Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Rome, Corinth & The Liberation Of Creation (part 2 of 3)

Momentarily skipping down a few verses in Romans, and attempting to hear these words while remembering their connection to the plight of an Israel in bondage in Egypt while contemplating their connection to a covenant people and a creation that acknowledges the promise of resurrection and an inaugurated kingdom within a creation whose restoration/renewal/redemption has begun, we find: “For in hope we were saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance” (8:24-25).  Picking back up with the verse that finishes the thought begun in the sixteenth and seventeenth verses: “because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen.  For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal” (4:18).  As we can see, there is an obvious sharing of ideas between the passages from the two letters, and that sharing continues in to chapter five.

Returning again to what really is an altogether fascinating series of thoughts on offer by the Apostle Paul, we join the Roman congregation in hearing “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now.  Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (8:22-23).  It must be recognized that the language here employed by Paul, specifically that of groaning and redemption, is the language of Israel’s defining story (bondage, Passover, exodus). 

We also here note Paul’s use of “we” in his engagement with Gentiles, which appears to be Paul’s way of self-identifying with Gentiles and to play a role in his desire to see a united family of God.  Building on that, the use of “adoption” in precise connection with these highly charged terms merely amplifies and exacerbates the end that Paul believes to be on offer in the Gospel’s announcement (the Lordship of Jesus that portends the inauguration of the kingdom of God).  It is easy to understand Paul’s aims in this regard, as the congregation of Roman believers is generally understood to be a more evenly mixed congregation of Jew and Gentile and therefore in need of the “adoption” of an inclusive family language for what must become an inclusive family story.  The fact that Paul spends time in his letters specifically addressing what would be largely Jewish concerns reinforces the picture of that relatively even mixture. 

While there are also Jews in Corinth, and undoubtedly Jews as part of the assembly of Jesus believers there, the situation in Corinth is understood to be a bit different.  Perhaps there are a very small number of Jewish believers, so their concerns are not particularly germane to the entire assembly?  Accordingly, there is no pervasive crisis.  Consequently, the abiding concerns of his Jewish brethren do not warrant the overt attention of Paul.  It is possible that the Jews there were more Hellenized, and therefore less stringent in their adherence to the traditions addressed in the Romans letter, such as table fellowship and the marks of covenant inclusion.  Speculation could continue.  However, what is unmistakable is Paul’s employment of overtly Israel-centric terminology here in this passage that is quite the mirror of part of Romans eight. 

Again echoing the above-quoted words of that chapter, with words such as “suffering,” “eternal,” and “glory” ringing in our ears as that which closes the fourth chapter, along with the “creation,” “groans,” “suffers,” “adoption,” and “redemption” of Romans eight (realizing that these terms are all conceptually linked by the narratives of Israel and Jesus), we advance into the fifth chapter of the second letter to the Corinthians and hear “For we know that if our earthly house is dismantled, we have a building from God, a house not built by human hands, that is eternal in the heavens” (5:1).  Crucially then, in the next verse, Paul writes “For in this earthly house we groan, because we desire to put on our heavenly dwelling” (5:2). 

In yet another unmistakable fusion of the disparate peoples of the world into the family of God whose continuing story of relationship with the Creator God has as its foundation the story of Israel (which, we remember, goes all the way back to Adam, though Adam is also understood to be the progenitor of humanity), Paul calls to mind the exodus.  Israel, who had the promise of a return to the land that had been promised to the family of Abraham---and we do not miss the connection to the church of the Christ as the family of Abraham and the whole of creation as the land originally promised to Adam as the divine image-bearer, presumably groaned under their bondage precisely because of the remembrance of that promise (at the very least, this is what is to be taken from the people-of-God-defining narrative as supplied by the Hebrew Scriptures), longing to put on their heavenly dwelling, which was their promised land. 

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