Saturday, 16 March 2013

72: Christ transfigures the Old Testament

... and the Old Testament becomes not only a New Testament, but a deeper New Testament, that starts to reveal to us greater depths about Jesus himself. Here is an example, it is taken from the book of Jeremiah chapter 11 verses 18-20.
One of the christian keys in order to enter in and read the Old Testament under the Light of Jesus is given to us by the Fathers of the Church: each Prophet from the Old Testament (Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, ...) is presenting us a side of Jesus. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we start to "see" in the life and words of the Prophet some aspects and lights that belong at the first place to Jesus. To the point that saint Augustine will say that it is Jesus who prays in David Psalms. Because of that, because all the words and all the Prophets are "taken" by Jesus, endorsed, carried, in His light, the New Testament is literally transfigured, like during the Transfiguration Jesus shed his Light on Moses and Elijah. Because of that, all the "Old Testament" belongs to Jesus and therefore belongs to us. For instance, we can pray the Psalms as being Jesus' most intimate prayer.

Here is today's text, taken from the Prophet Jeremiah. You may read it twice
- once as a text written ages ago, before the birth of Jesus, inspired by the Holy Spirit, but apparently written just to tell us about Jeremiah and his journey and mission.
- then re-read it again, and try to contemplate Jesus Himself, and try to hear these words as coming from Him, directly.

"I knew their plot because the LORD informed me; at that time you, O LORD, showed me their doings. Yet I, like a trusting lamb led to slaughter, had not realised that they were hatching plots against me: "Let us destroy the tree in its vigour; let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name will be spoken no more." But, you, O Lord of hosts, O just Judge, searcher of mind and heart, Let me witness the vengeance you take on them, for to you I have entrusted my cause!" (Jer 11:18-20)

"Old Testament" vengeance
Old obstacles, new depths

You would have certainly noticed the word "vengeance". You'd struggle with the concept that God can behave this way. - "This is NOT the God of the New Testament, the God revealed by Jesus" you may react. And you'd be totally right. So you may say to me: - "how then can we take on board this text as inspired, or at least as a text that tells us about Jesus himself? How this text could be a 'deeper New Testament'?".

- Well the first part of the answer is that we need to read the Old Testament with the Light of Jesus. We can't come out of this Light. His light, compared to the light of the literal reading of the Old Testament, is a much deeper light. In fact, Jesus did open to us the Heart of God... opened wide.
- The second part will be then to dig and see how did God use vengeance with Jesus, in Jesus, through Jesus; ok?
Jeremiah's text itself is totally coherent: see he already speaks about a "lamb led to slaughter".
We behaved badly toward Jesus: Peter said that he doesn't know Him, Judas went for an exchange with some money, the crowds who few days before He was healing turned against Him and insulted Him. What was His reply? what was His vengeance? Did He retaliate? How did He retaliate? We wounded and opened his chest and heart, and in return, see: He gave us willingly: Water, Blood and Holy Spirit.
We gave Him evil deeds and He gave us in return, on the Cross, a 'healing power', a transformative power, Mercy, Love, Forgiveness, Transformation, Change. He changed us.

See this other deep description of this "vengeance" of God in Jesus, through Jesus the Lamb:

"4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressionshe was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand." (Isaiah 53:4-10)
The Lamb of God, casting the Fire of Love from Heaven onto us
Did you notice the "balancing movement" of God's supreme Vengeance? He takes evil, and avenges: transforms it into Holiness, i.e. a Higher Good. With Jesus and in Jesus, God created a New World, and this world doesn't have any evil in it (see Revelation 21 and 22 and the parallels in Isaiah). In God there is no evil. Therefore He Transfigures the word and the reality of "vengeance" and makes it His. When we hit God, He replies with Mercy, with Love, with His Power of Transformation: He offers real change. He is the Only One Who has the Power to change the human being, to change any evil things in us into a higher good. This is His revenge.

Old Testament obstacles, New Testament Depths!

During the time of the first generation of Christians, the Apostles time, the Power of the Holy Spirit was so strong that when they opened the Old Testament (the only text of the Scripture that they had at that time) they did find it transfigured and they were enabled to read it as a New Testament.
The Fathers of the Church (the great Bishops of the first 6 centuries) taught us how to activate this Gift of the Holy Spirit.

God indeed, in Jesus, made Everything New, and gave us back His  Resemblance that we lost.

Conclusion: the two levels of reading of the Old Testament

The Old Testament was first a preparation in order for us to be ready to understand and receive God Himself. This is the first level of reading.
The Old Testament then, with the coming of God Himself is transfigured and becomes an even deeper New Testament. This is the second level of reading.


Leonora Butau said...

Thank you Jean, for opening my eyes to the passage from Jeremiah, especially with this fresh understanding of God's "vengeance"! I must admit that when when reading the above passage, I would focus on the earlier verses (reading them in the light of Christ's sufferings) but once I would encounter Old Testament language such as "vengeance" - I would not really know how to "see Jesus", to identify Him, in these words. I have really been enlightened by this! Thank you again.

You have highlighted a few words that are quite interesting to me: "He will see his offspring".This might be obvious, but do I assume that "his offspring" are Christians/disciples born of His blood? Us, as children of God? The Church? How are we to enter into these few words & meaning?

Jean Khoury BSc MA, said...

Thanks Leonora for your comment and for going for the challenge of "seeing a word under a different angle/light". We all struggle with passages like this and, without the deep light of Jesus, we wouldn't know what to do, and how to come to consider the Old Testament as "inspired by God", or better, how to consider that the Old Testament, in such a passage, is of any use.
The word "vengeance" is very strong. And we take it as being only a negative word... we don't give "hope" to that word. In front of the evil, all the evil we can find in the world, God still has an answer, a word to say: changing it; and this is His revenge. His "wrath" is simply a great increase in Love, in Compassion. Us humans, we are very far from thinking that there is any light that can come out of such words. But God is God, and He can open new ways, if we accept it.

Yes, his offspring could be understood as: all the people He saves, on the Cross.