Sunday, March 3, 2013

Plus (Two)

What Does the Text Say?

Hey there. Another Lenten check-in here. 

I've been in the Pauline Epistles this week as a part of my read-Scripture-in-big-chunks discipline. Specifically, Thessalonians, Corinthians, Galatians and Romans, in that order. 

This time, a couple of thoughts about the content, in no particular order: 

The gospel has been frustrating legalists for thousands of years. 

Corinthians impressed that on me. First Corinthians, especially, is like hearing just one side of a phone conversation. You know there are specific things that the believers in Corinth are riled up about, and you can sort of tell what those things are by the way Paul responds. 

I'm pretty sure there was some tattle-tale stuff going on, and I'm sure that Paul's response was just maddening to the legalists in Corinth. Yes, he lays down the law on some things, pointing back to the (relatively few, really) prohibitions in Scripture. That's probably what the legalists were hoping for. But mostly what he says is, "stop looking at your neighbor to see if he is toeing the line. Instead, set your eyes high, on Christ, and strive after Him with all that you are." 

Ultimately, this kind of living will pull us up, higher than we would have gone if we were just comparing ourselves to others. And it will do so in a way that is freeing, not binding.

The New Testament is so much about the relationship of the early Church to its Jewish roots. 

I knew that the (non)relationship between Jews and Gentiles was a topic in the New Testament. But I never realized how much is is the narrative framework on which everything. else. hangs. 

{Let me take a little detour to say that this is just one of many ideas that has humbled me by how obvious it now seems. Yes, wiser believers than me have made this observation before. But it never really sunk in for me until I read the epistles in rapid succession after reading Acts. If you take on a project like this oneand I hope you willprepare to be humbled. And to have a lot of "well, duh," moments.}

An early, uncomfortable thought about the way the Jews are portrayed in this story was that much of the Jew/Gentile jockeying does focus on who is "in" and who is "out." 

Ew. We don't like hearing those words in our culture. I don't like writing them. 

But Jesus is a stumbling block. He's a watershed. You can't be neutral on Jesus. He's either God and Savior or He's not. Or in Jewish terms, he's either the fulfillment of all of Hebrew history, the consummation of God's covenant with his people, and the central thread of the Law and the Prophets ... or he's not.

Thankfully, God goes to great lengths to draw people to himself. And we must remember that whenever we start talking about who's in and who's out. 

Contrary to some contemporary Christian rewriting of history, the gospel was, from the start, very Jewish. Peter, Paul, Apollos, Aquila and Priscilla and other early apostles and evangelists were as Jewish as tassels, yarmulkes and phylacteries. Their primary mission—the task that consumed them—was going to their people and showing them from their own Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ. Some of the Jews believed. Some didn't. Those who didn't were fond of starting riots. The rift got bigger than the apostles hoped it would. Today it's so wide that most Christians have no idea that they are wild olive branches grafted into the (very Jewish) tree.

And hallelujah for Romans 10-11, because it's a promise that the rift isn't insurmountable, and it's not permanent! God's got a plan to bring his the Jews back to himself. I don't know what it is. I don't know if it's political. (I have a hunch it transcends politics.) 

I love it when stories have lots of subplots that all get resolved simultaneously at the end. (Which is why I still think that the Lost folks should have hired J.K. Rowling to help save their sinking ship ... er ... crashing airplane. But that's another story.) I can't wait to see how God takes the Jewish subplot and the Gentile subplot and brings both to a beautiful completion. 

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 
"Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" 
"Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?"
For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. 
 Romans 11:33  36   

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