Monday, March 13, 2017

Lent: Who Do You Say I Am?

From a long ago insert I wrote for our church bulletin.
Who Do You Say I Am?
Filled with the holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. ...
Luke, chapter 4

The common practice today is to measure the Bible against the so-called modern worldview, whose fundamental dogma is that God cannot act in history—that everything to do with God is to be relegated to the domain of subjectivity. And so the Bible no longer speaks of God, the living God; no, now we alone speak and decide what God can do and what we will and should do. And the Antichrist, with an air of scholarly excellence, tells us that any exegesis1 that reads the Bible from the perspective of faith in the living God, in order to listen to what God has to say, is fundamentalism; he wants to convince us that only his kind of exegesis, the supposedly purely scientific kind, in which God says nothing and has nothing to say, is able to keep abreast of the times.

The theological debate between Jesus and the devil is a dispute over the correct interpretation of Scripture, and it is relevant to every period of history. The hermeneutical2 question lying at the basis of proper scriptural exegesis is this: What picture of God are we working with? The dispute about interpretation is ultimately a dispute about who God is. Yet in practice, the struggle over the image of God, which underlies the debate about valid biblical interpretation, is decided by the picture we form of Christ: Is he, who remained without worldly power, really the son of the living God? ...

The point at issue is revealed in Jesus’ answer, which is also taken from Deuteronomy: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deut 6:16). ... The issue, then, is the one we have already encountered: God has to submit to experiment. He is “tested,” just as products are tested. He must submit to the conditions that we say are necessary if we are to reach certainty. If he doesn’t grant us now the protection he promises in Psalm 91,3 then he is simply not God. He will have shown his own word, and himself, too to be false.

We are dealing with the vast question as to how we can and cannot know God, how we are related to God and how we can lose him. The arrogance that would make God an object and impose our laboratory conditions upon him is incapable of finding him. For it already implies that we deny God as God by placing ourselves above him, by discarding the whole dimension of love, of interior listening; by no longer acknowledging as real anything but what we can experimentally test and grasp. To think like that is to make oneself God. And to do that is to abase not only God, but the world and oneself, too.

Joseph Ratzinger4,­ Jesus of Nazareth


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We are quite used to thinking of Jesus’ struggle with temptation as a scenario of the devil offering worldly methods which Jesus spurns while worshiping God. This often leads to us considering what we must struggle with or deny in order to follow Jesus.This is valid, however, we have seen this piece of scripture presented so many times that it can be easy to miss levels of meaning aside from struggle with physical desires and denial.

Therefore, it is startling to see Joseph Ratzinger boldly state that Jesus’ verbal battle with the devil is one of Biblical interpretation. It brings us down to earth with a thump. Moving to this different level of understanding scripture offers challenges to our easy doubts of God’s presence in our lives and in our world.

It is easy to doubt and to fall back on the well worn phrase “trust but verify.” Indeed, we have been taught this lesson by the world, where business and politics, to name merely two influences, have given us much reason to be wary, cynical and doubtful of claims we cannot see, touch, or prove scientifically.

However, we cannot use these criteria when it comes to friends, loves, children, spouses, or, most importantly, God. With these cherished relationships, we must learn in a way that cannot be quantified. We must release our need to control. We must listen. We must remain open. We must learn. We must trust.

We may not know what questions to ask in order to learn to love God better. Jesus came to bring us the answers before the questions were spoken. We can find them by being open to God’s living word and listening.

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1 Critical explanation or analysis, especially of a text.


2 The theory and methodology of interpretation, especially of scriptural text.

3 Psalm 91 is a prayer of someone who has taken refuge in the security of the temple. Verses 11-12 state, “For God commands the angels to guard you in all your ways. With their hands they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” Read the entire psalm to see the statement of God’s promises therein.

4 Pope Benedict XVI wrote Jesus of Nazareth under his own name, Joseph Ratzinger.

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