Nothing new under the sun?
Twice the word “commandments” comes up in the paragraph from the Letter of John. But don’t we know them by now? Since Israel solemnly received them at Sinai?
In the Gospel of John Jesus formulates the novelty of his commandment. One could describe it as the inner destination route of all commandments of the bible known to this point: “I give you a new commandment: Love one another.” As strange as it may sound, the word “love” is a technical term here that represents the translation of the Greek word “agapein”. It describes the togetherness of the baptized — with the goal to build up the community — as material visible body of the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth. That is as forgotten as it is excitingly new. bek
My children, I am writing this to you so that you may not commit sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world. The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments. Those who say, “I know him,” but do not keep his commandments are liars, and the truth is not in them. But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him.
The fourth paradise
In the young creation, according to Genesis, there was a garden laid out by God where man had everything he needed. The garden was lost — since then God’s history with His people is continually on the trail of paradise.
It was within their reach when Israel, having escaped the Egyptians, came closer to the Promised Land in the desert. An exceedingly rich land that could only be won, however, through the keeping of the Tora. It receded into the distance for Israel during exile. It was promised again as return and reentry into the land — out of mercy. But it remained a promise, the land occupied, the people in great need. Luke did not shy away from saying about the post-Easter communities: No one there was in need, for they had everything in common. With this he describes their sober reality as the fulfilled promise of paradise. tac
The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all. There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need.
“He is not here”
“He is not here”, the young man tells the three women, who come to Jesus’ tomb early in the morning. Where was the crucified and dead Jesus from Good Friday until Easter? Theologians have racked their brains about this.
In the creed it says: “He descended to the dead.” In many depictions it is described how the righteous dead from earlier times are freed from the jaws of death. Mark offers a different answer: The women are supposed to tell the disciples, and especially Peter: “He is going before you to Galilee.” They do not meet this request in any way, they flee bewildered and scared, do not say anything to anyone. If one follows the referral to Galilee: In Galilee Jesus appeared; there the disciples, also Peter, heard and saw him, but hadn’t understood anything, until the last. The women were looking for “Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified”, but the gospel starts like this: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God”. “The Christ of the gospels is the only true historical Jesus”, Joseph Ratzinger said at a symposium in Israel. Easter: The disciples realize who Jesus is. ars
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint him. Very early when the sun had risen, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb. They were saying to one another, “Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back; it was very large. On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed. He said to them, “Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you. ’” Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Palm Sunday sets up a small stage. On the agenda: Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, enthusiastic reception, trial and execution.
The little liturgical play in the beginning when today’s churchgoers enter the Church with boughs in their hand is to say: For the next moments they are fellow players in a story that in reality they are already participants in. Here the baptized are not spectators, but actors. At the same time the long texts burst the short message format. They also burst our little world. The drama is nothing less than this: How the will of God can be realized in the world. How does that work? Isaiah gives the answer: Letting one’s ears be opened. Giving a hand to the weary. Offering one’s back. acb
The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.
Old and new
The talk of the “new covenant” often conveys that the “old one” with the fathers is now superseded. According to biblical understanding, however, it is always about the same thing:
How can the Tora, the historical action and social order of God, shape the life of the people of God? How do the will of God and the freedom of man converge? In the face of the covenant breaches throughout history, the prophet does not believe that moral exertion is capable of this, however a new initiative of God is. Through it the Tora is written “upon the heart” of the people, so that God’s will can be recognized and done. For Israel this is a new covenant not to be expected, for God nothing but the old one that he offers to every generation anew. hak
The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers the day I took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt; for they broke my covenant, and I had to show myself their master, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD. I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the LORD. All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the LORD, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.
Psalm 137 is a song of sorrow and longing for Jerusalem that the Israelites wrote during the Babylonian exile. The longed-for is not just “home”, but epitome of God’s promise.
Yes, God’s concern is a specific city, a specific land and a people in it. For such are his logistics: Radiating from one point his prudence and benevolence should be made known to the entire world. To close in on this goal he also ropes in the Persian sovereign Kyrus during the 6th century B.C., for example. Kyrus pledges himself as service provider to the ruler of the world, the God of Israel, and has Jerusalem’s temple rebuilt on his behalf: The biblical God acts through people, also through heathens. bek
By the rivers of Babylon there we sat weeping when we remembered Zion. On the poplars in its midst we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for the words of a song; our tormentors, for joy: “Sing for us a song of Zion!” But how could we sing a song of the LORD in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget. May my tongue stick to my palate if I do not remember you, if I do not exalt Jerusalem beyond all my delights.
2 Chr 36:22-23
In the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD inspired King Cyrus of Persia to issue this proclamation throughout his kingdom, both by word of mouth and in writing: “Thus says Cyrus, king of Persia: ‘All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD, the God of heaven, has given to me, and he has also charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever, therefore, among you belongs to any part of his people, let him go up, and may his God be with him!’”
Words of creation
The Ten Commandments are also called “Ten Words” by Jews. The word seems to be God’s power in the world: He created heaven and earth through his words. With the ten words he is looking for assistants now to repair his ultimately good creation.
The ten pillars of his social order are not piled into a dark, quiet universe, but into a history that turns out to be a love story when God reveals: “I am a jealous God”. If one disregards God’s self-conception as lover and liberator, the sensible commandments become similarly inconvenient as the creation becomes sense- and worthless, if one wants to cleanse it of God’s words of creation. tac
In those days, God delivered all these commandments:
I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.
You shall not have other gods besides me.
You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them.
For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their fathers' wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation; but bestowing mercy down to the thousandth generation on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain.
For the LORD will not leave unpunished
the one who takes his name in vain.
Remember to keep holy the sabbath day. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD, your God. No work may be done then either by you, or your son or daughter,
or your male or female slave, or your beast, or by the alien who lives with you. In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested.
That is why the LORD has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.
Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you.
You shall not kill.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass, nor anything else that belongs to him.
The temptation of a believer
A storm raged through the press when Pope Francis interpreted the petition of “do not lead us into temptation” in the Our Father: “God doesn’t plunge people into temptation to then watch how I fell.”
Bishops and theologians fought over the right words, but no one spoke of Abraham and his temptation. God wanted to know: Are you still the same Abraham who left clan and parental home, since becoming a father yourself? Has the long wished-for heir become so precious to you that you would sacrifice everything else for him? In the test Abraham was found to be loyal. For he set out, although he had already arrived, and searched for the land in which he was already living. mim
God put Abraham to the test. He called to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am!” he replied. Then God said: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.” When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. Then he reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the Lord's messenger called to him from heaven, “Abraham, Abraham!” “Here I am!” he answered. “Do not lay your hand on the boy,” said the messenger. “Do not do the least thing to him. I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.” As Abraham looked about, he spied a ram caught by its horns in the thicket. So he went and took the ram and offered it up as a holocaust in place of his son. Again the Lord's messenger called to Abraham from heaven and said: “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you acted as you did in not withholding from me your beloved son, I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore; your descendants shall take possession of the gates of their enemies, and in your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing — all this because you obeyed my command.”
Under the banner of the rainbow
Gender and peace movements are attending to the matter of the rainbow: the mission of the colorful light effect is world embracing self-delight drunk on peace. An ideal world. The ancient tale of Noah knew more.
People will always be at risk of pressure, jealousy, rifts. Sometimes injustice gains the upper hand, then the level of violence rises like a flood. God establishing the rainbow symbol of the covenant is poetic language. It speaks of the confidence that man can find an answer to his questions: How can violence be overcome? How can justice be found, and peace? He doesn’t simply find the answer in himself though. He has to search for it, be on the lookout. The entire history of Israel, even the history of humanity, can be read as a search for this positing, as a discovery of what is right. acb
God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “See, I am now establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you: all the birds, and the various tame and wild animals that were with you and came out of the ark. I will establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood; there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth.” God added: “This is the sign that I am giving for all ages to come, of the covenant between me and you and every living creature with you: I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will recall the covenant I have made between me and you and all living beings, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all mortal beings.”
At the beginning of a new year the upcoming anniversaries are named. This year: 50 years since the student revolt of 1968, starting from Paris. Some even speak of a revolution. One for more freedom from societal restraints. Renewal! A completely new society was supposed to forge ahead. Broadly speaking: Everyone was looking for something new. And now, 50 years later?
We only flee any change. And fear the worldwide upheavals. The disciples said to Jesus: “Everyone is looking for you”. What a sentence! Israel is seeking. The next step in its history, the approach towards the promised. The overcoming of the gulf between the “already”, what God has fulfilled, and the “not yet”, the human readiness for the new. For the disciples this concretely means: “Simon and those who were with him pursued him.” Israel starts a psalm with: “O God, you are my God – it is you I seek.” When we don’t search anymore, don’t seek for God and His will – what then? bek
On leaving the synagogue Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. Simon's mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her. He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them. When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him. Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.” He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.