Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Son of God who takes away the sins of the world

John 1:29-34 reads:
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
This passage is jam-packed with some heavy-duty theology, and some of it can be brought to clearer light by considering its structure. I discern a sort of chiastic structure to the passage which might be analyzed in the following:

A - statement of faith ("Here is the Lamb of God")
 B - commission by God ("I came baptizing with water for this reason")
  C - reception of the Holy Spirit ("I saw the Spirit descending from heaven")
 B' - commission by God ("I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize")
A' - statement of faith ("This is the Son of God")

More generally, a chiasm is a literary form which roughly resembles the form of the Greek letter chi, which looks like X. Of course, the words themselves need not be arranged in that order, but only the ideas: first one idea, then another, then a third; then something closely related or a reformulation of the second; and so on with the first. If this chiastic analysis is permissible, then I will draw the following inferences about some of the important theological language being used here.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Consider, for example, the implicit parallelism which is drawn between Christ's being the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world, on the one hand, and his being the Son of God, on the other. Ratzinger talks about this at length in his Introduction to Christianity, where he affirms that, for John, being the "Son" means simultaneously being from God and being for others. This is what John is getting across in the present passage, as well, where he records the testimony of John the Baptist. The same Son of God which is from the Father, and evidenced through the descent of the Holy Spirit, is also the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world through his own self-sacrifice. Being the Son of God, being from God, and being for other people, being willing to offer oneself for the salvation of the world, describes completely the two-sided essence of Christ.

These are the two poles of Christology: on the one hand, Christ is from the Father in a special sense in which no one else can claim to be from God. This is why the Evangelist describes him as God's only-begotten, to distinguish the relation between Christ (the Logos) and the Father from all other possible relations to God. For this reason he is not a creature, either, since all things came into being through him (John 1:3). The relationship between Father and Son is so close, so tight, that while they must be distinguished in some sense, they cannot be understood as two separate beings, so that the relation between the two of them is one of creation. Here we have the starting points of incarnational and trinitarian theology, as is evident.

The baptism of Christ and
the descent of the Holy Spirit
But whereas those are the two poles of incarnational Christology -- Christ's divine origin, on the one hand, and his utter devotion to service of all men, on the other -- the underlying foundation of it all is clearly the Holy Spirit. The reception of the Spirit and its remaining on Christ during his baptism is clearly the center point of the chiasm (assuming, of course, that I have discerned it properly). Christ, the Logos incarnate, receives the Holy Spirit and is led in his human nature by the prompting of the Spirit in everything. And later on, of course, we read that Christ is the one who gives the Holy Spirit in Peter's sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:33; cf. John 16:7). In this way, the activity of the entire Trinity is involved in the whole salvific work: the Father sends the Son, who accomplishes his work through the Holy Spirit.

In the same way that the Spirit was involved in Christ's own human mission, it is also evident from reading the New Testament that the Spirit is what unites us to Christ and makes us children of God through grace, as well. On this matter, it is sufficient to cite from Paul's discussion in Romans 8:
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him (Rom 8:14-17).
The Spirit of God leads the children of God, who through the inner working of the Spirit adopt the position of Christ as child relative to God the Father. The Spirit unites us with Christ, gives us standing next to him as children of God through adoption, so that we might be co-inheritors with him. The Spirit brings us into the inner life of the Trinity through union with Christ, making us children of God.

But the ethical implications of this are now evidently clear. If for Christ, who is by nature the Son of God, being Son meant total obedience to the Father and self-sacrifice for all people, then it can mean no less for us, either. What kind of a son of God are you if you don't resemble the true Son in any way -- if you are not willingly obedient to the Father but only with much struggle and unwillingness, or if you don't care much about other people at all, to serve them and their salvation? Of course, we fulfill these conditions in various degrees, depending upon the level of faith given us and the effort we ourselves put into working out our salvation, etc. If a person at least wants to serve God and other people, this seems to me sufficient for being a son, since a person who is not a member of the family would not have even that resemblance the paradigm. But Ratzinger is worth quoting here:
To John, being a Christian means being like the Son, becoming a son; that is, not standing on one's own and in oneself, but living completely in the "from" and "toward" [i.e., being from God and being for other people]. Insofar as the Christian is a "Christian", this is true of him. And certainly such utterances will make him realize to how small an extent he is a Christian (Introduction to Christianity, p. 187).
 This is something from which we are all of us quite far away. But the same Christ who did all this through the Spirit also stands ready to give us this same Spirit, so that we can be true sons and daughters of God as well: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you (John 16:7). So if I recognize myself as far away from this, and I sense a problem, I have to ask and I will receive! And then I too, through the help of the Holy Spirit and of Christ, can become a son of God and resemble Christ a bit more while still in the body.

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