I am in the midst of reading Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire by Walsh and Keesmat. In part of the book they use a genre known as Targum, one that I had heard of in seminary but had never utilized. A targum is basically a text-based interpretation of a text that speaks to contemporary culture. As Walsh and Keesmat say, the key to a targum is that it speaks with the same force to comparable issues and subjects in the contemporary culture but that it is held with some humility. There can be numerous targums on a given text that are faithful and accurate.
So this week I am preaching on Micah 6:1-8 (in part reporting on our Jr. High Youth Group’s week at the Pittsburgh Project) and came up with this attempt at a targum on that text:
Notes on Micah 6:1-8
- Listen! Listen to God, the creator of all things: Sue me! Take me to court! Get your lawyers and file your lawsuit against me if you think I, the Lord, have been unfaithful. In fact, tell your story to the mountains and hills of the earth.
- Let’s have them decide if I, your God, have been unfaithful to my promises. Actually, on the other hand… how about I share my complaints? Mountains of the earth, listen to me. Here is my complaint with my people:
- Dear people of the earth, what wrong have I ever done to you? Have I put excessive burdens on you and worn you out? Come on, answer me! What wrong have I done to you?
- I created the world for you to be stewards of – but your first ancestors turned away and rejected my love. But I didn’t reject you then – in fact, I chose a man named Abraham to be the Father of a nation – and when that nation rejected my commandments, I sent prophets to remind them of my commandments, and you rejected my prophets. But even then I did not turn away and reject you, but instead I sent my only son as Jesus of Nazareth. He showed you the way to live, teaching peace, love, and a lifestyle of self-sacrifice but instead you rejected him and sent him to die on the cross. But I raised him from the dead, and he commissioned prophets and apostles to spread his message to the whole world – yet the world as rejected his messengers as they rejected him. Yet, despite all your unfaithfulness, I have not rejected you.
- Instead I have continued to send you prophets proclaiming my message – prophets such as William Wilberforce who called for an end to slavery, Dietrich Bonhoeffer who spoke out against the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany, Martin Luther King Jr. who spoke out against the evil of segregation, or Mother Theresa, who modeled self-sacrifice in her care for the rejected and down-trodden. I have done so much for you – blessed this world with countless blessings and sent you teacher after teacher to remind you of the way I want all to live. Take a minute and remember all that I have done for you!
- The Teacher Responds: “What is it that God desires? What can I offer? Should I go to church more often and sing louder? Should I give all my money away? Should we paint the sanctuary a different color? Should we sing different songs in church? Will that make the Lord happy? Would the Lord forgive me if I offered my firstborn child as a sacrifice?
- No, none of those things will make the Lord happy. But God has shown us what is good and right – he has shown us what is pleasing to him. And what is it that the Lord requires of you?
- The Lord wants you to act justly and to seek justice wherever you are. Look out for those who get stepped on and taken advantage of – make sure things are fair and right. Whether its your legal system, your election system, your economic system, or your company make sure no one get taken advantage of or cheated. Become lovers of mercy. Learn to love being merciful to people – don’t do it out of guilt or obligation, but do it because you love to help others. Show mercy to those who are disadvantaged like the orphans, the windows, and the poor. Finally God desires humility from all. Live your life knowing that you belong to God, for he has named and claimed you as his own. Model humility in your interactions with others – do not become boastful, self-promoting, and arrogant. Do not consider yourself superior to others, but put others before yourself.
In today's lectionary readings that I did this morning two verses were matched that are quite interesting.
Both Psalm 42 and Numbers 11 contain a significant series of complaints against God. Psalm 42 contains those famous lines: "My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, "Where is your God". Where Psalm 42 differs from other laments Psalms however is that the Psalmist tries to reassure himself, with lines such as "Why are you cast down, O my soul, any why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God". The author here is in essence saying to himself, "Look, you know better, you know you shouldn't feel this way – put your trust in God and all will turn out okay".
Moses on the other hand in Numbers 11 offers no such self-reassurance. He, after the people have been complaining about not having meat, offers this lament. "If this is the way you're going to treat me, put me to death at once – if I have found favor in your sight – and do not let me see my misery". Here Moses is saying, "Look, do me a favor and kill me now – I'll be better off if you". What is sort of troubling about Moses' statement is that it bears a close parallel to Elijah's complaint when he is being pursued by Jezebel. What does it say that the Lord's chosen often face affliction so hard in the service of God that they ask God to kill them now?The other reading this morning was from Romans 1, where Paul argues that "For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he made. So they are without excuse;" I for one, given my Barthian leanings, am highly suspect of natural revelation. This verse is often pointed out as one (along with Psalm 19) as making the case for a natural theology. However, as Moltmann points out this verse is actually a strong argument against natural theology. While in fact God's divine nature and eternal power can be seen through the things that God has made, humanity has consistently gotten it wrong and misunderstood. I think, as Alister McGrath argues that the only place for a natural theology (if there is one) is within faith. As one of my former youth group kids pointed out one time, for people who already have faith the use of nature as a devotional means is quite acceptable because you know by faith that God has created all things, thus you can see God's power and nature through what God has made.
Finally, in what I find to be one of the "weirdest" passages of the Gospels, is Peter's response when asked if his teacher (Jesus) paid the temple tax (which Jesus did). What does it say that Jesus paid taxes? Well, first of all it gives us no excuse not to pay taxes (sadly :(). However, I want to argue that this is a case of Jesus being a faithful subversive.
If there is one part of Jesus' mission that can be clear is was his intention to subvert the temple system. On his final journey to Jerusalem, the event that likely sealed his fate was his cleansing of the temple. So clearly Jesus wasn't a fan of the temple, yet he paid the temple tax. Why? Well, Jesus was Jewish and he was fulfilling his duty. He was being faithful to an institution while actively trying to reform and transform it.
In my own life I've found that the role of the faithful subversive fits me best. Recently I was appointed to the board of directors at PTS. I love PTS and will always remember fondly my time there and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone. However, there are things about PTS that I think need to change. My goal in going on the board is to remain faithful to an institution that has given me so much and to work for solutions to meet the changing face of the church for the good of PTS.
" Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility." (Ephesians 2:11-16, TNIV)
Commentary from the Early Church Fathers(1)
The New Spiritual Person. Marius Victorinus: Their souls have thus been reconciled to the eternal and the spiritual, to all things above. The Savior, through the Spirit, indeed the Holy Spirit, descended into souls. He thereby joined what had been separated, spiritual things and souls, so as to make the souls themselves spiritual. He has established them in himself, as he says, “in a new person.” What is this new person? The spiritual person, as distinguished from the old person, who was soul struggling against flesh. Epistle to the Ephesians 1.2.14–15.
The Enmity Is Slain in Himself. Gregory of Nyssa: Taking up the enmity that had come between us and God on account of sins, “slaying it in himself,” as the apostle says (and sin is enmity), and becoming what we are, he joined the human to God again through himself. Against Eunomius 3.10.12.
In reading these verses of Ephesians, vs. 15-16 really stuck out to me. Specifically this line, “For he himself is our peace… by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations.” The second line that stuck out to me was “His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity…”
I sometimes worry that much of our church-talk ends up spiritualizing everything to the point that we can turn this life into a mere holding tank for eternal life – that’s when life will really begin. Yet here in the second chapter of Ephesians Paul reveals part of the gospel message that I think is essential. The work of Christ was done in true human flesh, as Marius points out, as the Holy Spirit was joined to human flesh. So to say that this human body is useless just doesn’t hold up. The second is the end result of Jesus’ incarnation and life was to create a new humanity. Jesus did not become incarnate to provide an escape path from the human body (as Gnosticism holds) but rather to restore humanity to what it was supposed to have: full and complete fellowship with God. Part of this was to “make new” the human body into the “true humanity” that was intended by God from the beginning”.
Finally, Paul points out that the atonement wasn’t just simply about going to heaven after you die, but that part of Jesus’ atoning work was to kill those barriers that separated groups of people from one another. This, like every other aspect of the atonement, is only part of what Jesus did, but it is an important part. Thus, the church has the commission to be a part of God’s ongoing reconciliation within the world. Wherever there are people divide from one another, God is at work seeking to reconcile divided peoples because at the end there will be no division amongst people based on any human attribute.
Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335–394). Bishop of Nyssa and brother of Basil the Great. A Cappadocian father and author of catechetical orations, he was a philosophical theologian of great originality.
Marius Victorinus (b. c. 280/285; fl. c. 355–363). Grammarian of African origin who taught rhetoric at Rome and translated works of Platonists. After his conversion (c. 355), he wrote against the Arians and commentaries on Paul’s letters.
- All comments taken from: M. J. Edwards, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture NT 8. (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 139-140.
- Biographical information is from: ACCS Introduction and Bibliographic Information, Ancient Christian commentary on Scripture. (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2005).