Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Forgiveness of Sins

           Israel’s story depicts theology and politics as they are in reality: integrated and interactive. The Covenant with YHWH, by definition, is a political situation with bylaws by which both YHWH and Israel are bound to each other. Obviously YHWH had the upper hand in this particular agreement, as He extended the law to Israel only by His grace, and by no prior worthiness. And His extension of law was not just a convenient way of keeping people “in line”; it laid out the very explanation of what life was to be about and how to go about living it. Likewise, God extended the land. The land was, like the law, intertwined life itself. Here Israel could dwell in safety, worship, plant, harvest, multiply. While this was land promised to Israel, she entered the country as a tenet, not a landowner. Even during at the height of the monarchy, King David identified himself and the nation as sojourners along with Abraham their ancestor (1 Chron 29:15). The nation of Israel was a nation because YHWH formed her, and she had a land because YHWH provided it.
But embedded within the political aspects of Israel, YHWH established the groundwork for an interactive relationship between Himself and His people. The God breathed ritual, the liturgy and the communication built into the temple and the priests of Israel, developed a medium for the people to grow in their understanding of God, learning about Him, experiencing His blessing, and experiencing His forgiveness. The relationship with YHWH progressed from the correct observance of His law, therefore law was theology par excellence.
Israel’s government, therefore, closely integrated her theology, so that a political offens,e was a theological (or relational) one, and a theological offense was a political one. When Israel broke covenant with YHWH, their relationship suffered, their national stability suffered. Ultimately, YHWH expelled the unruly tenants for their apathy and hypocrisy towards the law, something He had extended to guide their lives and to develop the God-man relationship. Obviously God knew the nation was imperfect- He had established a way to deal with sins committed against the covenant and willingly imparted forgiveness to the humble men who approached Him with humility and sacrifice according to the law. But eventually the nation became hopelessly wayward, living in lawlessness and abusing the forgiveness that God freely offered.
Eventually YHWH expelled the tenants from the Land, but He did leave a glimmer of hope for the wayward nation. Sojourners once again, Israel became landless, but the prophets suggested that the relationship between YHWH and Israel had not ended. In fact, God promised a forgiveness of sins as never before, one that would reestablish the people as God’s dwelling place, save the people from foreign rule, and purge the nation from evil. This great forgiveness of sins is what Zechariah and every other righteous Jew longed to see. It was not just about Zechariah’s own misdeeds (though it encompassed them), this was the long awaited eschatological moment of reconciliation, the forgiveness that preceded the renewed relationship with YHWH, the return from exile, and the establishment of righteousness by the Davidic King.
The lingering exilic predicament of Israel ripened her world to what would be later known as “Good News”, and in a sense, Luke and Acts are all about the forgiveness of sins. Jesus, the Logos, fulfilled for wayward Israel those words she had come to hold most dear. Forgiveness had become connected with salvation, because of what it promised to trigger- the New Exodus. Like their forefathers, Israel was under a haughty, sinful foreign power that prevented the reclamation of full sovereignty over the Promised Land. The nation had come in full circle. The land had been taken from them because they had broken covenant with YHWH their God. But the hope of the mercy of God remained; the hope that even though God had sent His people into exile, the same had promised to bring them back out. That is what Zechariah’s prophecy is all about.

76And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Luke 1:76-79

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