True privilege is our need

I’ve been slowly reading this wonderful book, Cultural Identity and the Purposes of God: A Biblical Theology of Ethnicity, Nationality, and Race. As the subtitle denotes, it’s a biblical theology which means the author, Steven M. Bryan, is considering his thesis from a perspective of what the whole counsel of Scripture communicates with emphasis on God’s plan for redemption. I recently read through the chapter on Matthew where he explains how Jesus’ first advent demonstrates that identity of Israel as a holy nation has shifted, pointing to the encompassing of the previously excluded. I was struck by these few paragraphs on his exegesis of Matthew 8-9 and thought it to be a timely read as the Advent season draws to a close;

The point of Psalm 107 is that Israel restored by God is not Israel in its experience of ethnic identity, whether inside or outside its own land. Rather, it is Israel in its experience of distress, desperation, and forced dispersion–circumstances brought about by God to turn them from their sin. This is Israel with no place to lay its head; Israel at the point of death; Israel imperiled on the sea; Israel harassed by Satan; Israel dispossessed and despairing because of its rebellion.

This is a new way of thinking about Israel and its privilege. Jesus privileges the unprivileged, to be sure, but the unprivileged are all those whom he saves when they cry out to him. Those who will sit down at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and not the putative heirs, the privileged sons of the kingdom, but the outsiders, the marginal, those considered excluded from Israel. The phrase ‘many [who] will come from east and west’ is, thus, neither a designation of Gentiles, as such, nor of Diaspora Jews, Rather, it designates those whose desperation and affliction under the hand of God mirror the conditions of Israel in its distress–they are the meek, the poor in spirit, and those who mourn (Matt. 5:3-5), and therefore stand over against the privileged ‘sons of the kingdom.’

If in Matthew 8, Jesus speaks of sitting at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In Matthew 9, he enacts this meal by eating the tax collectors and sinners. The eschatological scandal of the many who come from east and west to sit down at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob parallels the scandal caused when tax collectors and sinners sit down at table with Jesus. Commentators regularly overlook the parallel, but it goes to the heart of Matthew’s central point in these chapters. They don’t so much tell us as show us what it means to be Israel. The table of the patriarchs–Israel’s table–is a table for the underprivileged, the unincluded, the undeserving. Israel’s table is open to those whose faith and righteousness mirror that of Abraham. The excluded ‘sons of the kingdom’ are identified in Matthew 9 as the scribe and the Pharisees, who object to Jesus’ practice of gathering tax collectors and sinners over a meal. They object because they know what it means. It is the symbolic enactment of Jesus’ vision of restored Israel–an Israel based not on ethnic descent but on a kinship formed through faith and the righteousness it generates. However, unexpected, Israel’s privileges belong to such as these.

Amen. This new identity of Israel is not based on earthly ethnicity but a heavenly need. We have no privilege to exert, only what has been afforded to us through Jesus’ fulfillment of promises based on HIS person and work. I hope that sense remains with us long past the Advent season and Christmas.

An Advent Reflection: God’s Perfect Timing

NativitySceneOne thing I’ve come to embrace in my Christian journey is the value of tradition. Having spent my earlier Christian years in separatist and fundamentalistic circles, then later in Charismatic circles there was this common rejection of tradition on various levels. Well tradition is important because it grounds us in something sure. It creates a continuity with the past and gives support to what the church has always believed. The more the past is rejected in favor of something new, the more likely we are to get things askew.

And what greater time to reflect on the Christian faith than the beginning of the advent season. The intersection of deity and humanity, in the form of the incarnation. The promised king, the awaited messiah, the one the prophets proclaimed who would rescue and redeem.

But I also consider the setting and timing. Israel waited so long it seemed like hope would have dimmed. Under Roman rule, the relinquishment of their land to Gentile authority, the loss of a reigning king and the only relief in found in temple teaching and law obedience. Was this the way it was supposed to go? I bet many asked this question. Where was the deliverer who would set everything right and re-establish promises that have faded in the backdrop of waiting? Continue reading