August 4, 2009

Dealing with Nazareth - 4

What did Jesus do in Nazareth that pleased God? Frankly, it's easy to answer that question. A commenter named Nick gave a great one right here. But I'm also trying to build a case that the question can be answered historically, if we allow the barest pinch of theological interpretation, but only as much as the situation demands. Not as much as we might doctrinally prefer.

For example, I'm personally and deeply intrigued by Paul's statement to Colosse that it pleased God the Father for "all the fullness" to live in Christ. I've got a sneaking urge to connect that somehow with Jesus wanting to "fill up all [righteousness]" before God said "I am well pleased". Also, the first thing Jesus preaches after his baptism (in Mark's Gospel) is that "the time is filled up." So time, righteousness and Christ were all filled up, by that point, and something about all three fillings gave pleasure to God. Apparently.

That's probably true, but it's not the least stretchy interpretation the world's ever seen. Besides, what "fullness" was Christ filled with? I think I know, at least in part, and your answer to that question might make me shout Amen! But my point at the moment is that the statement itself doesn't give us anything historical to work with. We need references to events, preferably with some temporal marker thrown in.

Another great passage - Matthew's rendition of Isaiah 42 - suggests God's pleasure in his beloved servant (Jesus) has something to do with putting His Spirit upon him, but is that having put (OT) or going to put (NT)? But the NT grammar is a future now past, also. It's beautiful, and we can mine a lot of truth out of it, but it doesn't give us any practical help on why Jesus was pleasing to God in Nazareth.

As I said, there are simpler ways to answer this question. There are lots of good, true, theological and - what's even better - spiritual answers to that question. What makes God happy? Christ. Love. Obedience. Justice. Mercy. Forgiveness. (Amen!) There are far better ways of searching out God's heart than historical inquiry. So obviously, we're doing something a bit different here.

What I'm trying to do is USE this question to figure out what the Gospels directly imply as to what Jesus was actually doing in Nazareth. That is, what specific actions can we reconstruct as part of his early life, starting from this point?

I'm assuming I've made my point that we are going to exclude theology as much as possible. But we will certainly need to include much more data from the Gospels, besides just the baptism. But we start with the baptism. (Finally. With my next post. I promise.)

To be continued...

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