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Christ is Our Peace

April 6th, 2011 No comments

“Christ is Our Peace” (Ephesians 2:11-22; 2 Corinthians 5:14-21)
By Pastor Peter Goerzen
April 3, 2011, Grace Hill Mennonite Church

Boundaries: Why we build
As we traveled throughout the Holy Land this past January, we came to appreciate why Paul liked to talk so much about walls and buildings and stones. Paul saw stones jutting out of the land everywhere he turned; he passed through walls upon entering the major cities; to see a structure even a thousand years old was not uncommon.

These buildings, it seems, were enduring monuments to the legacy and values of those who built them. If you wanted to demonstrate your conquest or superiority or dominion over someone else, you’d break down their most significant buildings (especially their holy places), and build your own on the very same spot. Like everyone else, Paul knew all about the importance of building sturdy structures.

If Paul told parables like Jesus did, I’m almost certain he worked bodies and buildings into his stories. And he returns again to tearing down and building up in this beautiful and powerful passage from Ephesians 2.

Well, the first thing Paul sees here is a hedge, a fence, a wall, a barrier of some sorts. Now as a good Jew, Paul understands well how come barriers and boundaries are important. Paul knows well his people’s long and “rocky” history among the nations. He is well aware of his people’s long struggle to remain loyal to God amid the lures of neighboring deities.

He knows the story of the faith crisis of repeated exile. He even now experiences the melting pot effect of repeated occupying forces. The fact that every NT book is written in Greek and not Hebrew (the “official” language of ancient Israel) is testament in itself to the cultural mudslide of occupation.

What does it mean to be a part of the distinctive covenant people in a cosmopolitan world of occupation and foreign hegemony? For Paul and his fellow Jewish people, “One way of nurturing covenant faithfulness was to instill a clear sense of difference from those not of the covenant.”1 A letter circulated among the Jewish community over a hundred years before Paul makes it clear:

To prevent our being perverted by contact with others or by mixing with bad influences, [Moses]. . . hedged us in on all sides with strict observances connected with meat and drink and touch and hearing and sight.2

Like many occupied peoples experiencing cultural pressure to give up their distinctiveness, Paul’s people put up barriers in the form of strict observances to maintain their particularity and identity as God’s covenant people.

Today, we may laugh at some of the disagreements of our faith heritage – over whether or not men could wear ties, or appropriate hair length for women, or zippers versus buttons – but these were not mere childish quibbles. These were the presenting issues of communities seeking to maintain their distinctive identity in a cosmopolitan world of seduction. The Anabaptist tradition in particular, like Paul’s own tradition, has known the importance of being different, of “radical obedience to God’s commands. . . [maintaining] the boundaries to ensure the integrity of the community’s faith and practice.”3

Paul knows that boundary markers between what is acceptable and what is not are important, and he recommends his own fair share of boundaries for the churches receiving his letters. I think Paul would encourage us to keep our boundaries before us.

We have a need for boundaries to restrict what influences us.4 We know the reality is that we need boundaries for the well-being and safety of our children. We need boundaries within ourselves – of how far we will go, of what we will and will not do.

We too need boundaries to maintain our identity. We need boundaries between ourselves and others. I need to know the boundaries of what makes me uniquely “me,” of who I am with respect to others. Where I end and where you begin. And our community of faith needs boundaries to maintain our identity.

We even need some sort of boundary between ourselves and God, so that we bear in mind that for all our skill and knowledge and intelligence, we are neither the Creator nor the Redeemer, nor the ultimate Judge; so that we remember it is God’s kingdom to build not ours.

As a good Jew, Paul knew full well the importance of boundaries and barriers.

Boundaries: When walls become eyesores
These boundaries and barriers are important to Paul – no doubt! – but here, in Ephesians, these barriers and walls have become for Paul a real eyesore on the horizon of faith. Centuries of war and hatred had driven the walls higher and higher and thicker and thicker. Gateways from one side to the other were closed off.

[It’s kind of like the story I once heard of a pastor whose church was just around the corner from a night club. And this pastor would frequent this night club to visit with the regulars there, and started really connecting with some of these folks. Well, his congregation heard about it, and they were not happy with the pastor. It’s not that they didn’t want to open their doors to whoever might come. They just feared the pastor was sending the message (especially to their children) that what went on at the night club – and particularly what went on when people left the night club two-by-two – was perfectly OK. Of course the congregation was right to want there to be some boundaries, but perhaps they had forgotten that Jesus got himself a reputation for associating with the wrong kind of folks, because for some people, that’s the only way he could invite them to follow him.]

Paul is looking specifically at this wall separating Jews from Gentiles, insiders from outsiders, a wall that was no doubt keeping the covenant people distinct. The problem is that this wall is obsolete – a part of the old regime, the old community, the old order. Gentiles who were following Christ were being excluded from the new people of God. A new order – a new creation – has arrived in Jesus Christ, and this dividing wall must now fall.

John Howard Yoder gets it exactly right: “The messianic age has begun; Paul simply proclaims that fact. . . Because it has begun, status differences – whether sexual, ritual, ethnic, or economic – are overarched in a new reality.”5

From the viewpoint of the folks inside the wall, the Gentiles were once “without Christ” (v. 12) – that is, “without the Messiah” – because this gigantic wall excluded them from the community to which the Messiah would come. As outsiders, beyond the wall, they were “aliens to the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise,” and they were therefore without hope, and from a certain perspective, without God.

But, now in Christ Jesus,” Paul says, that has all changed. The shocking surprise of God’s grace has arrived. Paul proclaims that through the cross, those who used to be outsiders, those who were once far off, those who were once in exile,6 have been brought near. Paul nearly quotes the famous “welcome home” text to the people who were in Exile in Babylon from Isaiah 57:19: “Peace, peace, to the far and the near” (cf. Eph. 2:17). The Gentiles have come home to the family of God.

Building Up
But “by no means” does Paul underestimate the enmity that exists between Jews and Gentiles. These were not only the theological skirmishes that continue to exist between Catholics and Protestants, or between Protestants and Anabaptists, or however you want to draw those boundaries. This was the life-and-death conflict of centuries of occupation and revolt, of centuries of hatred and dominance and fear.7 The wall was its own sort of peace agreement – if you can call peace by separation peace.

Yet together, they have become part of God’s family. The ugly wall has come down, and a new and sturdy structure is emerging and growing by the dynamic and surprising power of the Holy Spirit. Again, Yoder: “The message is that Christ has begun a new phase of world history. The primary characterization of that newness is that now within history there is a group of people whom it is not exaggerating to call a ‘new world’ or a ‘new humanity.’”8 The structure of the new order is emerging on the ruins of the old, as the living Christ leads erstwhile enemies across the old walls and presents them together before God.

The church Paul envisions

is not a collection of individuals, each with their own personal peace arrangement with God. The church is the familial community of reconciled enemies. . . If true to its Lord and its calling, the church is as such always a community on the lookout for walls to breach, for enemies to befriend – with each other and with God.9

When it comes to people estranged from God and God’s family, there’s always more room in God’s household. How odd and disheartening to think, then, how often throughout the past two millennia Christians have lined up opposite each other on the battlefield, or in the courtroom, or in those verbal and emotional hostilities – instead of gathering around the table as God’s family.

Yet we are not merely reconciled with each other. Those who were once without God, Paul says, are reconciled in one body to God. The widest and highest wall is finally not between two groups. As Mennonite scholar Thomas Yoder Neufeld observes, “Enmity in the human community constitutes a violation of God’s designs for humanity, and is thus a terrible affront to the loving Creator.”10

He goes on:

All of Ephesians is one long celebration of the fact that the same God whom humanity has offended is the one who has taken the initiative to end enmity. . . God has taken the initiative to reclaim humanity through Christ. The ultimate actor in this drama of Christ as peace is none other than God.11

During his career, the famous Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder spilled not a little ink to share with the wider Christian community the centrality of peace and reconciliation to the gospel of Jesus Christ. He puts it boldly: “If reconciliation between peoples and cultures is not happening, the Gospel’s truth is not being confirmed in that place.”12

Here in Ephesians 2 (one of Yoder’s favorites), Paul so eloquently proclaims that through none other but the cross, Jesus has made peace, has reconciled both groups to God, has put hostility to death by death, has broken down the dividing wall of hostility between enemies of God and God’s family, and has created a new building, a new humanity in place of the two. Indeed, the cross reveals that Christ himself is our peace, and that just as we have been reconciled to God through the cross, so too we are given the calling and mission of reconciling others – Amen!

Christ is our Peace
In closing, you may have noticed that I find the theological intricacies of this beautiful text to be fascinating and inspiring (and you can thank me later for letting you get home in time for lunch), but this is not finally some idea to be passed around in clever books or theology classrooms. This is finally a message of joy and hope to be proclaimed and to be lived.

When I read this beautiful passage of Scripture, especially during this Lenten season when the cross so tangibly awaits us on our pilgrimage, I cannot help but to be filled with wonder and hope for this broken world, because at the far end of every broken relationship, there is the cross; atop every wall of hostility, the cross of Jesus Christ is persistently hammering in cracks; for every estranged member of God’s family Jesus speaks the simple word, “Peace, come home.” Beyond every division and distinction and far beyond the reaches of any exclusion and enmity, I see Christ gathering up the new humanity from amid the ruins of boundaries and barriers, piecing together the household of God, as the new family of God.

If you would have asked me on June 1, 2002, how many brothers and sisters I had, I would have said, “Two. My two brothers James and John.” My brothers whom I dearly love. My brothers who share my genealogy, my brothers who share with me our family’s history and story and legacy of faith. My brothers who even probably all agree 90% of the time.

But the next day, that changed for me when I was baptized into the body of Christ and the family of God. That day, as I was joined to Christ and to his Body, I gained 200 brothers and sisters in my congregation, as part of the new family of God. That day, I gained over 100,000 brothers and sisters across the nation in my immediate Mennonite family; and 1.6 million brothers and sisters worldwide. If you ask me how many brothers and sisters I have, I can no longer say that I have just two brothers; now I have over 2 billion brothers and sisters worldwide – most of whom don’t look like I do, most of whom don’t think like I do, most of whom don’t speak like I do, and most with whom I have significant differences of theology, church, worship, and discipleship.

But we’re all one family because God has said so through the Cross of Christ, whom we all believe in, whom we all trust in, whom we all devote our lives to, whom we all seek to follow in truth in life. Some spend year in contemplating the many mysteries of God. Some have devoted their lives to worship; others to service and peacemaking, to being the face and hands of Christ; others to inviting folks outside the old wall to come on in; but all of us flow together into the one body of Christ

What that means to me is that whenever I meet someone whom I may consider to be an enemy or an outsider or a stranger – whether that person is a part of my family of faith or not – I am called to have the very same mind as Christ Jesus, who emptied himself even to the point of death on the cross. I’m called to participate in the divine nature (as Peter put it) – the nature of God revealed first and foremost at the cross, where we see the primary means of God’s dealing with enemies (and outsiders and strangers): by absorbing hatred, violence, and even death itself by death on the cross.

Because I know that if there is ever any victory I can win, if there is any barrier or wall I can climb over, if there is ever any enemy I can overcome, if there is ever any stranger or alien I can embrace, it is not by my will (and perhaps not even truly of my desire), not by my power or strength or wisdom or abilities or any argument I could muster, nor by any carnal weapon made of human hands I could ever wield against any enemy –

But if I ever overcome anything, it is by the word of testimony to Jesus Christ, and by the blood of the Lamb who was slain (Rev. 12), the blood through which we have all been brought near to God (Eph. 2:13), the blood which I trust courses through my own veins by the power of Christ who lives within me (Gal. 2:20), the same blood that I myself am called not to keep to myself but to pour out for others as I also seek to carry in the body the death of Jesus, that his life may also be made visible in me (2 Cor 4:10) in reconciliation, in welcome, and in embrace.

It is the Christ who lives within me through whose death God seeks reconciliation with God’s enemies, and through whose life God saves (Rom. 5:10). It is this Christ who tears down hostile walls and who is himself the cornerstone of the household of God, in whom we are all joined together and grow in the Spirit into a dwelling-place for God, a truly sturdy, beautiful, and enduring household of God, by the reconciling grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, by the boundless love – even of enemies, strangers, outsiders, and aliens – of God, and by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

Notes:
1 Thomas Yoder Neufeld, Ephesians, Believers Church Bible Commentary, 116.
2 Letter of Aristeas 139, 142; quoted in Yoder Neufeld, 116.
3 Yoder Neufeld, 134.
4 Or how it influences us. Spending time with a group of narcotics users could influence us positively – toward greater compassion and healing presence; or negatively – toward substance abuse.
5 John Howard Yoder, Body Politics, 37.
6 Paul’s language here hearkens back to Isaiah 52:7 and Isaiah 57:19 – two texts, interestingly enough, aimed at comforting the Hebrew exiles.
7 Of course, the 16-century violence does give us a window into the persistent suspicion, fear, and hatred.
8 Yoder, 37.
9 Yoder Neufeld, 134.
10 Yoder Neufeld, 121.
11 Yoder Neufeld, 121.
12 Yoder, 38.

Locked In

February 18th, 2011 No comments

“Locked In” (Luke 16:19-31)
by Pastor Peter Goerzen
February 6, 2011, Grace Hill Mennonite Church

A story of the great beyond

There are lots of Jokes about Saint Peter and the “Pearly Gates.” You’ve probably heard your fair share or even more than you’d care to hear. But one of my favorites goes like this:

There was a long line at the Pearly Gates, and Saint Peter was poring over Book of Life of the Lamb who was Slain, and scratching his head. Well, there was a righteous fellow who’d lived a good life, done all the right things, and he had waited in line for hours. When he got to the front of the line, he asked St. Peter what the hold up was all about.

Peter replied, “Well, this happens from time to time. We’re having some trouble finding rooms for everyone, but I think I know what the hold up is. I’ve sent a couple of angels to investigate.” Soon the angels got back and said, “You were right, Peter. Jesus is out on the other side of heaven, hoisting the sinners and tax collectors over the back gate again!”1

Well, people were telling stories about the great beyond, about the “heavenly hereafter,” in Jesus’ day as well. It seems that rabbis – teachers such as Jesus – were especially fond of reciting these clever and imaginative stories.2 Surely Jesus was familiar with the ways such stories can communicate truths of eternal significance, and he told one about a nameless rich man and a beggar named Lazarus who meet up with Father Abraham in the great beyond.

Clothed in linen, Clothed in sores

Behind a high gate, there lived a rich, prosperous man. And every day, this rich man dined on the finest of foods – the freshest of the vine and garden, the most tender of the flock. And his closet was filled with fine linens from Egypt and purple cloth made from thousands upon thousands of seashells. He wore the Armani suits of the first century – the kind that presidents and CEOs keep in their closets, by the dozen. He shopped at his suburban shopping center. He had the finest chariot in town. He was living the dream; in everything he did, he prospered, there behind his high gate.

Now just in front of this gate, you see, there was another man. And his only clothes were the sores that the outcast dogs licked as they awaited his death. He was in constant torment, longing for a cool sip of water to quench his thirst, aching for the food the rich man so casually threw away. Lying there, just beyond the gate, he was conveniently invisible to the folks who mattered, just like our 1.2 billion hungry neighbors today, or the 30,000 children who starve to death each day.3

Surely this man’s parents would have chosen a different name than Lazarus, which means “the one whom God has saved,” had they known his future of suffering, lying there day after day, just outside the rich man’s gate.

Locking our gates

Of course, the rich man had no knowledge of this poor beggar’s name. He had made a name for himself so he didn’t have to pay attention to the likes of this beggar, if he could even see him all the way down by the gate.

Did not the rich man’s wealth prove his righteousness and the poor man’s torment prove his own wickedness? Who would dare to intervene with the divine judgment being visited upon this man in his agony? Certainly none of the Pharisees who were listening in to this parable, that’s for sure!

Fortunately, we have gates for such things – gates to separate the righteous from the wicked, lest their contagion spread. We have walls to keep suffering out and comfort in, so it doesn’t have to trouble those who have more important affairs to keep in order. The rich man couldn’t busy himself worrying about which anonymous Lazarus had let himself in to freeload off of the abundant table this time. That’s why we have gates, isn’t it?

No, the rich man had no time for this beggar Lazarus, who was so thin and miserable that as far as anyone was concerned, in the grand scheme of things, he was of no more consequence than the chaff that the wind blows away – here today and gone tomorrow. We lock our gates to keep the insignificant things out.

Locked in

But it turns out that the gates we build have an eternal significance. The rich man and Lazarus both died, the story goes. And the rich man’s life – everything he thought was important – crumbled away beneath him as the wall, the gate he had put up, became “a chasm driven down unimaginable depths.”4 The wall he had erected to guard his comfort and security, you see, had become his own eternal prison. He tried to lock the likes of Lazarus out, but he locked himself in. Permanently.

Shane Claiborne tells the tragic story of a friend’s family whose house caught fire. Their house was so heavily fortified with locks and bars that those inside could not escape – not even through a window, and everyone perished, “in part because they had so effectively locked themselves in.”5

Security becomes our prison. Gates and fences lock us in.

Next week in the evening, Katherine and I will show you pictures of a place called Masada, which means “Fortress.” Herod the Great fortified Masada on the top of a mountain along the Dead Sea. And this mountain is surrounded on all sides by deep chasms and valleys. Now Herod, you may have heard, was a tremendously paranoid man, and he had thousands upon thousands of gallons of water hauled up this desert mountain6 – more water than there was for the Temple in Jerusalem. He had grain bins and reserves for grapes. If ever he were in trouble, he could flee to his Masada. It was the fortress to end all fortresses, this Masada.

The fortress was later taken by a group of extremists during the Jewish rebellion against Rome. When Rome came to lay siege in the years to follow, legend has it that they committed mass suicide, locked within the walls of their own fortress, shut in by their own gates.

As we were leaving Masada, this fortress, Patty Shelly, our guide, said she likes to take groups to Masada, so we can see the tremendous fortification, and the tremendous effort people go to feel secure, to build these fortresses, these Masadas. And then she read Psalm 18:2, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress (“my Masada”), and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” And, as we were looking up at Masada, she said, “The Bible envisions a different sort of security.”

Whose hell?

It’s the poor man Lazarus, who had no gates to keep him comfortable, no fortresses to guard his security, who got the angel ride to Father Abraham’s bosom, where he finally enjoyed the security and comfort that he could once only dream of as he stared through the rich man’s gate.

As for the rich man, he was buried and entered Hades (or Sheol in the OT7), the land of the dead, where the flames of torment engulfed him in the daily agony he had never before even paused to consider in his comfort – the agony that daily tore at the poor man Lazarus just across the gate, the tormenting hunger in his bones and the sores constantly burning at his skin as he had lain at the rich man’s wall.

Though Jesus doesn’t use the word here, hell is the strongest word we have to describe that kind of agony,8 and we are left to ponder whether the suffering hell of the innocent – the hungry, the bleeding, the children, the heirs of Lazarus – or the suffering hell of the complacent and wicked is more troublesome to our sensitivities and frightening to our souls.9

Now the rich man was evidently religious – he called out to Father Abraham; he knew Moses and the Prophets – the Scriptures – as well as any Pharisee. And as a rich man, he had surely made a name for himself, but now it was he who was lying just beyond the gate and begging for a drop of water, while Lazarus, who “had lived nameless in the shadows of misery,”10 was now seated securely next to Father Abraham, and was called by his name, Lazarus, for truly it was he “whom God has saved.”

Since we’ve been back, people have often asked us if we were scared at all, being in the Middle East, or in communities where tensions run high. As I’ve thought about it, I wonder if I should be much more scared of my own comfortable neighborhood in North Newton.

“Jesus warns that we can fear those things which can hurt our bodies or those things which can destroy our souls, but we should be more fearful of the latter.”11 Is there any scarier place for a follower Christ to be than in a nice, safe, comfortable neighborhood, detached from the hungry, the thirsty, stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned, from those who lie suffering on the other side of whatever physical or psychological gates we have created?12

Every time we lock someone out of our hearts or our compassion, every time we are too repulsed to care, too frightened to love, too self-righteous to embrace, too proud to forgive, we lock ourselves into our complacency, trapping ourselves with the rich man in the grave of isolation.

In Israel and the West Bank, we were reminded of how we’ve been building our gates and walls for millennia: Jericho, Dan, Megiddo, Jerusalem, Berlin, Arizona and Texas, and in countless human hearts. And the more gates and complacency and fear for comfort we have, we have to wonder how much farther away from God’s tears we are moving and how much closer to gates and chasms of the rich man’s hell we are stepping.13

Lift up your heads, O ye Gates!

The parable of Lazarus and the rich man ends on a bleak note. The despair of the endless chasm dividing the rich man and Lazarus invites us to rewrite the ending for ourselves, to heed the call of Moses, the Prophets, and the Risen Lord.

Jesus doesn’t desire his followers to share in the rich man’s fate; Jesus is in the business of lifting people like Lazarus out of whatever hell they’re in. Jesus is in the business of casting out the hell that burns so strongly within his enemies with love and forgiveness.

Jesus, you see, is in the business of walking through gates. Paul got the message when he wrote that Jesus, through the cross, has broken down the dividing wall between us. In Revelation’s vision of God’s future, Jesus has the keys to the gates of Death and Hades (aka Sheol, the abode of the dead) in his pocket, ready to to speak comfort and redemption to those who have suffered and died (Rev. 1:17-18).

Jesus mentions Hades just a couple of other times, most notably when he says to good old Saint Peter, “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:18).

Now often we think of the church fending off the gates of Hades, the church resisting the demons attacking us from the skies. But gates are defensive structures, designed to keep adversaries out. Maybe what Jesus has in mind for us is to be raiders of the gates of Hades, persistently attacking Hades’ sin, violence, starvation, and suffering with endless love and compassion.14 The gates of Hades can never withstand the onslaught of God’s grace.

In our meeting last week, we heard about how followers of Christ at the homeless shelter are joining Jesus in loving people out of their own personal hells. Or think of how many more Lazaruses – more “people whom God has saved” – God is creating every time MCC sends a container of school kits or a box of canned meets right through the gates separating. Most importantly, think of what happens every time God gives us the strength to fling open the gates we’ve placed between us and “those whose suffering would disrupt our comfort.”15

That’s what God’s future looks like, you see. In the New Jerusalem, in God’s kingdom, “the gates will never be shut by day – and there will be no night.” Let’s pray for the courage to embody a little taste of God’s future today, for God’s sharpened word to disturb us a little, to overwhelm Hades’ gates with God’s grace, to walk through the gates of comfort and into “a world where people hunger and thirst, and claim them in love as our brothers and sisters, which, of course, in God’s sight they are,”16 to learn to know their names and share their tears.

And we trust that Jesus will give us the boost we also need to get over the gate.

Notes:
1 Adapted from Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, Jesus for President, 290.
2 Fred Craddock, Luke, Interpretation: A Commentary for Teachers and Preachers, 195. Craddock says there were at least seven versions of this story alone among the rabbis. It appears that Jesus likely borrowed a popular story and modified it to make his point.
3 Ronald Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, 5th ed. (2005), 2-3.
4 David Buttrick, Speaking Parables, 218.
5 Claiborne and Haw, 291.
6 It had a capacity of 1.3 million cubic feet of water storage.
7 Sheol is the abode of the dead in the OT, where all go (Eccl. 9:2-6, 10). Hades (interestingly enough from Greek mythology) is the LXX rendering of Sheol. The KJV misleadingly translates it in multiple ways, including hell, grave, and pit. NIV comes closer with using “grave” throughout. NRSV is probably best, leaving it as Sheol.
8 I use the term rhetorically, but not lightly. Jesus’ use of hell is itself by definition rhetorical, and serious. Gehenna (translated hell) was a burning garbage heap in the Hinnom Valley outside Jerusalem, which became a metaphor for judgment. Bodies were also thrown into the valley by various conquering armies to be burned. Perhaps for us today, “Auschwitz” captures some of the rhetorical and emotive freight of “Gehenna.”
9 The question, however, is not rhetorical. Are we more troubled by the suffering of the innocent? Or are we troubled by the implications of this story for those of us who are rich? This is a story of reversal of comfort and suffering. Lazarus experiences the rich man’s comfort. The rich man experiences Lazarus’s hell. While the parable, like our modern “St. Peter at the Gate” jokes, does not set out to articulate a detailed vision of the afterlife (it’s rather inconsistent with the NT vision, much like our jokes are), it does make the claim that wealth, security, and gates are not morally neutral but hold eternal significance.
10 Claiborne and Haw, 291.
11 Claiborne and Haw, 292.
12 Cf. the very dire consequences of detaching ourselves from the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned, Mt. 25:44-46.
13 Claiborne and Haw, 293.
14 The interpretation of this passage is much debated, with good arguments all around. Such is the gift of metaphor. One might also argue that rocks don’t move and can’t attack a gate. I would say the gates won’t prevail against the church (not the rock), because the church is built on the bedrock of confession. Or is “gates of Sheol/Hades” a metaphor for the “power of death/evil?” At any rate, Jesus seems to take the offensive against evil; the church is called to do the same.
15 Claiborne and Haw, 293.
16 Buttrick, 218.