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Is The World Redeemed?

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Not yet, anyway.


In CONSTANTINE’S SWORD, James Carroll writes, “What if Constantine and Anselm and all those who, following them, have gilded the cross, turning it into a symbol of triumphalism, are in understandable but mistaken flight from the more evident meaning of the cross—that the world remains unredeemed?”


Whose fault is it if the world is not redeemed? Certainly not Jesus’s. It’s ours. Our failure to take up our cross and follow him. Peter says we are to share the sufferings of Christ. (1 Peter 4:13)


Judaism taught that we should forgive our enemies seven times a day. This wasn’t enough for Jesus, who said it should be seventy times seven. He wasn’t playing with numbers, but making the point that forgive has to be perpetual, constant. Why? Because we are just as bad ourselves, and in constant need of forgiveness. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” If we want forgiveness, we must forgive. “If you greet only your brothers, wht more you doing than the others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:47-8)


IOW, we are not to be like the Gentiles, but like Jesus to remain Jews, with their devotion to God and to social justice—but Jews whose circumcision is of the heart. (Deut 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4)


When John the Baptist first saw Jesus, he had a moment of recognitiion. He said to those around him, “Look! There’s the Lamb of God, taking upon himelf the sin of the world.” In line with what Carroll said, this passage is often—usually, in fact—mistranslated as “There’s the Lamb of God, taking AWAY the sin of the world.” But has anyone noticed that the sin of the world has not been taken away? If you doubt this, just pick up today’s paper and read it.


Jesus was one person. One person, no matter how divine, cannot take away the sin of the world. That would take ALL persons to accomplish. St Paul tells us that Jesus is “the firstborn of the dead.” Jesus rose to show us the way, but like the apostles, we have run from the cross. But there can be no Easter Sunday without there first being a Good Friday—for each of us.


In a meditation on Original Sin, Cardinal Newman refers to “the heart-piercing, reason-bewildering fact of this world in its length and breadth.” And he concludes that since God exists, then the world must be involved in “some terrible, aboriginal calamity.”


“Work while there is yet light, since the night is coming in which no man can work.” As the letter to the Hebrews says, “We have here no lasting city.”


My task is not to save myself, but to save the world. How can I be saved unless the world is? Why would I even want to be saved if my brothers and sisters are not? I am weak and fallible, and so are they. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt 16:25)


Jesus tells us, “Be ye perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” To be close to God, we have to be like God. And Jesus put this in the context of forgiveness. We must learn to forgive as God forgives. And not to judge, as though we were somehow superior to our brothers and sisters.


Taking up our cross requires more than saying “Jesus is Lord”—a lot more. If you think acknowledging Jesus as Lord is enough, the Jesus has some scary words for you:


“Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter.


“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?


“And then I will declare to them, I never knew you. Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matt 7:21ff)


Prophecy is not enough. Casting out demons is not enough. Working miracles is not enough. They may be the trimmings of religion, but the meat and potatoes was expressed in Judaism in the summing up of the 10 Commandments. This summing up reduced them to two, the first of which is the “Shema Yisrael,” which sums up the first three commandments:


“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God (Adonai Elohim) with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)


The last seven commandments are summed up in Leviticus 18:18: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”


There were and still are some Jewish scholars who are willing to grant that Jesus was the greatest of all rabbis (teachers). And he was because he cut to the heart of what was important in the Law. For example, in Mark 12:28, one of the scribes is impressed by how Jesus answered the Sadducees. The scribe asks Jesus what is important, and Jesus responds with the “Duologue,” the two main commandments quoted above. Then the scribe adds, as a Gemara (commentary):


“Right, Teacher, you have truly said “He is God, and beside Him there is no other. And to love him with all your heart, etc, and to love your neighbor as yourself is much more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”


Jesus in turn commends the scribe, and tells him that he is “not far from the Kingdom of God.”


(Luke has a little different version of this exchange, in which it is the scribe who quotes the Duologue) Apparently, this was a common formula in Judaism.


And for the punch line, so to speak, we have Matthew 25:31-46, in which people who visit others in prison, tend the sick, give to the needy, are surprised to find out that what they’ve been doing they’ve been doing for Jesus: “Inasmuch as you have done it for the least of these my brothers, you have done it for me.”


And in Luke 14:13-14, Jesus says, “When you give a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the blind—and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”


All of this seems to back up James’ point that faith without works is dead. Faith alone is insufficient. It is through our works of mercy that our sins are covered. James concludes his letter by saying:


“My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”


And Peter simply says, “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” And in a famous encomium, Paul says “there are three things that last: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.” IOW, Luther was wrong that faith alone saves. Love trumps faith.



Albert Schweitzer was one of the German “higher critics” that is, one who approached the Bible from the standpoint of literary criticism. As such, he was certainly no inerrantist or literalist; he did not believe that the Bible was infallible.


But more shockingly, he believe that Jesus himself could be mistaken about certain things. Schweitzer thought, for example, that Jesus was wrong about when the world would end, and that he expected it to occur during his liftime or shortly thereafter. (See Matt 10:23)


And yet Schweitzer believe that Jesus knew what mattered most; that he spoke with authority, authority from God. So deeply did Schweitzer believe this that when he was in his thrities, he studied medicine not to make a lucrative career of it, but to become a medical missionary in the jungle of Africa. He dedicated he life to Jesus, and spent it in the service of his fellow man, specifically, his fellow black men. Schweitzer was a Mensch.


The point is, that it is not important whether or not you believe that the Bible is inerrant or infallible. You can believe, like Schweitzer, that it is in error on certain things, but that it gets right what is most important. That Jesus sums up for his fellow Jews, and for the rest of us, what is required: tikkun olam—the redemption of the world.

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Prophecy is not enough. Casting out demons is not enough. Working miracles is not enough. They may be the trimmings of religion, but the meat and potatoes was expressed in Judaism in the summing up of the 10 Commandments. This summing up reduced them to two, the first of which is the “Shema Yisrael,” which sums up the first three commandments


Good words for us, Jeannot. That's the meat! No Christian can debate this one!


(I dare you to!)

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Prophecy is not enough. Casting out demons is not enough. Working miracles is not enough. They may be the trimmings of religion, but the meat and potatoes was expressed in Judaism in the summing up of the 10 Commandments. This summing up reduced them to two, the first of which is the “Shema Yisrael,” which sums up the first three commandments


Good words for us, Jeannot. That's the meat! No Christian can debate this one!


(I dare you to!)


Thanks for the response, Fatherman. (Not I!)


Here's a further thought on the same issue:




The central doctrine of the Christian religion is the Atonement, the notion that Jesus died because of the sins of all mankind. Throughout history, both the Church itself and many Christians have sometimes revealed that they have no comprehension of this doctrine. The doctrine means that, because of Original Sin, we are ALL equally guilty before God. We are ALL in need of redemption. We ALL participated in the crucifixion. We are all equally guilty of the death of God.


Assuming that the Christian doctrine is correct, then Christians would be the ones would exemplify this belief and understanding par excellence. They would adopt the idea of their own personal guilt and responsibility for Jesus death on the Cross, a death for all humans, and because of all humans, who were all complicity in that death. We all pronounced sentence, we all mocked and scourged, we all drove the nails, we all watched with satisfaction as God writhed in agony on the cross.


God would have made it a special test of our understanding and redeemed love to see how we treated his own chosen people. Our love and humility would be shown in the overwhelming compassion for and understanding of His people. Thus, the Christian truth and love would shine forth, and we too would become His chosen people.


Tragically, no such thing happened. Instead, we proved ourselves unredeemed. God's son came to earth to teach us lessons of humility and love. We were to see and understand our own culpability, and not to transfer this guilt to another. We were to reach out to fellow sinners in compassion and empathy, understanding that, whatever their sin, we were just as bad. Original Sin is the great leveler. For the immediate fruit of Original Sin was shame and blame, as Adam and Eve hid themselves and covered themselves. And when God approach them, they indulged in an orgy of finger-pointing, Adam blaming both Eve and God, and Eve blaming the serpent. The key of redemption is the arriving at sufficient self-knowledge to perceive one's own guilt, to accept it, and to atone for it by transforming oneself.


Instead, Christian behavior toward the Jews has been a repetition of the original sin. Ashamed of our own complicity, as taught in our central doctrine, we immediately and thoughtless, mindlessly, transferred to another group, whom we blamed for the death of Christ, thus utterly failing to understand the central tenet of our own religion.


Some Christians point to the behavior of the Chosen People as recorded in Hebrew Scriptures and say, See how bad they are! Once again, the old tactic of self-exoneration and finger-pointing. If someone points out the guilt of all of us, many Christians immediately reject the guilt, go into a defensive posture, and finger point while transferring and projecting their own guilt. This is the fruit of a pernicious doctrine of "once saved, always saved." That this doctrine is a lie is shown by the behavior of so-called "saved" Christians. "By their fruits, you shall know them."


What is lost sight of here is that the Jews remained the Chosen People, and no matter how unworthily they may have behaved, God kept them as the apple of his eye. As Paul says, the promises of God are irrevocable. His care for his people was manifest in the prophets he sent to call them back to the service of the one God. But where are the Christian prophets who pointed out the massive defection and failings of the Church and its people, supposedly dedicated to the God of Love? There have been no such prophets. God seems to have abandoned us to our own folly. Another fruit of the truly diabolical doctrine of "once saved, always saved." No greater blindness can be conceived. Jesus taught humility and love. The fruits of this doctrine are pride and hate.


Christians pretend to love Jews. But we love them only as potential converts. We do not love them as Jews. The pernicious doctrine of "preaching the Word" prevents us from loving people as they are. In other words, it prevents us from loving people. We "love" Jews, but only as long as they no longer remain Jews. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the career of Martin Luther, who was sympathetic to the Jews as long as he remained convinced that they would convert to his "purified" Christianity. When they did not, he turned on them with an unparalleled viciousness, uttering invective that would have given Josef Goebbels pause.


Salvation is a lifelong work, and involves constant mindfulness. The triumphalism of Constantine's cross, and the doctrine of easy grace through personal salvation by a once-and-for-all act, have disguised the fact that the world remains unredeemed. (idea taken from James Carroll’s THE SWORD OF CONSTANTINE.

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