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Interpreting the Resurrection II

By Peter Sellick - posted Wednesday, 20 April 2016


In my last post I attempted to reach a concept of the Resurrection of Jesus that respected Scriptural texts, the constraints of theology and the demands of practical reason. My conclusion was that the writers of the texts used a metaphor of the body much like Paul's metaphor of the Church as the body of Christ. The function of this metaphor was to point to the presence of Christ in the body of the Church available to believers in the preaching of the Word and participation in the sacraments.

In this essay I will extend the metaphor to the lives of believers. An interesting text, overlooked as a resurrection narrative is the parable of the Prodigal Son, or more felicitously, the parable of the Loving Father. On his return from the far country where he squandered his father's inheritance, the father speaks to his other son who has grumbled at the injustice of welcoming the prodigal home with a feast. His words are;

"Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life, he was lost and has been found." (Luke 15:31-32.)

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I have chosen this parable because it uses resurrection language without referring to someone actually dying and is obviously a parable rather than an account of events. This frees from our problems with bodies coming back to life and sets the meaning of resurrection in terms of our journey to the far country where we come to grief and a subsequent return to the Father who welcomes us with a feast.

We can all identify with this parable. Resurrection is like returning home after being lost in a strange and distant place. It is helpful to remember that Paul identifies sin with death. The experience of the prodigal is an experience of sin in which he demands his inheritance from his father, treating him as already dead, and goes away from the father's love. His resurrection occurs when he turns from sin and alienation to return to the Father.

Having dispensed with ideas about the immortality of the soul as being a Greek notion that is alien to the thought of Israel, we are left with what happens in the body. Salvation is salvation in the body. This is supported by the New Testament emphasis on the "now but not yet" establishment of the Kingdom of God as an earthly reality.

But again we must look closer at what this entails. The writers of the New Testament used Old Testament texts to indicate the establishment of a just and peaceful society in which:

"The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them." (Isaiah 11:6)

They envisioned a renewal of the whole earth that has been corrupted by the sin of men. Israel did not long for life after death in a cloudy heaven but for political freedom and justice and a life lived long in the land.

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The other Old Testament theme is that of idolatry: the worship of what is not God. The idols of the nations were seen as dumb; it was only the God of Israel who could speak and create. Worship of dumb gods produces a loss of freedom. We give ourselves over to a thing.

Those who lived in the ancient world would not have understood a freedom without ties. In a hierarchical society everyone had a "lord" over them. Christians were free only as Jesus was Lord. Thus Christian freedom existed as a paradox; to be a slave of Christ was to be truly free because He is the epitome of freedom.

The ministry and death of Jesus demonstrates radical freedom in the face of political power, the demands of the family, the demands of the religious authorities and from self-ambition. While this may sound like an invitation to sixties hippydom in which all responsibility is shrugged off so that the individual may "be what you wanna be, do what you wanna do, yeah!" it is in fact a demanding and disciplined road.

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About the Author

Peter Sellick an Anglican deacon working in Perth with a background in the biological sciences. He has a website called Coondle Art Presentations.

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