Friday, April 2, 2010
Cursed on a Good Friday
Deuteronomy 28:45 All these curses shall come upon you, pursuing and overtaking you until you are destroyed, because you did not obey the LORD your God, by observing the commandments and the decrees that he commanded you.
Lev 18:26,28 But you shall keep my statutes and my ordinances and commit none of these abominations, either the citizen or the alien who resides among you...otherwise the land will vomit you out for defiling it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you.
Is 2: 2 In days to come
the mountain of the LORD’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Is 44:3b I will pour my spirit upon your descendants,
and my blessing on your offspring
Galatians 3:10-14 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.’ Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith.’ But the law does not rest on faith; on the contrary, ‘Whoever does the works of the law will live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’— in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
The Torah, God's "law," or "moral direction," for Israel, found its final form in the 6th century BC while God's people were exiled in Babylon. Deuteronomy 28, then, was a "prophecy" of what would happen to those contemporary Jews living under a curse far from their homeland. In other words, Israel is telling the story of what happened to them in their failure to be a blessing to the world. God vomited them out of the land. But the covenant God refuses to give up on the covenant People. Yahweh's promise for Israel was that they would be restored as a blessing to the world by adding to their numbers (inviting the Gentiles) and by empowering them to keep God's commands (empowering them with the Spirit of God).
The Torah was vital for the covenant between God and Israel. The Torah was supposed to give God's people direction. It was a script on how to bless the world God's way. Unfortunately, the weight of these 613 rules burdened them into a curse. God's promised land exit strategy involved foreign empires like Babylon, Persia, Assyria, Greece and, in Jesus' day, Rome. They became a cursed people because of their unwillingness or inability to keep the Torah.
In about 55AD, St. Paul sent a letter to the small community of Jewish and Gentile Christians in Galatia. In it, Paul expresses his astonishment and frustration over the recent trend of Gentile circumcision in the community. It seems that Jewish-Christian missionaries came to Galatia after Paul left and convinced these Gentile-Christians that they needed to be circumcised. It was an act that insured Gentiles a share of full membership--both identity and vocation--in God's people.
Paul was incensed by this symbolic act because it counterfeited the gospel of Jesus. In his commentary on Galatians, Richard Hays imaginatively puts words into Paul's mouth: If you affiliate yourself with those who place their hope in obeying the Law, you are joining a losing team. That old Israel was still under the curse of Deuteronomy. Paul had the audacity to proclaim that the cross of Jesus birthed a whole "new world" [Gal 6:15] where the Gentiles became equal partners in God's Reign and the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead was unleashed to give these people the power to bear fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control. Paul and every other messianic Jew were "crucified with Christ" (Gal 2:19-20; 6:14) to the old identity of Torah: neither circumcision nor uncircumcision meant anything anymore! The death of Jesus was the pivot-point of history, a new exodus, liberating God's people from the bondage of Torah-identity, freed to live the fruit of the Spirit with their Gentile brothers and sisters.
Q: What then does Jesus death mean, according to Galatians 3:10-14?
A: This difficult to understand passage offers us a "fusion of images," according to Fuller's Joel Green (in Recovering the Scandal of the Cross):
Christ as the representative of Israel in whose death the covenant reaches its climax: the promised and long awaited new age has come!
Justification: how is one justified to be a part of God's people? By being "in Christ" not "in Torah."
Redemption (evoking exodus and exilic themes): a "new exodus" giving us freedom in Christ to bear the fruit of the spirit
Substitution: Christ is cursed so that God's people are blessed and can become the blessing that they were intended to be
Sacrifice: implicitly, his shed blood on the cross is "for us," bearing the shame, guilt and death so that the people of God can be forgiven--removing the curse to walk in newness of life
The Promise of the Spirit: faith is risky and socially nonconforming, but only by this complex and challenging form of faith are we guided and empowered by the spirit
Jesus' death was interpreted by the New Testament writers as a fulfillment of these prominent themes from the Hebrew Bible. The long story of God intersects with this perfect Jew from Galilee who boldly obeys God's will in the face of evil and injustice from the religious and socio-political powers of the world. God's people have crucified themselves to the old games and rules of the systems of the world in order to pledge allegiance to the mentality of Jesus the crucified messiah. He became the curse so that we can rekindle what it means to be God's people for the world. His curse is our identity so that we can live out this vital God-ordained vocation.
On Good Friday 2010, may we have the power, wisdom, patience, discernment, humility and empathy to live out this vocation for the world.