The same – but very different
After a long, grueling fight against the false gods, the prophet Elijah returns resigned to Horeb and doesn't want to live anymore longer. He stands on the mountain, where Israel's history began, like Moses, when he received the Torah. And again: Thunderstorm, lightning, thunder and earthquake. But this time the storm is just a storm, the earthquake is just an earthquake, the fire is just a fire — normal weather phenomena. The voice of God is not hearable there. But how was this voice hearable at all?
How did it sound when God spoke to Elijah? The biblical author merely adumbraits it; in the congenial translation of Martin Buber: “a voice of floating silence”. The loud, combative prophet had to listen carefully, yes, he even had to ignore his own disappointment. Perhaps his hearing was the same as the hearing of Mary, of which was said, “she put everything in her heart together.” mim
At the mountain of God, Horeb, Elijah came to a cave where he took shelter. Then the Lord said to him, Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will be passing by. A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord—but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake—but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire—but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.
On the mountain, three already completely transfigured characters meet, and three further characters who are anxiously astonished at first: Moses, Elijah, Jesus and John, James, Peter. All six are affiliated by the determination to hear the „voice from the cloud“.
All six follow this voice and come upon a path of suffering and great signs. There is a continuity that connects heaven and earth: from the prophetic to the Messianic to the apostolic and the Petrine. A single way of „succession“ of people who want to listen to the cloud and build huts on earth. Thereby the humanly impossible comes among men. tac
Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother, John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him. When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, Rise, and do not be afraid. And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone. As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.
Make a wish!
“You have one wish” is a popular motif in fairy tales. Usually, the spontaneously expressed wish proves to be a trap, and the hero must be satisfied with at least not ending up worse than at the beginning. With the young King Solomon, the Bible shows what is worth a wish.
More precisely, what you can expect from God when you ask for it. Not wealth, a long life and military success, but wisdom, that is, the ability to listen and distinguish. mim
The Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. God said, Ask something of me and I will give it to you. Solomon answered: O Lord, my God, you have made me, your servant, king to succeed my father David; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act. I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong. For who is able to govern this vast people of yours? The Lord was pleased that Solomon made this request. So God said to him: Because you have asked for this—not for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies, but for understanding so that you may know what is right—I do as you requested. I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you.
An often quoted dictum by the religious philosopher Franz Rosenzweig is, that God did not create the religion, but the world. It pretty much says what Matthew summed up in the Jesus word in his Gospel: “The field is the world.”
What we imagine as the “kingdom of heaven” happens right here, not beyond the stars. It's happening now, not in a far future. It happens in your behaviour towards your fellow believer, not in your feelings for millions of strangers. For this reason, the Torah regulates property relations as well as sexual relations, behaviour in the witness stand, animal protection and financial conduct. Jesus also teaches his disciples about dealing with guilt, ambition, and the will to rule. God's rule is presumed, he speaks of it in pictures: The seed in the field, the tiny mustard seed, the minimum yeast. The new world of God usually begins in a laborious, small, and inconspicuous way. But it grows. Right here in the middle of this world, as a world. acb
Jesus proposed another parable to the crowds, saying: The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from? He answered, An enemy has done this. His slaves said to him, Do you want us to go and pull them up? He replied, No, if you pull up the weeds
you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn. He proposed another parable to them. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches. He spoke to them another parable. The kingdom of heaven is like yeast
that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened. All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables. He spoke to them only in parables, to fulfill what had been said through the prophet: I will open my mouth in parables, I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation of the world. Then, dismissing the crowds, he went into the house. His disciples approached him and said, Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field. He said in reply, "He who sows good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears ought to hear.
Words that make an impact
When a man and a woman say their “yes” to the local registrar or at the altar, then their word makes an impact: the marriage is valid now. They act by their word. Something similar happens with words that, for example, want to convince, consolate or change someones mind. They make an impact on the counterpart. If the listeners understand and accept such an appeal, this has consequences for the action and relationship level of the persons involved.
The prophet points to this fact. Everything that has been heard as the word and will of God in the course of history is understandable as His action for the life and survival of the people. This shows His reliable loyalty, which constantly creates new possibilities for answers. To stick to the image of the Prophet: the power of the word is shown when the addressed people bring forth fruit. hak
Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.
Considering the repeatedly spreading fake news, the longing for reliable and true words grows. This is not just about individual findings, but about whether such a search can reach its goal at all.
Because you cannot google the truth. The breakthrough happened in Israel, not by searching, but by fact. Encountering a concrete man, many found that his life was compatible with the history of Israel and was able to compete in the midst of the experiences of the pagan world and Greek philosophy. The fact is that it is rather the small ones to understand, probably because they are setting off to take his yoke and learn from him. hak
At that time Jesus exclaimed: I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him. Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.
A different way of love
It was a big deal that Israel learned to love the fellow believer, “as thyself”. At this point in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus goes into detail.
He does not say: “He who loves father or mother more than his fellow believer is not worthy of me.” The measure is not the fellow believer, nor the community as a whole, but the acknowledgment of the Messiahship of Jesus. Before his death, Jesus says: “Love one another as I have loved you.” That is the measure. And it also includes the ones who have not followed the way of Jesus, very concretely: “Whoever gives a cup of fresh water to one of these little ones because it is a disciple ...” This adds a very new facet to the theme of “charity”. tac
Jesus said to his apostles: Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple — amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.
For a normal Christian, Jeremiah's lamentation contains a shrill dissonance: “I will witness your vengeance on them.” With this one word, one of the most serious and persistent prejudices is evoked:
the Old Testament God of Vengeance, replaced by the New Testament God of Love. Fortunately, the new German standard translation has corrected this mistake: it isn't vengeance, but retribution, meaning restoration of justice. The prophet does not want any personal satisfaction, he wants that the persecutors won't prevail, that defamation is revealed, injustice is restored, violence is ended. When Jeremiah calls the “God of Retribution” with all of Israel, then he does this because evil must not only be suffered, but it must be combated and overcome. mim
Jeremiah said: I hear the whisperings of many: ‘Terror on every side! Denounce! let us denounce him!’ All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. ‘Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail, and take our vengeance on him.’ But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph. In their failure they will be put to utter shame, to lasting, unforgettable confusion. O Lord of hosts, you who test the just, who probe mind and heart, let me witness retribution, for to you I have entrusted my cause. Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord, for he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked!
Whether in school, in the office, at the civil registry office or in the shower at the swimming pool – discrimination is against the law: we treat everyone equally. It's strange that the Bible has a very different way:
“You are my special property”. God makes a difference. He chooses. He only needs few, his tiny people: Israel. Like on eagle's wings, he carries them to their election. They often don't even want to, because being chosen is a burden for them. Being a people to serve – “a kingdom of priests”, “holy people” – just to show: That's how a society might work. That's the way you can live. This is the way to achieve the freedom of choice, for all. acb
In the third month after their departure from the land of Egypt, on its first day, the Israelites came to the desert of Sinai. After the journey from Rephidim to the desert of Sinai, they pitched camp. While Israel was encamped here in front of the mountain, Moses went up the mountain to God. Then the Lord called to him and said, Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob; tell the Israelites: You have seen for yourselves how I treated the Egyptians and how I bore you up on eagle wings and brought you here to myself. Therefore, if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession, dearer to me than all other people, though all the earth is mine. You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. That is what you must tell the Israelites.
Consequence from Pentecost
The church doctrine of the Trinity of God seems to show how incomprehensible and remote He is. Paul has a different view on this.
He is certain of God's closeness and therefore writes to the church in Corinth, which has lost its unity. Since the mission gets out of their view, they are disunited, and disorder darkens their joy, the Apostle confronts them with the Trinity: The one God of Israel discovered in history has revealed through Jesus: by God everything is there and through His mind they can understand that too, they can be united. This trinity is the necessary help to find unity again. hak
Brothers and sisters, rejoice. Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the holy ones greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.