Thursday, September 16, 2010

Justification by Faith and Jesus' Identity as the "Son of Man"

More from chapter 4 of the Christology book:

It is interesting to observe that, at least according to Oswald Bayer's reconstruction, Luther came to his realization of the nature of the gospel (the "Reformation Breakthrough" as it is called) by way of the recognition of God own self-donating presence in the words "I absolve you" (ego te absolve!).[1]  In other words, just as the flesh of Jesus is identical with the presence of God (genus majestaticum), so too the word of absolution that Jesus entrusted to the Church is identical with his own presence forgiving the sinner.  In this, election and the question of what the attitude of God is to the sinner thereby ceased to be an issue.  God's own electing power and forgiveness are identical with the word of absolution.  Thereby the certainty of faith and Christian freedom are grounded in the sacramentality of the Word.

If Bayer's reconstruction is to be believed, then Luther's Reformation breakthrough was rooted in Jesus' own self-understanding and activity in his ministry as we have described it in chapter two.  As it should be recalled, Jesus' own designation as the Son of Man was a significant one in light of the use of the term in Second Temple Judaism.  Though there was of course much debate about the term's usage,[2]a significant amount of  the literature of period, as well as the Gospels themselves (particularly Mt. 25) identify the Son of Man with a cosmic judge who will come at the end of time in order to meet out judgment regarding both salvation and damnation.  What is peculiar about Jesus as the Son of Man is that he comes in the midst of history rather than at its end.  As Matthew 25 shows, this present advent in judgment does not exclude a future one.  Rather what this does suggest is that Jesus' own present judgment is a proleptic realization in the midst of history of what his judgment will be at the end of time.  Just as Luther had realized that he could rely on the word of absolution in the present, so people who believed in Jesus' Word came to realize that they could be certain of God's final verdict on them in the present. 

Jesus made his verdict known in a number of ways.  In some cases we have recorded for us in the Gospels, he simply tells people that their sins are forgiven.  In others, he combines his Word of absolution with a common meal or healing.  Ultimately though, he uses his redeeming Word to indicate his fellowship and solidarity with sinners and thereby establishes a community of those whom will be vindicated in the coming kingdom (the Church), of whom he is the messianic agent.  Hence, Jesus' own presence and word are identical with God's own presence.  There is no “likeness and unlikeness . . . a partial correspondence and agreement”[3] between God's eternal Word and his human word.  Rather his human word is identical with the divine Word, because he is God in the flesh.  Being in contact with the man Jesus is identical with being in contact with God.  This fact stands in complete coherence with his own claims of special access and perfect knowledge of Father (Mt. 11:25-7, Jn 10:15), as well as ultimately of divinity (Jn 8:58, 14:9-10).

Jesus himself passes on this Word of grace to his disciples.  In both Matthew and Luke, Jesus gives his Word to the apostles and commissions them to preach eschatological salvation and judgment to the regions of northern Palestine.  Contained in the word of proclamation is the presence of his very being.  He himself acts through their word, as both judge and comforter: "Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me" (Mt 10:40).  Because of his sacramental presence in the Word, there is no ambiguity where one stands in relationship to him: “one who hears you hears me” (Lk 10:16).  Rejection of Jesus' redemptive Word causes one to stand under divine judgment: "And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.  Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town" (Mt 10:14-5).

This continues in the life of the Church.  Later in the Gospel history we are told that the presence of Jesus' Name in the midst those gathered together (the Divine Service) is identical with the presence of Jesus himself: "where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them" (18:20).  In this, Jesus' Name takes on the role God's own Name, and each liturgical gathering in it makes the gathered community the new eschatological Temple/Tabernacle ("house for my name" 2 Sam 7:13).

By the end of the Gospel histories, how this Name among the "two or three" is to be spoke becomes clear.  Not only are the disciples given the ability to forgive in the Name of Jesus, but they are given Jesus' Name in the form the sacraments.  In Matthew 28:19, they are commissioned to baptize in the Triune name (which includes that of Jesus).  Before his death, Jesus confirms his new testament of forgiveness, by offering them his own body and blood to consume (26:26-9).  As we observed earlier, Jesus' presence at common meals mediated directly the divine presence of forgiveness to those who he ate with him.  This is now fulfilled in Jesus' giving an even greater share in himself than was possible in the common meals.  He does so by literally giving the sacrificed substance of his being for them to masticate on.  This flesh and blood is something living (Jn 6:53-8).  It is not a dead sign, but a living divine promise of that this sacrificed flesh and blood pleads for them before the Father.  By this saving bodily presence, they know that they are truly forgiven, for they have tasted the Lord and known that he is good (Ps 34:8).  Conversely, much like Jesus promises that those who rejected his presence in the preaching of the apostles would be destroyed (Mt 10:14-5), so Paul tells us that those who disbeliever his promise and as a result treat the Eucharist as ordinary food (to be gobbled up or swilled) will suffer divine judgment (1 Cor 11:27-32).

1 comment:

  1. "He does so by literally giving the sacrificed substance of his being for them to masticate on."

    Is this the best expression given the following antithesis from the Formula of Concord:

    16. We reject and condemn also all presumptuous, frivolous [sarcastically colored], blasphemous questions and expressions which are presented in a gross, carnal, Capernaitic way regarding the supernatural, heavenly mysteries of this Supper.