather you killed me than that I should harm you.” When we come to a place of trusting God we do so because we have had some experience of his trustworthy-ness. We have begun to realize that this God really does have our best interest at heart. He is so beautiful that even if he slays me—for whatever reason I cannot understand—I continue to trust that he always has in mind for me what is truly good and right. Systematic theology always breaks down at this point because there is no reasonable explanation for this trust. This kind of trust can only be experienced relationally. Love cannot be weighed or decanted—only experienced, enjoyed, and possibly rejected out of distrust–which is the essence of fear.
When we cease from our fearful provision for ourselves (aka—Sin) then we have entered into “the mind of Christ”. (Phil. 2:1-13)
(I guess I’ve made a good start at writing systematic theology….)