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1st Sunday in Lent
March 4, 2001
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Paul is often contrasted with Jesus in that in his writings the proclaimer becomes the proclaimed. The juxtaposition of these two passages is a quite dramatic illustration of this move. In the temptation story in Luke, Jesus emphasizes that there is only one Lord, namely, God. Paul unabashedly speaks of Jesus as Lord. That does not mean that Paul simply identifies Jesus with God. On the contrary, this passage from Romans treats them quite distinctly. The crucial matter is to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and to believe that God raised him from the dead. Still, Paul's focus is strongly on Jesus. Some argue that the religion of Jesus and the religion about Jesus are quite remote from one another. There is certainly a deep tension. But the Jesus Paul proclaims is the one of whom the gospel speak, and if Paul is read in that light, the continuity remains.
It is striking, perhaps paradoxical, that whereas Jesus, whose focus was on God, understood his mission to be to the Jews, Paul, whose focus was on Jesus, emphasized that salvation is available alike to Jew and Gentile. Perhaps he saw more deeply the implication of Jesus work and message than did Jesus himself. Of course, it was God's raising of Jesus from the dead that gave him this assurance. Few passages seem to put greater emphasis on propositional belief than this one. We are to confess orally that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead. According to this passage it seems that those acts justify and save us. Can we believe that today?
Certainly the message seems quite different from Jesus' parable of the Last Judgment and other teachings that verbal statements don't cut it. How can believing that a particular event, Jesus' resurrection, occurred bring one salvation? Does this mean that we are rewarded for believing something that is hard to believe? Surely not. This would be "works-righteousness" of the worst sort. The answer is that it was this event that validated all that went before. To believe that Jesus was raised is to believe that the one who was raised truly points us to God and to what belief in God means in our lives. To believe that Jesus is raised is to believe that Jesus' message is approved of God so that through it we can know who God is and how God relates to us. To believe this in our heart is to be transformed by it.
This understanding that believing in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead gives assurance that Jesus can be our teacher, our guide, our revealer, and our Lord, adds to the importance of the Lucan story of the temptations. This one who can be our Lord was tempted as we are, but resisted. His resistance was through his total commitment to God. To put God first saved Jesus from yielding to temptations that expressed his extraordinary spiritual powers. For us to put God first has less dramatic consequences. It prevents us from sharing in our culture's worship of wealth. It helps us to locate our political feelings under the Lordship of God. It enables us to be content with the small ways in which we can serve. Perhaps Lent can be a time when we take with more fundamental seriousness the need stand aside from the cultural pressures and values that surround us and ask what it means to affirm the Lordship of Jesus.
John B. Cobb, Jr., Ph.D., has held many positions including Ingraham Professor of Theology at the Claremont School of Theology, Avery Professor at the Claremont Graduate School, Fullbright Professor at the University of Mainz, Visiting Professor at Vanderbilt, Harvard, and Chicago Divinity Schools. His writings include: Christ in a Pluralistic Age; God and the World; and co-author with Herman Daly of For the Common Good which was co-winner of the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. He currently serves as co-director for the Center for Process Studies and also teaches a course during the Summer Institute for Process & Faith at the Claremont School of Theology.