Posts Tagged ‘human fulfillment’

EPHESIANS 1:3-14

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

“That we … might live for the praise of his glory.” Here is the Bible’s answer to the question that every maturing human being has asked: What’s my purpose? What is the end for which I exist? While contemporary Western answers may offer such goals as individual happiness and prosperity, the Bible invites us to look farther out. It is necessary to see that personal meaning and human purpose, while certainly legitimate concerns in themselves, must be a function of reference to a still higher or larger or more enduring reality. Purpose is always a link to another level or dimension, and the quest for human purpose naturally opens us to the Something More that encompasses our existence, the reality we name God.

For its part, the Bible defines human purpose as giving glory to God. To understand what this means we need to imagine God as the transcendent ground and energy of being, manifested outwardly in the myriad forms of existence. The universe carries this deeper energy into material expression, and has evolved into the astonishing miracles of life, consciousness, and community. Each existing thing “declares the glory of God,” as the psalmist says (Ps 19), simply by virtue of being a visible expression of the invisible ground beneath and within all things. This helps us see that the glory of God and the fulfillment of creation are one and the same. In becoming all we were created to be and by actualizing our deepest potential as human beings, we glorify God.

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ROMANS 5:12-19

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— 13 sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14 Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. 16 And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17 If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

18 Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. 19 For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Earlier cultures, by virtue of being farther upstream and experientially closer to the wellspring of mythological thinking, apparently did not labor as do we, over whether a particular sacred story (myth) was factual or fictional. The story simply was, and its truth lay in the power of the narrative to draw the audience (primitive stories were oral performances, not written texts) into its magical depictions, dramatic situations, and moral conflicts, in order to either confirm or challenge the current worldview and way of life.

It’s important for us to remember that Paul was not a sixteenth-century Protestant reformer, but a first-century religious personality still steeped in the mythological world of his period. The question is not whether or not Paul believed Adam to have been an actual individual who lived as first in the series way back in the mists of primeval time, but rather who is Adam in the constellation of symbols and meanings that is Paul’s present worldview.

When the question is put that way we begin to sense that, for Paul, Adam is an archetype, an ideal type, exemplar, or primary pattern for what human beings are at some primitive level of their psyches. Adam represents what psychologists today call our “inner child,” the part of us that thinks, feels, and reacts out of a center of self-interest, who struggles beneath the burden of insecurity, guilt, and the fear of being out on our own.

His counterpart in Paul’s mythology is Christ, the New Adam, who is the resurrected higher self, our embodiment of grace, freedom, and love.

                                                                                                

In an earlier letter to the congregation in Corinth, Paul makes explicit use of this functional contrast between Adam and Christ, referring to Christ as “the last Adam” who has become for us a “life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:42-49). This creative duality between the two great exemplars of our human mythstory (history interpreted through the templates of myth), one representing our lower and the other our higher nature, was clearly Paul’s theory of choice for explaining the mystery of salvation in Christian terms.

As he set forth this mystery, it was imperative for Paul that his prospective converts to the Christian way see Adam not as simply a figure of past history but as a present force in their own personalities, and the same with Christ as well. Very early in his missionary career Paul had declared, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I [Adam: my lower impulsive self] who lives, but it is Christ [my higher self: the spirit of wisdom and love] who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

As we can see, then, early Christian mythology as formulated by the apostle Paul and others offered to the world a new way of conceiving the nature and destiny of human beings. The revealed path is one of growth, discovery, awakening, breakthrough, and fulfillment.

MATTHEW 3:13-17

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

John’s baptism was for repentance and the forgiveness of sins, although the developing traditions of New Testament Christology tended to dismiss it as irrelevant in the case of Jesus. The mainline tradition had already captured the metaphor of sacrifice as the key to interpreting his crucifixion, which in turn required that the sacrificial victim (Jesus) be sinless and pure.

Consequently the baptismal episode in the Gospel narratives becomes more an ordination and empowerment scene than the resolution of commitment that it likely was for Jesus originally. In the conversation between John and Jesus there at the river we get the strange impression of a photo-op being staged for our viewing than a real moment of decision on Jesus’ part.

The important thing at any rate is that we see this as one more epiphany – another occasion where the truth of Christ is made to “appear through” the man from Nazareth. He wasn’t a mere man, but one who was chosen by God, ordained from above, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and appointed for the work of world salvation.

                                                                                                

Of all the Gospel storytellers, Matthew will make use of Isaiah’s suffering servant motif to the greatest extent, time and again making the comment that Jesus’ passion and death were the fulfillment of this ancient “prophecy.” (We put the word in quotations because prophecy, in the sense of predicting some far-off future event, was not how Second Isaiah himself intended his metaphor to be used.)

The point of it all is that we understand Jesus as God’s servant, as the one through whom the higher purpose of God’s will was fully realized. This means that not only did Jesus accomplish something of strategic and saving value on humanity’s behalf, but that in him we can see God’s purpose for humanity itself.

What is the human being intended to become? How can we envision human fulfillment? Matthew’s answer is: Look at Jesus.

This is a point of such importance that we must be very clear in representing its implications for the spiritual life. What is “seen through” Jesus is a sanctified humanity, an incarnated divinity, the glory of God in the human being – fully alive.

Beyond the several ways the story is told, whether we start from above or from below, whether its axis of meaning turns on the symbols of Pentecost, resurrection, baptism or virgin birth, it is always this image we are being invited to contemplate. But then our contemplation must deepen into faith, our faith must come to focus in decision, and our decision must move us into action – to see, to trust, to choose, and to follow.