Thursday, February 24, 2011

Week Seven: How does the outpouring of the Holy Spirit change the followers of Jesus? Why do you think one of the responses of the believers was to share their economic resources? Is this still relevant for today?

             In Acts, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the glue that brings together the early church community in their mission of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. When I think of Pentecost, I think of the word “unity.” In many ways, unity describes what happened in the community as a result of the Spirit’s coming (Van Voorst 287). First, I do not think it was coincidental that “when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place” (Acts 2.1, emphasis mine). It is no mistake that the Holy Spirit comes in this moment, with believers of all backgrounds “together in one place.” It is in this one place that this diverse group of individuals truly becomes one body, one church, with one shared experience in the Spirit. And this Spirit gives each of them the ability to speak in tongues, in other languages (Acts 2.4), which we find out enables each of them to hear one another proclaiming the good news in their native tongue (Acts 2.6). Through this experience, they are given the gift of the Spirit, which transcends even the linguistic and cultural differences among them, thus creating a mysterious and beautiful unity.
            This Pentecost experience, resulting in the bond of the Holy Spirit, is what I think lead the early church to share their economic resources. Acts speaks of the early church community having “all things in common” (Acts 2.44), selling their possessions, and giving to all those in need (Acts 2.45). These actions were the natural outgrowth of the radical unity and equality brought about by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Just as the Spirit fell on each and every member of the community (including women), resources were shared equally within the community. This sharing of economic resources was a tangible way of expressing and living out the gift of unity in the Spirit. I think this concept is still very relevant today; in fact, I would point to this way of life in community as one of the main lessons today’s church should take from the Bible. New monastic communities have been a powerful witness to the relevance of economic sharing, inviting the church to imagine the possibilities of living in true community. The church in Acts, as well as new monastic communities, challenge us to live into a vision of community that goes far beyond coffee hour on Sunday morning, a vision of community in which our very lives are intertwined and interdependent.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Week Six: What simlilarity, if any, do you see between “the word” in John 1 and “wisdom” in Proverbs and Wisdom of Solomon?

In the beginning was the Word” (John 1.1a NRSV).
“The LORD created me at the beginning of his work” (Prov 8.22).

            In order to explore the similarities between the Word (Logos) and Wisdom (Sophia), it is important to start at the beginning, where were both present with the Creator God. The Gospel of John proclaims that in the beginning, the Word was, and was with God (John 1.1). In Proverbs 8, Wisdom is created “before the beginning of the earth” (Prov 8.23), indicating that Wisdom, like the Word, was present in the beginning. Further, “all things came into being through [the Word]” (John 1.3), much like Wisdom is portrayed as a co-creator (Brenneman 2/16/11), a “master worker” beside God (Prov 8.30). Both Wisdom and Word are God’s partners in creation, not only present alongside the Creator but helping to craft the cosmos (Prov 8.30). Also, the Word’s role as “the life…the light of all people (John 1.4, emphasis mine) echoes Wisdom’s proclamation that at the beginning of creation, she was “rejoicing in [God’s] inhabited world and delighting in the human race” (Prov 8.31). The image of Word/Wisdom as light in John 1.4 also reflects Wisdom of Solomon’s proclamation that Wisdom “is a reflection of the eternal light” (Wis 7.26). John 1, Proverbs 8, and Wisdom of Solomon 7 all present Wisdom/Word as present with God from the beginning of time, creating alongside God (Prov 8.30), and proclaiming God’s life and light (John 1.4) to all humanity, in whom Wisdom/Word takes great joy (Prov 8.31).
            Because Proverbs 8 is among my favorite chapters in the wisdom corpus, I especially enjoyed making the connection between Sophia in Proverbs 8 and Logos in John 1. The similarities between the passages are striking, and it is exciting for me to use my knowledge of wisdom literature as a framework for thinking about who Jesus is. Just as Wisdom cries out to all people, calling them to the way of life (Prov 8.35), Jesus becomes the Word made flesh (John 1.14), life and light shining in the darkness (John 1.4-5). Through the incarnation, God becomes flesh for the same reason that we turn our thoughts into words— so that the message might be understood by all people (Augustine 13-14). And as we come face to face with the Word made flesh, we receive “grace upon grace” (John 1.16), the gift of God’s light and life permeating our world.

Augustine, On Christian Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Week Five: Why is the fulfillment of prophecy such a major theme in the Gospel of Matthew?

            Of the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew is the most Jewish in nature (Van Voorst 185). Thus, it makes sense that fulfillment of prophecy would be a main theme of the Gospel of Matthew. While Matthew portrays Jesus as “both the Jewish Messiah and the world’s Savior” (Van Voorst 185), in order for Jesus to be the Jewish Messiah, the fulfillment of prophecy had to occur. In chapter one, Matthew cites the words of the prophet Isaiah, “All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and hear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us’” (Matt 1.22-23). In this passage, Matthew’s Gospel is not the only thing that begins with prophecy— so, too, does Jesus’ life. And both the Gospel and Jesus’ life continue this pattern; Matthew goes on to make four more “fulfillment quotations” about “Jesus’ conception, birth, and rescue” (Van Voorst 187). These instances of fulfillment of prophecy serve as the basis for Matthew’s argument that Jesus is indeed the Messiah for whom the Jews have been waiting.
            Fulfillment of prophecy continues as a theme in Jesus’ life and teachings, especially the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 (Van Voorst 188). Here, Jesus proclaims, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matt 5.17).  Then, Jesus goes on to provide a reinterpretation of many Torah teachings, known as the antitheses (Van Voorst 188). Jesus uses the formula, “you have heard it said X, but I say to you Y” (Van Voorst 188) to both acknowledge and reinterpret the Torah. In these teachings, Jesus not only proclaims that he has come as a fulfillment of prophecy, he also establishes himself as the new, best, perfect interpreter of Torah (Brenneman 2/7/11). All of these aspects of Jesus’ life and teachings point to Matthew’s Jewish focus, as a Gospel written for an audience of mostly Jewish Christians (Van Voorst 198). Also, presenting Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy and perfect interpreter of Torah could have helped win potential Jewish converts to Christianity by presenting Jesus’ story in appealing and relevant Jewish terms.
            I have always loved the Gospel of Matthew, and I think its focus on the fulfillment of prophecy is a contributing factor. As someone who has always been drawn to the writings of the prophets, it makes sense that I would also be drawn to the Gospel that intentionally connects the prophets to Christ! Before this class, I did not realize that this was a unique theme of the Gospel of Matthew. In fact, before this class, I did not even realize that there was so much diversity between the four Gospels. So far, I have really enjoyed learning about the characteristics of each Gospel; seeing the differences between them has enabled me to appreciate them all the more!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Week Four: Why do you think the Gospel of Mark emphasizes secrecy when characters declare Jesus to be the Messiah?

            The Gospel of Mark’s emphasis on secrecy has many possible explanations. Wilhelm Wrede, a German scholar, argued in the early 20th century that the messianic secret “was an attempt to explain how the Jesus whom the early Christians worshipped as Son of God and Messiah had not been recognized as such during his lifetime” (Van Voorst 167). For Wrede, Jesus’ command of secrecy served as an explanation for the widespread lack of misunderstanding of who he was as the Messiah, even among his disciples. Wrede asserts that the messianic secret was something created by people to explain aspects of Jesus’ ministry, but many other scholars argue that the theme of secrecy may actually trace back to Jesus himself (Van Voorst 167). These scholars argue that the messianic secret may reflect “Jesus’ historical rejection of some messianic aspirations of his own time” (Van Voorst 167). Because the messianic expectations of many of Jesus’ followers were far from the actual messianic identity of Jesus, it makes sense that Jesus would have rejected the title of Messiah. For example, in Mark 8.29-30, Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus “sternly [orders]” that the disciples tell no one that he is the Messiah. This dialogue is put into context in the following verses, with Jesus explaining his suffering role as Messiah (8.31) and Peter rebuking him (8.32). Mark 8 contrasts Peter’s understanding with his misunderstanding, and this serves as a possible explanation for the theme of secrecy. Since Peter does not truly understand what he is proclaiming when he calls Jesus “Messiah,” Jesus commands that he not make the proclamation at all.
            The theme of messianic secrecy has always confused me, so I enjoyed exploring different scholars’ explanations for these seemingly strange dialogues between Jesus and those who proclaim him as the Messiah. After reading the different explanations, I think the messianic secret was likely Jesus pushing back against false messianic expectations. Since Jesus knew that many of his followers had political, nationalistic, even militaristic expectations of what the Messiah would be, it makes sense to me that he would push back against the title of Messiah. By commanding secrecy, Jesus was not saying that he was not the Messiah; rather, he was saying that he was not the kind of Messiah that people were expecting.