Jesus' Creation Theology and Multiethnic Practice

By Balch, David L.; Pryor, Adam | Currents in Theology and Mission, August 2012 | Go to article overview
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Jesus' Creation Theology and Multiethnic Practice


Balch, David L., Pryor, Adam, Currents in Theology and Mission


Reading studies of the historical Jesus, it is surprising that his crossing the ethnic border into Samaria has not been emphasized. (1) This essay suggests that one source of this socially provocative action was Jesus' Jewish reading of Genesis, Leviticus, and Deutero-Isaiah, that is, creation theology in Torah, developed in the context of Roman Imperial colonization of Judea. We will first note some texts in which Jesus appeals to God as Creator, and second, connect this with his integration of ethnic others, in particular Samaritans, among his disciples. Third, Jesus' provocative act of ethnic boundary crossing implies a political/theological friendship ethic different from Aristotle's.

A. Jesus' creation theology

Israel's confession of one, unique God responsible for history, creation, and salvation is central to Jesus' thinking and preaching. These themes are developed especially with regard to how he understands the kingdom of God. His understanding is most akin to the post-exilic writing of Deutero-Isaiah, which emphasizes the eschatological features of this confession (Isa 40:3-4; 41:4, 21-29; 43:10-13; 45:5-7). Much as the prophet announced salvation with the cry, "Your God reigns" (Isa 5:27), so too did Jesus (Mark 1:14-15). (2) However, Jesus is not alone in this process of reinterpretation. For example, while we find Jesus proclaimed the gospel of Deutero-Isaiah to beggars, as with "Blessed are the poor" (Q/Luke 6:20b, alluding to Isa 61:1), Kloppenborg Verbin (3) identifies a Qumran text with the same allusion, "For the heavens and the earth shall listen to his Messiah. ... For He shall heal the critically wounded, He shall revive the dead, He shall send good news to the afflicted (Isa 61.1), He shall satisfy the poor ..., He shall make the hungry rich. ..." (4Q521, trans. Abegg [AcCordance]). Jesus' blessing of the poor is part of a wider search in Judea in a colonial context for how to interpret these scriptures. What then might we highlight as notable themes in Jesus' acts of reinterpretation?

We suggest two critical and related features. First, protology, the original will of God at creation, and eschatology correspond in Jesus' sayings and deeds. Creation and salvation are not disparate concepts with a radical break between them; instead, salvation stands as the end toward which creation moves. This paradigm is not without precedent. Leo Perdue, in his form-critical analysis of the wisdom sayings of Jesus, distinguishes between an older wisdom, as a "paradigm of order," and a newer wisdom, as a "paradigm of conflict." (4) The connection of protology and eschatology we find in Jesus' sayings and deeds fits neatly within this newer paradigm: the saving act of God's eschaton is already in motion within this world in conflict with and working to overcome the evil of this world. Second, we do not stand idly by in the midst of this in-breaking of the kingdom of God. The connection of protology and eschatology implements a wisdom tradition theology of creation with definite ethical ramifications. Jesus implements a wisdom theology of creation (akin to the Perdue's newer paradigm) that is saturated with a radical prophetic ethics of the present. The kingdom of God implements the original will of God as it unfolds a new reality with a distinctive ethical structure by which we participate in the new reality. (5) To draw a hard distinction between the protological and eschatological features of Jesus' theology of creation would be inauthentic; they form a fluid unity rooting his ethical developments.

This context sheds important light on how we can read the threefold command to love that is so central to interpretations of Jesus' ethics: love of neighbor, love of enemy, and love of God. (6) Love of enemies is particularly important because the absolute demand to love enemies (Q/Luke 6:27a; Matt 5:44a) is grounded in a distinctive Jesuanic protological/eschatological creation theology (Q/Luke 6:35; Matt 5:45): "But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

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