Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Reframing our brokenness

Chapter 5 of Michael Frost's 'Jesus the Fool: The Mission of The Unconventional Christ' is long and will be difficult to convey in a short blurb here. Lots of good stuff. The chapter is entitled "Jesus Reframes Our Brokenness." 

During Jesus' day, and even still today, most people believed sin and guilt and things were defined by a particular set of rules or laws (the Ten Commandments, etc.). In Luke 10:25-37 Jesus turns this thinking on its head.

An expert in Jewish law asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Through an interesting series of questions Jesus gets him from following the 'Law' to 'loving thy neighbor.' So Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan and gets the guy to admit that gaining eternal life requires loving our neighbors, which means we will meet the needs of anyone we come across. In other words, one must live a pretty darn perfect life.

As Frost states, "The so-called Good Samaritan is not just a symbol of doing good to others, as we have turned him into. He is a symbol to us of our despair, our hopelessness. When we observe his ridiculous, unbelievable, laughable act of grace and hear Jesus says, 'Go and do likewise,' we are bound to cry out, 'It's impossible!' And Jesus' response, wry and calculated, is simply, 'Right.' That's the point."

A few pages later Frost shares something that I'm just going to have to plop here in its entirety:
So, what is he saying? God cannot be bought. That's it. That is his basic theological agenda. Human beings by their very nature cannot hope to impress God by their ability to jump through various legal hoops. And in making this point, Jesus harked back to a struggle that had beset Israel since Moses led them through the wilderness: the struggle between allegiance to a contractual theology or to a covenantal theology.

Contractual theology describes a way of relating to a god based on a pact or contract, into which both parties enter, fully aware of the terms of that contract. The terms are expressed with the contractual formula, 'If I do A, B, and C, you must do E, F, and G.' In the case of religion, it is often expressed as, 'If I pray so many times a day and sacrifice so many goats a week, my god must make my land fertile and protect me from natural disaster.' When ill-fortune strikes, the terms of the contract dictate that you must have failed to pray hard enough or sacrifice correctly enough to impress your god. It is considered faithless to blame the deity for not coming through on the arrangement. Remember poor old Job?

The great ideal of Judaism is, in fact, a rejection of contractual theology, even though Israel drifted into and out of it at various points in her history. Judaism, rather, held to a covenant relationship with their God. Distinct from a contract formula, a covenant relationship - not unlike our marriage covenants - is a commitment between two parties based on love and devotion. Even when Israel drifts into open disobedience, God remains faithful, ever committed to the covenant he made with her. Even when he allows misfortune to occur it is as an act of devotion, an expression of fatherly discipline. Indeed, during the Babylonian Exile he doesn't turn his back on their covenant but continues to reveal his grace to Israel. In the Mosaic covenant, God and his people enter into a kind of marriage, as it were. And for God it is for life. It is an expression of grace, a theme Jesus returns to again and again. Indeed it is one of his most foolish ideas!"

I like Frost's description of the word "sin." He says...
"Sin is a biblical term, much abused, which simply means falling short of the mark. It, like many Bible words, relies on a mental image to convey its meaning. The image the word 'sin' is meant to conjure is one of a marksman continually firing his arrow short of the target. When a marksman continuously fires short, it means one thing: he is too far from the mark. Sin means we are too far from God's glory to emulate his perfection on earth. This, in fact, is the key message of the Good Samaritan; we all fall short of the mark, no matter how hard we try."

And later...
"Jesus and Paul in their own ways remind us that we miss the mark. A cornerstone of Christian theology is that we need to feel bad about our inadequacy. St. Teresa of Avila said, 'If you can serenely bear the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be a pleasant place of shelter for Jesus.' This is what it means to be a Christian. You cannot be a Christian unless you know what it is to be displeasing to yourself. This is the bad news. We cannot love well enough. We cannot serve well enough. We cannot act justly enough. We cannot love mercy enough. In spite of what many positive thinking teachers tell us, our experience reminds us that we are continually displeasing to ourselves. The good news that Jesus brought us is that if we confess our sins with contrition then our sins are forgiven. And forgotten."

Well, there was more I highlighted. I may or may not add the rest later. This was some pretty basic stuff, but some dang good stuff. Oddly enough I learned a great deal from this chapter. I am broken; it's okay that I'm broken; Jesus knows I am, and, in fact, wants me to admit that I am. This is what makes him the Savior. Definite good news.