Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Jesus and the Paradox of the Law (III)

In the first post of this series, I examined "Jesus and the paradox of Jewish law", by which He Who was the unique and only Son of God was also (from a human viewpoint) condemned by that law for claiming to be the Son of God.

In the second post, I looked at this paradox in the light of the claims of supersessionism (or replacement theology). I asked how Jesus could be said to have superseded, or replaced, Jewish law while at the same time (in order to have founded Christianity) be necessarily condemned to death under it.

Now I would like to zero in upon some further ramifications that I see from this paradox -- which I consider to be at the very heart of Christianity.

I have been struggling with these ramifications -- not so much because they are troubling, or difficult, but because of the milieu in which I am being brought to think about them. In short, these are not ordinary times, and we may not have the leisure to work things out at our own pace. (If you have not come across it yet, you might read this op-ed in the New York Times [of all papers!] in order to gain some appreciation of the uneasiness that surrounds me. It says nothing that in itself is new, but in its totality it expresses a foreboding that I think many of us perceive, however uncertainly or dimly.)

In the second post, I imagined oneself in the place of a first-century Jew (say, a member of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem), confronted with the elders' accusations against, and their trial of, Yeshuah who claimed to be the Meshiach. I asserted that those particular Jews were least equipped to be capable of perceiving the new demands thrust upon them by Jesus' witness to His Sonship (just as Paul himself at first resisted that same witness, until he was whacked on the road to Damascus):
For if the Jews were expected, at one and the same time to recognize Jesus as their Messiah and to perceive that he set aside, or superseded, the ancient covenants of God with Israel, then more was demanded of them than of any other peoples alive at the time of Christ.
No, there can be no question: just as Paul stated, Jesus' humiliating death upon the cross was (and still is) a "stumbling block" for Jews (as well as for unbelievers of all stripes).

But as our paradox demands, His death upon the cross was necessary for our salvation.

Therefore, it is just as necessary that it serve as a stumbling block for certain people -- both then, now, and in between.

Take the religion founded by Mohammed, for instance: according to the Quran that he supposedly dictated in Allah's own words, Islam superseded Christianity -- so much so, that Christians the world over are now being brutally eliminated in Mohammed's name, simply for being Christians. Thus Jesus' death upon the cross was a definite stumbling block for Mohammed's Quran, which refuses to recognize Jesus' atoning sacrifice (or even that God had an only Son).

(Most) Christians are at peace with Jesus' death upon the cross -- but Muslims cannot even begin to assimilate it, and instead assert that their religion replaced both Judaism and Christianity.

Do you begin to perceive how slippery a slope supersessionism is? How the simple claim to have replaced an earlier religion leads to all sorts of past and present-day conflicts? (For a thorough documentation of the evils of supersessionism within traditional Catholic Christianity, read Constantine's Sword by James Carroll.)

The problem with a claim to supersede is that it can only be true from an omniscient point of view. Man is fallible, not omniscient. Therefore, man should beware of adopting omniscient viewpoints. (See, e.g., Gen. 3:4-5.)

Yes -- Jesus said: "No one comes to the Father except through Me." And yes -- Jesus said: "All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." (Mt 11:27).

I humbly point out that it was Jesus who said those things, not you or I.

And Jesus was, for all practical purposes, omniscient as far as His divinity assured Him to be (which is -- again, I humbly remind us -- not for you or I to say with any definitiveness, because even He claimed that there were certain things known only to the Father, and not to the Son or anyone else).

The Law of the Old Testament remained the Law, even as it put Jesus, God's only Son, to death -- because most of its followers refused to recognize its very fulfillment in Jesus.

That same Law promised Israel a Messiah who would deliver its people. What those people could not see (until after Jesus's death and resurrection) was the paradox that the Messiah whom the Law promised them would also have to be sacrificed, in order to atone for Man's innate and continuing inability to keep the Law.

So, for those who continued to be unable to see this paradox, the paradox became a stumbling block -- as it still is for many today.

And yet, the fulfillment of that Law meant that for those who accepted Jesus as their Savior, they were free of the Law -- but not free to judge those who could not overcome the stumbling block. ("Judge not, lest ye be judged.")

The ultimate paradox of Jesus and the Law, therefore, is this:

Just as Jesus frees from (fulfills) the Law, so Jesus' fulfillment of the Law causes others to stumble (including many in that same Law).

And while we Christians are not in a position to judge the fate of those who stumble, so we (being free from the Law) are not free to cease from witnessing, in that very freedom, to everlasting salvation in Christ Our Lord.

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