Monday, January 10, 2011

God's Revelation as Self-Communication, Self-Participation, and Self-Donation

The New Testament Letter to the Hebrews is a dense theological treatise of themes pertaining to salvation, salvation history, and Jesus Christ's role in this process and history. As an introduction to these themes, the opening lines from Hebrew's (today's first reading for daily Mass) declares the following: "Brothers and sisters: In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways 
to our ancestors through the prophets; 
in these last days, he spoke to us through the Son, 
whom he made heir of all things 
and through whom he created the universe, who is the refulgence of his glory, 
the very imprint of his being," (Heb. 1:1-3). Isn't it great that the author started out on a light note? These opening lines are essentially a dense "thesis statement" that the author will then "unpack" throughout the rest of the Letter. It may be very helpful to explore some "keys" to interpreting these opening lines and applying the insights to our daily lives of faith.

To begin with, the author states his conviction that God spoke through the prophets of the Old Testament in "partial and various ways." It's important to understand that God's "partial and various" mode of communicating doesn't imply that God "withholds" from us; rather, God always speaks words that are adapted to the human readiness to receive and understand. Furthermore, the words that God spoke through the prophets weren't just commands and admonitions, but, more importantly, they were words that communicated about God. In other words, God's word has always revealed something about God. Needless to say, God's self-communication is something that must of necessity be partial and "progressive." If God had tried to say all that there was to say about him through the prophets, it would have been the equivalent of trying to drink the Atlantic ocean through a straw!

Second, God's words about himself, or, God's "self-communication", are not spoken in detached fashion. What this means is that when God speaks, God also "participates" in the reality that he is speaking to. We see hints of this in Genesis when God creates. God not only speaks creation into being, but his Spirit hovers over the waters and he also participates at some level in the fashioning of all creatures. God's "self-communication" is, therefore, also "self-participation." Additionally, God's involvement, concern, and presence to the world weaves itself throughout the entire Old Testament. This hints at the fact that God's self-communication was always destined to reach it's fullness through the immersion of that word in our world in Jesus Christ. In other words, when God spoke creation into being, it was through Christ, in Christ, and for Christ (which means for "us" and all creation since Christ represents the fullness of authentic creaturely and human life!). In a very real way, in Jesus Christ, his life, death, Resurrection, and sending of his Spirit, God was "drained" of all he had to give and all he had to say! In the words of an astute four-year old who was asked why Jesus was referred to as the "Word", "because Jesus was all that God wanted to say to us!". Maybe this little one should have written the opening lines to Hebrews!

Jesus as the "imprint" of God's being fully reveals God as one who speaks through self-communication, self-participation, and self-donation. This "imprint" is also meant to be stamped on our way of communicating and being. If we are fashioned in God's image and likeness and made sons and daughters to God in Christ, this implies that our words should likewise reveal something about our selves, result in our participating more fully in the reality that surrounds us (and not just the reality we choose to focus on), and, finally, they should strive to reach the summit of being nothing less than a "draining" of our own lives as a gift for the life of the world. Pat, TOR