“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.” (Isaiah 42:1 – 4)
Today’s Gospel reading is the story of Jesus coming to the home of Lazarus and Mary anointing Jesus’ feet, preparing him as he said for the day of his burial. The Gospel story says it is six days before Passover – I am not sure that is directly parrallel to the first day of Holy Week. However, I have not included the Gospel passage here, so I wanted to orient you to that.
As you may well know, it is my contention that the Old Testament passages had existence and meaning before they were attributed to Jesus and the story of his presence on earth. But as you also know, during the high seasons of the church I see the wisdom of using these passages to inform our understanding,
“Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” (Verses 5 – 7)
When a person is called by the Divine and answers that call with affirmation, diligence, commitment and authenticity it calls them to a greater plane and a higher status. The prophets of the Old Testament were such people. But by the time the Israelites/Jews had come under the authority of the Romans such prophets were hard to find and did not come along very often. So when Jesus came along, he was a reminder of the prophets from the past. It is no wonder he reminded his disciples of them. He was like a prophet, and welcomed as one – but he was more than that. And that “more-ness” imbued the passages that described the prophets of old with an even higher status and moved the writings of those prophets to prophecy for the one who did come – or would come, when you retroactively apply the passages.
“I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.” (Verses 8 – 9)
If biblical commentators seem to retroactively apply passages to Jesus, it started a long time ago, by a man named Paul.
“But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!” ( Hebrews 9:11 – 14)
I read an interesting comment from a former biblical professor from my college years; he said, “If Jesus is saying killing an animal is not God’s way of achieving reconciliation, how can we justify the belief that God violated God’s own declarations by offering a human sacrifice in order to forgive us?” The Old Testament prophets wrote strongly that sacrifice was not to be the “agent of reconciliation” but “a celebration once the restoration had been experienced.” He also notes that by the time of Paul (the first century) sacrifice was the official method to restore one’s relationship to the Divine. (“Let’s let Jesus speak for himself”. The Mennonite April 2019, Vol 22, No. 4 pg. 32)
“For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant.” (Verses 15)
For me, reading this on the cusp of writing about Holy Week calls into question a lot of the assumptions concerning salvation as a result of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. Blosser (that is my former biblical professor) says that the important action for salvation is believe and obedience to Christ and his teachings. It was because of his teachings, beloved reader, that I came to see Paul in a different light than when I was a young child. Granted, as I matured I realized that Paul was a product of his time, and for his time he was revolutionary bringing a completely new type of message of belief in the Divine. I suspect it was also the influence of Blosser’s teachings (as I think on this) that lead me to have strong feelings about respecting the context in which the Old Testament prophets and writers wrote. Read the Psalms passage, keeping in mind the exhortation to hold to the teachings of the Divine.
“Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O LORD. How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. O continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your salvation to the upright of heart! Do not let the foot of the arrogant tread on me, or the hand of the wicked drive me away.” (Psalm 36:5-11)
Adherence to the statutes of the Lord God is what is required. Celebrating the love that the Lord God has bestowed on us, and modeling that love by caring about and for others. As we move through Holy Week I want to be aware of these ideas and perspectives that speak to a different of considering the story of Easter. Selah!