Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Believing In Him (part 46)

We can hear the language of an internationally inclusive redemption from exile flowing heavily from Paul: “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by His life?” (5:10)  Reconciliation and salvation, from out of exile, are components of the language of justification, and Paul continues to apply it liberally to all peoples, as he also continues his self-identification with Gentiles.  As always, he re-centers his thoughts on Jesus and the belief in Him that provides said justification, writing “Not only this, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” another thumb in the eye to “lord” Caesar as he writes to this assembly of believing kingdom representatives in Rome, “through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (5:11).  Yes, it is through the instrumentality of the cross of Christ, and the belief in Jesus that centers on that event that did so very much to reveal God and His radical kingdom principles to the world, that God grants the exodus from out of exile that seemed to have been specifically and previously reserved to the designated covenant people that had begun with Abraham. 

Even “exile” itself was being broadened to encompass the nations.  Though it had been a source of shame for Israel, Israel could no longer keep exile to itself, as a paradoxical badge of honor and privilege.  All peoples could now understand themselves to have stood in exile from the Creator God, in need of reconciliation, and this recognition is what would allow them to participate in their own exodus, thus finding yet another way to join up with Israel’s self-defining story and to relate to the covenant God.  As we have seen, Paul understands that God has kicked down the doors and broken down the walls that had been used to restrict entrance into the household of Abraham, now offering His reconciliation to all peoples and folding them in to His covenant and kingdom purposes. 

In a patriarchy and head-of- household oriented society, rooted in honor and shame constructs that incorporated patronage and benefaction, along with a heightened sense of connection to certain people by which one’s status could be elevated, we should not discount this sense of inclusiveness and dynamic of lineage that seems to be one of the apostle’s filters.  With these thoughts, expressed so early in chapter five, coming on the heels of a chapter dedicated to an exploration of the faith and covenant standing of Abraham, and with this placed alongside a recognition of the importance that Jews and Jewish believers attached to the ability to lay claim to Abraham as their father, we do ourselves a tremendous service to keep these particular cultural, historical, and sociological underpinnings in mind. 

Of course, the Jewish covenant narrative did not include only Abraham.  Indeed, the story of Abraham only made sense because of its precursor, which was the story of Adam.  The Genesis narrative demonstrates that God’s covenant with Abraham only becomes necessary because of the failure of Adam, the original covenant and image bearer.  Conversely, the story of Abraham, to which Gentiles are being attached through belief in Jesus, which is the means by which they are entering into covenant with the Creator God and doing so in the mold of Abraham, moves along to become the story of Israel.  Though the story of Abraham moves from Isaac to Jacob, Jacob to Joseph, and Joseph to Egypt, and though these stories are certainly important and wonderfully instructive, they are the means by which we meet up with Israel.  

The story of Israel essentially begins with Moses, the exodus, Sinai, and the giving of the instrument by which Israel would define itself and by which God intended them to reflect His glory to the nations, which was the law.  Naturally then, Paul, having effectively and persuasively incorporated Gentiles into God’s covenant family by convincingly demonstrating that justification (covenant inclusion) comes to them through belief in Jesus as Lord (believing the Gospel---believing in the decree of the Creator God and acting accordingly, as did Abraham), now does business with the other major components of the story that Israel told about itself, which would be the Adam/Creation narrative, and the birth/election of the people of Israel.  We see this as he writes “So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, so death spread to all people because all sinned---for before the law was given, sin was in the world, but there is no accounting for sin where there is no law” (5:12-13).  While in these verses we are hearing allusions to Adam and Moses, we are forced to note Paul’s equation of sin with death, doing so in light of his belief that Jesus (and God as and through His Messiah) conquered sin and death by the cross and the Resurrection. 

Staying focused on Paul’s incorporation of Israel’s narrative though, we continue to read “Yet death reigned from Adam until Moses even over those who did not sin in the same way that Adam (who is a type of the coming one) transgressed” (5:14).  Keeping in mind the possibility of Paul’s use of exilic language, we here consider that even though Adam earned for himself a specific exile for specific transgressions of his covenant with God, all humanity, though they do not recognize Adam in their origin narrative and do not ideologically, traditionally, mentally or conceptually share in his specific covenant failures, experiences the reign of death because of their own failures to rightly bear the divine image with which they were created (sin).   

1 comment:

  1. I'm liking where you are going with this -- good logic and nice tie-ins of the stories within the story.