Saturday, February 25, 2006

Did Jesus attribute any importance to his death?

That is the question I have to write a 4-6 page paper on today. 4-6! This is a dissertation topic!

I think I'm going to focus it on the words of institution at the Last Supper - you know, get my little liturgical theology kicks. Of course it's not going to be exhaustive - but with a 4-6 page limit, you can't possibly look at all the support for a yea or nay answer to this question.

Anyway, I had a few initial thoughts that aren't going to wind up in the paper because I've taken this new tack (and actually, I think the evidence is against them - they're just what I think, but apparently the Bible disagrees. Damn. Hate it when that happens). Since they won't go in the paper, what better place to put them than on here? So here's some food for thought at 8:40 on a Saturday morning!

Did Jesus attribute any importance to his death? Yes, but. He saw it as a necessary end to his mission. But he didn't recognize it alone as the only reconciling act of God to humanity.

Did Jesus think his death was important? Yes, because of what it would cause to happen. Because it would open the way for a new understanding between humans and God, a relationship based on love and communion, on giving of Godself, over old sacrificial ways. Jesus' life, more than his death, was important. Jesus' incarnation was probably the most important moment of all.

To say that Jesus went to Jerusalem specifically to die is a somewhat defeatist position, relying too heavily on his death as being the primary action of his earthly ministry. Surely there was more to the Incarnation of God than a plan to be killed by people (no matter how much that dying might accomplish).

So we may indeed say that Jesus attributed importance to his death, and certainly knew it was a likely possibility if not inevitable based upon his radical reorientation of societal norms.

However, we must qualify these statements by refraining from making death Jesus' only - or even primary - aim in living. The importance Jesus attributed to his death had to do with what he knew this inevitable act would excite in his followers. His death, ironically, would provide them with the necessary push to move the global mission forward. His resurrection especially would provide impetus for forward motion of the new covenant of God with humanity. Had Jesus no purpose other than to die, his disciples would not have had much to go on in creating a world changing movement. His goal was first to teach, to train, to make apostles - and then, to push them out of the nest with the radical act of allowing his own death (with the subsequent miracle of resurrection).


Caelius said...

Ah, yes, the Scriptures have that whole "set his face toward Jerusalem" thing. Don't feel bad. It shocked the Disciples, too.

Caelius said...

That said, I doubt that the Gospels would be so full of practical teaching if Jesus also didn't attribute great importance to his life.

Anonymous said...

On his last day in Heaven as He prepared for a sojourn on planet earth, I imagine Jesus more concerned with His reception than of His departure.

A martyr's death was (and remains) the inevitable reward of a martyr's life.

Jesus' life remains efficacious only because of His resurrection and the continuity of the Holy Spirit which it availed.

Anonymous said...

"Jesus' life remains efficacious only because of His resurrection..."

... and his Resurrection was made possible only by his death.

Remember what the Angel said to the women at the tomb: I know you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here...

The Angel knows his identity: Jesus who was crucified. I think that's why Paul decided to know nothing among the Corinthians "except Jesus, and him crucified."

I also wonder what conceptual content is left to Christ as the Lamb before the throne, standing "as though it had been slain", if Christ's death is tangential to his teaching ministry. Or if his death was chiefly meant to jump start the Church's ministry among the poor and marginalized, I wonder how to read the great notion in our liturgy: that remission of sins and "all other benefits" accrue to us "by the merits and death" of Jesus and "faith in his blood."

In short, I suppose I wonder how to reconcile a de-emphasized passion and death of Christ with the central place of Christ as the referend of the OT priesthood and sacrifice stuff, which seems so central to the narrative of Scripture, to say nothing of the tradition.

To be Hookerian / three-legged about it, I guess what you're saying sounds reasonable to me. But I wonder how its scriptural? And how is it contiguous with the Christian tradition? (I'm not saying it isn't... but it would be helpful to see it spelled out.)