Saturday, May 19, 2012

Against The Grain (part 1 of 2)

Paul did not wish to be viewed, on a human and cultural level, as either patron or client.  On a cosmic level things were different.  He had a patron and he was most certainly a client, and this impacted every area of life, while also going against the cultural grain of the Greco-Roman world.  This even went against the grain of his own culture, as the popular (generalized) opinion within the world of Israel was that when their God took it upon Himself to act as Messiah, that the Gentiles would become the clients of Jews, with the Gentiles relying on Israel and Israel’s special relationship with the Creator God that they might derive the benefits reserved for national Israel.  We can see something like this attitude on display when Paul is dealing with Jew/Gentile issues in the churches (Ephesians, Galatians and Romans particularly, and also in the record of the book of Acts). 

Paul was perfectly content with divesting all presumed honor so that he might be looked upon as a client to the cosmic King and the Creator God.  We see this in the first chapter of the letter to Timothy.  Paul speaks in the voice of a client, heralding his supreme patron, and we hear him say “I am grateful to the one who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me faithful in putting me into ministry, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor, and an arrogant man.  But I was treated with mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief” (1:12-13).  Here, it is good to be aware that the celebration of the compassion and mercy (along with the loyalty, patience, and humility) of one’s patron was a standard feature of clientele praise. 

Continuing, Paul grandly celebrates this patronage that he enjoys, writing “our Lord’s grace was abundant, bringing faith and love in Christ Jesus” (1:14).  Creating something of an inscription minus a monument or building (though it has no real bearing on the point that we are making, we can think about Peter’s insistence, as he operates within the same cultural milieu as Paul, that the members of the body of Christ are “living stones… built up as a spiritual house” on which the Gospel is inscribed in both word and deed) , he goes on to write “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’---and I am the worst of them!”  (1:15)  Overflowing with praises, Paul continues with “But here is why I was treated with mercy: so that in me as the worst, Christ Jesus could demonstrate His utmost patience, as an example for those who are going to believe in Him for eternal life” (1:16).  Concluding the heralding of his patron, utilizing words reserved for Caesar (and thus standing counter to the culture): “Now to the eternal King, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever!  Amen” (1:17).  This is standard patronage language and would be received as such by those who would hear the letter.    

The brief mention of Ephesians above, and the Jew/Gentile issues that were present in that community, reminds us that Timothy was himself in Ephesus.  Therefore, church-related issues with which Paul specifically deals in his personal letter to Timothy are the same types of church-related issues with which Paul will deal in the letter to the Ephesians.  Strangely enough, the first letter to Timothy and the letter to Ephesus share a stark similarity that sets them apart from Paul’s other writings, as these two letters contain obvious and easily recognizable odes from a client to a patron as part of their introductions.  Combined (and whether or not the two letters are Pauline, deuteron-Pauline, or pseudo-Pauline), this certainly says something about the culture of Ephesus, and that culture (the knowledge of which is bolstered by the record of Acts) stands as a backdrop to the way we hear the patron-directed praise. 

Though other church letters contain very short doxologies from Paul in their introductions, Ephesians exceeds them all, and we read Paul’s word with the patron-client relationship and counter-cultural/imperial concerns serving to enlighten our reading in a new and significant way, in the midst of heavy doctrinal, covenant-with-Israel-dependent, and Scripturally-derived thematic elements: “Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ.  For He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in His sight in love.  He did this by predestining us to adoption as his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of His will---to the praise of the glory of His grace that He has freely bestowed on us in His dearly loved Son.  In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace that He lavished on us in all wisdom and insight.  He did this when He revealed to us the secret of His will, according to His good pleasure that He set forth in Christ, toward the administration of the fullness of the times, to head up all things in Christ---the things in heaven and the things on earth.  In Christ we too have been claimed as God’s own possession, since we were predestined according to the one purpose of Him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of His will so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, would be to the praise of His glory… I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you spiritual wisdom and revelation in your growing knowledge of Him---since the eyes of your heart have been enlightened---so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what is the wealth of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the incomparable greatness of His power toward us who believe, as displayed in the exercise of His immense strength.  This power He exercised in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms far above every rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And God put all things under Christ’s feet and He gave Him to the church as head over all things.  Now the church is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (1:3-12,17-23). 

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