Theology of drought or dry swimming in the zeitgeist-desert
The newest flyer of the catholic publishing house lands in my mailbox. It lists all “the current topics in theology”:
climate change, responsibility for creation, post-growth economics, social justice through sustainability. The prophet Jeremiah, more than 2600 years earlier, already writes of drought, expansion of the desert and heat waves. If the people of God do not count solely on God and His guidance anymore, they are like a dried-out forest. If they rely on diplomatic skills for their survival and growth and if they comfortably fall in line with the zeitgeist, they live as on sour ground. If they trust only in him, their leaves stay green. Looking at it that way, maybe the newly published titles are “the current topics” after all. acb
Thus says the LORD: Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD. He is like a barren bush in the wasteland that enjoys no change of season, but stands in lava beds in the wilderness, a land, salty and uninhabited. Blessed are those who trust in the LORD; the LORD will be their trust. They are like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: It does not fear heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; In the year of drought it shows no distress, but still produces fruit.
Put out into the deep water
Sometimes it happens: meeting a person changes everything.
Simon knows Jesus from the synagogue in Capharnaum. He has even received him as a guest in his house and witnessed that through him the mother of his wife regained her strength. Now Jesus is sitting in his boat and Simon listens to him with the people. Then, unexpectedly, he is addressed directly. It is the advice of a non-expert to lower the nets again after an unsuccessful night of work. Simon trusts in the word and acts accordingly. Otherwise, nothing would have happened. This way however, they make a copious catch that the nets and boats can barely hold. The only way they can retrieve the catch is with the companions’ cooperation; and thus, and abundance is given to many. Through this process Simon turns into Peter because his eyes are opened. And from this moment on he offers more than his boat: his life. hak
While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret. He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that they were in danger of sinking. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.
Don’t be terrified!
Jeremiah could have despaired of his mission.
He had to warn his contemporaries of putting their faith in dubious political promises. The thread running through his prophetic book is that it is more important to live a just life than conform to the zeitgeist. The identity as the people of God is more important than political alignment and tactical considerations. The Church still struggles with that to this day. Jeremiah is supposed to talk about this identity in front of the people with no prospect of success. Will they not conquer him? Whoever speaks the thoughts of God, endures like a fortified city, for someone else holds him. This promise is still true today. ruk
In the days of Josiah, king of Judah, the word of the LORD came to me: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you. But you, prepare yourself; stand up and tell them all that I command you. Do not be terrified on account of them, or I will terrify you before them; for I am the one who today makes you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of bronze, against the whole land: Against Judah’s kings and princes, its priests and the people of the land.They will fight against you, but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you—oracle of the LORD.
The only chance
We can oversee a good three thousand years of history of the people of God. Most of the time they were only partially on task or not at all. And yet they survived. If only barely. How is that?
Today’s loss of faith has no equal. But the situation has probably always been similar, even in biblical Israel, as the texts prove. Nehemiah laments the catastrophic breach of the covenant Israel has committed against God. This had led to the Babylonian exile in the 5th century BC. But the actual destruction is not the outer grinding of the city and the temple, but the loss of what is most precious: the knowledge that they are the people in God’s possession, yes, even his bride. In tears the people realize what was lost, hear God’s word and ask for His will anew. bek
On the first day of the seventh month, therefore, Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly, which consisted of men, women, and those children old enough to understand. In the square in front of the Water Gate, Ezra read out of the book from daybreak till midday, in the presence of the men, the women, and those children old enough to understand; and all the people listened attentively to the book of the law. Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that had been made for the occasion. Ezra opened the scroll so that all the people might see it, for he was standing higher than any of the people. When he opened it, all the people stood. Ezra read clearly from the book of the law of God, interpreting it so that all could understand what was read. Then Nehemiah, that is, the governor, and Ezra the priest-scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to all the people: “Today is holy to the LORD your God. Do not lament, do not weep!”—for all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law. He continued: “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our LORD. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD is your strength!”
The only thing that suffices
Panem & circenses – bread and games – was the name of a method in ancient times to pacify the people or secure their votes for elections.
Jesus is also threatened with this atmosphere during a multiplication of loaves, where the people want to make him king after they have had enough to eat. The event in Cana is not a bribe, but a “sign”. Jesus does not want to satisfy the primary needs of man, but deliver him with his entire human existence. And for that – right at the beginning – the abundance of a feast is necessary – of a wedding. Because, as Joseph Ratzinger knows, “only the lover can understand the foolishness of a love for which extravagance is law and abundance the only thing that suffices.” tac
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it. And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from (although the servers who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.
All four evangelists are confronted with the fact that Jesus, like many of his Jewish contemporaries, underwent the baptism of repentance through the prophet John.
In Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism he pushes John to the back of the stage and pulls out all the stops to say who this baptized man truly is: The heavens open, the spirit descends upon him and the voice from offstage declares him to be the son, the loved one, the chosen one. In the Acts of the Apostles Peter says it more mildly, but no less clearly: He is the word to Israel, the Kyrios, God is with him. To sum it up: Jesus is proclaimed as God’s representative. Just before Christmas a protestant theologian wrote in the FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung): “That is the crisis it’s all about: God cannot be reliably represented in the world anymore.” The Baptist had supposedly said to the people: “There is one among you whom you do not recognize.” ars
Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah. John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
What a star!
The question about what the star of Bethlehem was fills entire libraries. Hallucination? Halley’s Comet? Or maybe a rare conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn?
The answer cannot be found in the star dust of the skies, but in the dust of the earth. It was a small group of slaves fled from Egypt who recognized the true God; he became their guiding star. And so, through the existence of the Jewish people, the other peoples could also see the star of the Torah, a “star arising from Jacob”. Finding this new light is all the orientation the wise men, the searchers from among the people, need. “They were overjoyed at seeing the star.” acb
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.” After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.
My father’s thing is my thing
At the Feast of the Holy Family we read the story of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple. The peak of the story happens when Jesus asks his shocked parents in astonishment: “Did you not know…” – well, what?
In one version it says “that I must be in my Father’s house”, in another “that I must be in that which belongs to my Father.” Both interpretations are open. Luke still has the entire gospel ahead of him to let Jesus say “that which is my Father’s.” At his birth he is a swaddled baby and his parents’ son, similar to us. Here in the temple he shows another side of himself, casually speaking: My father’s thing is my thing. As the Council of Chalcedon was approaching in the middle of the fifth century and the relation of these two sides of the person of Jesus was struggled for, the bishop of Rome found an ingenious way of phrasing it: completely on the side of God, completely on our side. ars
Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced (in) wisdom and age and favor before God and man.
Beyond the religious
For people from the ancient world it was normal to make animal sacrifices to the gods or a god. Brighter minds, like the Old Testament prophets, figured out early on that this was questionable.
Their criticism, directly addressed toward God, is often quoted in the bible: “Sacrifice and offering you did not require”. That is exactly how they would criticize a horse trade with God along the lines of “I give you this and you give me that” today. How can we move beyond this religiousness? It all starts with the people of God searching for his will together and acting accordingly, so that their realizations can take shape. This was represented in the life of Jesus. ruk
For this reason, when he came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight in. Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll, behold, I come to do your will, O God.’” First he says, “Sacrifices and offerings, holocausts and sin offerings, you neither desired nor delighted in.” These are offered according to the law. Then he says, “Behold, I come to do your will.” He takes away the first to establish the second. By this “will,” we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Not a contradiction
For centuries exultation and threat of judgment have existed side by side in the reality of the people of God. Constant straying off and violations of God’s wishes – and right into the midst of this God speaks his words of salvation and judgment. Why?
Because man, as well as the people of God, are free to take this path or that. But both, the words of salvation and those of judgment are actually calls of invitation. Through both of them God wants to convince us to follow him. Remembering what the consequences are and what happens to you without God’s wise guidance can be helpful for this. If we understand the old language correctly, then we bring on the judgment on ourselves, it is the consequence for our actions. Whoever looks at man, himself, and the history of the people of God more or less rationally knows that both lie closely together: the joy in God and the indifference towards him. And yet we are not at the mercy of this condition, as Zephaniah says: “The Lord has removed the judgment against you.” bek
Shout for joy, daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, daughter Jerusalem! The LORD has removed the judgment against you, he has turned away your enemies; the King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear. On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, Zion, do not be discouraged! The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior, who will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, who will sing joyfully because of you.