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The Messianic Future as Disruption

“The messianic future proper to Christian faith does not just confirm and reinforce our preconceived bourgeois future.  It does not prolong it, add anything to it, elevate it, or transfigure it.  It disrupts it.  ‘The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.’  The meaning of love cuts across the meaning of having.  ‘Those who possess their life will lose it, and those who despise it will win it.’  This form of disruption, which breaks in from above to shatter the self-complacency of our present time, has a more familiar biblical name: ‘conversion,’ change of heart, metanoia.  The direction of this turning, the path it takes, is also marked out in advance for Christians.  Its name is discipleship.

–Johann Baptist Metz, The Emergent Church (New York: Crossroad, 1986), 2.

4 Comments

  1. vassilip wrote:

    from a worldly-bourgeois point of view is surely a disruption. but, although according to the Pauline teaching we can see it more as a radical transformation of our nature (which of course is a disruption), the political aspects of that teaching (our messianic state of being now and here, in a civil society) remain meticulously ambiguous. that aporetic setting might be the most radical feature of the Gospel; more than the disruption (which is generally messianic and not precisely Christian) is.

    Wednesday, February 27, 2008 at 4:21 am | Permalink
  2. The idea that the political aspects of the church are at the core ambiguous, is a thoroughly modern way of understanding communal formation, or at least it seems to me. If we leave individualism behind, then this new creation is not simply one’s own self, but an entire social group — one that proclaims and remembers (to be Metzian) that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not. It is this proclamation that drives the “politics,” or social engagement, of the body of Christ, resulting not in an ambiguous politic, but a body politic that is so foundationally different – radically, categorically different one could say – that to view it from the state’s point of view is to see foolishness in misunderstanding.

    It is this foolishness that turned over the moneychangers in the temple and I would argue that doing such an act is not ambiguous. It is an act of proclaiming the rule of God over the bourgeois/ruling, hypocritical class that seeks to tame Christianity by killing its proclaimer and tempting the church with wealth and “peace.” Now, accepting such an offer seems to result in an ambiguous politic and I would argue that while Paul was a person of his time, he still understood the church as a new creation that takes its identity from Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of Israel’s messianic hope.

    Wednesday, February 27, 2008 at 1:42 pm | Permalink
  3. vassilip wrote:

    > d.w.horstkoetter:

    ambiguity here refers to Pauline “as if not” (1Kor.7:29-30); which, of course, is a clear denial of civil society and her law, but without replacing her by any alternative political or ideological structure: the double commandment of love, the denouncement of private property, or St.Paul’s messianism are definitely political, but it is impossible to be formated in any definite frame of political acts–since Christ’s kingdom is not of that world, the exercise of love will remain an agon, a holy foolishness. i.e., messianic life denies any definite worldly utopia, both that of an irenic civil state and of any revolutionary eden.

    Thursday, February 28, 2008 at 3:56 am | Permalink
  4. Vassilip,

    I think that part of the key to 1 Cor. 7:29-30 is in 31 “For the present form of this world is passing away.” And in fact, one could argue from the context, that Paul is setting up the audience to 1. shed civil society (as you’ve said), but also 2. to look forward to the future hope that is realized in, say, the remembrance of Christ through the eucharist (1 Cor. 11.17-34) and a new social order (or social body) formed by the Spirit: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12.12-13). This forms a community, the church, centered around the remembrance of someone who suffered immensely.

    This forms a politic for the church that is fundamentally a body of people who are given identity by one who suffered, rather than, say, one’s own power or money. You’re quite right that this is no new state or revolutionary eden in the conventional sense, and you’re right to point out that this is very different; however, this does reformulate one’s way of existing and therefore political dynamic. To identify with the poor and suffering, in light of the past (anamnesis) and future (eschaton) is a very political act that is not ambiguous. The death of Jesus wasn’t ambiguous, rather, in Luke, it was the fulfillment of Jesus’ call to preach God’s rule — Jesus didn’t back down, but instead confronted the oppressive structures of power. In a real sense, we do not make a new order, we already exist in a new order that doesn’t work so well in capitalism or the state’s violence. And, I think it could be argued quite easily, the greatest fulfillment of this new order is death — a sacrificial death that proclaims God’s rule at the hands of the powers that be. To exist within the community of Jesus is to exist in a community called to confront and heal, which doesn’t seem ambiguous to me, rather it works on an entirely different plane while rejecting the structures humans put into place.

    Thursday, February 28, 2008 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

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