Friday, January 26, 2007

Matthew 28: Some Doubted

It is no great concern to us that some of the disciples doubted when they saw the resurrected Jesus on that mountain in Galilee. And yet it is of great concern when people outside the church doubt or disbelieve. That's what's called a double standard, and a damnable one! Somehow it's okay for the "in group" to disbelieve, but those on the outs "will die and go to hell!" No, rather, it's serious, and a great sin, no, the symptom of THE GREATEST sin, when we disbelieve or doubt, whether we are seminary students or people who have never lives darkened a church door. But notice, is the wrath of the Lord on those who disbelieve? Does the ground give way underneath them? No, not because their sins and troubles and diseases are not great, but because God is so good.
When Jacob disbelieved that his son Joseph was alive, what did God do? Did God, rain down fire and brimstone on the despairing, faithless Jacob, Jacob whose life was filled with hard knocks, wanderings and travails, but who was also not a blameless man, but a trader "with false balances," a trickster and in his faithlessness and lack of confidence, even a thief in his youth? The answer is no. Instead, God overwhelms Jacob's despair and faithlessness. When Jacob heard Joseph's message, the words that Joseph meant especially for his longsuffering father, when Jacob saw the rich caravan that Joseph had sent for him, Jacob's spirit revived and he says, "It is enough; Joseph my son is still alive; I will go and see him before I die."

In other words, we must not say, "those who disbelieve or doubt will go to hell." That's like saying in the moment before his spirits revived "Jacob will die in despair not knowing the grace of God who brings his beloved son back to him." It is, at the very least, short-sighted. We CAN say, quoting Revelation 21 that there will be none of the "cowardly, the faithless, the polluted etc.," in the New Jerusalem. But we cannot say, "those who disbelieve will go to hell" Why? because we do not know what the next movement by God will be. God is free to overwhelm the despairing and hopeless with good news. God is both willing and able to overwhelm all faithlessness, just as did with Jacob, just as he did with the doubting disciples. Not even death can limit the power of God. The gates of hell crumple before Jesus. Therefore, let's leave it up to God's mercy and goodness, not presuming to know the mind of the Lord, remembering that his thoughts and plans are very different from our own, giving thanks for the gift of belief, that sure sight, but also remembering that even "when we are faithless God is faithful, for he cannot deny himself."

Matthew 9:9 No Puppets

Jesus says to Matthew the tax collector, "Follow me." Is Matthew a sort of puppet? Jesus pulling the strings and Matthew rising and following him? I asked myself about light at the very beginning. Is light a kind of puppet, God flips the switch and voila? My father pointed out to me that this question becomes clearer when we consider the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. We must ask ourselves, is Jesus, as pictured by Isaiah in the above mentioned chapter, a puppet? The answer is no, of course. Isaiah does not want to get across to us that Jesus is a marionette jerked around on strings. Instead the picture we get is one of freedom. Just before Jesus commands Matthew "Follow me," he says to the paralytic, "Rise and walk." The Bible is not presenting a picture of the paralytic as a puppet but rather as a healed man, freed, in fact, from his long infirmity. In the same way, Matthew is now a free man when he rises to follow Jesus. It may be that light is made free when God commands it.

The usual idea about freedom is that free will is the ability to say, yes or no. Bonhoeffer contradicts this when he says that our freedom is only found in obedience to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Our imprisonment and slavery is found in disobedience to God. Like Barth who corrected Rousseau's "I think therefore I am" by saying "I am thought on by God, therefore I am," Bonhoeffer corrects and tempers our philosophy of freedom.

Our ideas about freedom, like every other philosophy, are tempered, guided and turned on their heads by the Bible.