Sunday, July 22, 2007

One is a Big Number

I read before Church the next chapter in Frymer-Kensky on Commandment. The first essay is Mitsvah by David Novak, the second Another Jewish View of Ethics, Christian and Jewish, by Elliot N. Dorff, and the third is Stanley Hauerwas, Christian Ethics in Jewish Terms: A Response to David Novak. It is getting to be a pattern, that whoever writes the middle essay gets ignored in the response.

Before I get started, I went to the Anglican Cathedral here in Ottawa today. The organ music was outstanding. Every little and large move was of the highest possible quality, beautiful extemporization on the Psalm accompaniment, marvellous work on the trumpets on the back wall, a full extemporization on Monkland (Let us with a gladsome mind) for the final procession and a brilliant segue into the postlude Fantaisie "Lauda Sion" by Jean-Jacques Grünenwald. When Matthew Larkin plays the instrument, even the LORD holds on to His hat. (I and my family have known Matthew since the late '80s.)

And I saw and heard this morning why the NT is a serious problem for Jews if they look at it from the point of view of Christendom. The readings (here) included Colossians 1, Psalm 52 which I just translated a week or so ago, Amos 8, and Luke 10:38 (Mary/Martha - part of Dr Loukas' special material.)

I was struck by the uniqueness in which my Lord is portrayed: the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

First place in all things. But this is not the confession of 300 years later. It is a confession prior to the destruction of the temple. God in Christ plays us from the foundation of the world with more variety of stops than we can imagine. This same Lord, my Lord, is servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. (Romans 15:8)

Christendom may be impossible for Judaism, and vice versa, but what do we say of Christ, the human Jesus, a child of the earth, paternity doubtful, born into the crucible of Israel? How is it that Incarnation and Trinity came out of this experience - and that statements like that Colossians passage arose within 30 years of his death? The answer is not obvious and Christianity has encompassed its own answer with 1900 years of words. Is there an alternate reading (the authors referred to the bivocal aspects of Scripture) concerning Jesus that Jews will be able to respond to without the negative baggage of the common era? It will still be a serious matter (dbr gdl) but less of a problem than Christianity poses - and may it bring Christianity back to the recognition of their place as worshippers of the God of Israel (not a political purpose). To be fair, both Christians and Jews are trying to do this (more later - the next chapter is entitled Israel. I have other books in my library at home that seem to get closer to this. I am thinking particularly of Dunn, James D. G., Christology In The Making.)

Now to Mitsvah and Torah. Trouble ... a good kind of trouble, one that requires considerable critical naivety. Come down from all those big words.

Somehow Mitsvah went to the Noachide laws and the subject of natural law and ethics and so on. I know people who love Torah - and so it should be. Torah is much more than Mitsvot - it is story, example, poetry, even politics. It is cult and short story, redemption and hope, the reality of the wilderness. Hard to get into, but once there, a source of food for good. And we agree that it is in the doing that there is understanding, but it is not in the doing that one wins points. It is in the doing that one lives, but the living is not far away that it is so difficult. It is neither legalism, the caricature of the Jewish position, nor antinomianism, the caricature of the Christian position.

It does take me back to some unanswered questions on whether we pick and choose about what is to be observed in love. Novak has a section heading: the Partial Torah and the Impossibility of a Jewish-Christian Polity.

Could we use this as the title of a children's story? Of course and here's the story: I'm in charge. You're not. There's polity for you. (Who was it said - it shall not be so among you!)

Do those who believe in Jesus observe only a partial Torah? This is, as I said, trouble - but I hope not too much. The one who died for me is noted as my Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7). In him, all the Gentiles are said to have been circumcised (Colossians 2:11 for the Christians who don't believe me). The full scope of the cult pointed to him (Hebrews & the Gospel of John which sums up the keeping of every feast in him - see Mary Coloe God Dwells with Us). Matthew 5:18 - supposedly an anti-Pauline statement (not so) not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.

But what if by faith, the law is established (Romans 3:31)? Because in the death of Jesus, the work that he came to do (John 5) all has been accomplished (John 19). So we in Christ are observing and loving Torah after all. This aspect of the work of Jesus is too little explored. Am I just off my rocker? Or do the Christians not get this either? Maybe we should read more Amos (like chapter 8) and more of Nahum and take it to heart - for if we do not heed this word of salvation, what can we expect?

Hauerwas ends with these words addressing Jew and Christian alike:

We share God's election. Supported by that fact we should pray that God will make us capable of sustaining the slow and hard work of friendship through which we might discover that we are in fact commanded by the same God. For I believe that through the law, God intends nothing less than to make us His friends and, therefore, friends with one another.

As I reread this and reflect on the morning service, I realize that he has not gone far enough but perhaps law, ethics, natural law, Noachide separation of nation and nation are a starting point. So One needs to be a big number.

1 comment:

david santos said...

Good work, thank you