Jesus’ death on the cross, his reception of every death dealing act of humanity, is what ties the whole of Scripture together. In Isaiah 53, we read the famous words…
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
The way we’ve told ourselves to understand that is by creating this vengeful God who needed to be appeased or paid back. That image doesn’t tie with the pathos and ache voiced by the prophets of the Old Testament. The rage we hear in their words is not expressed at the people but at the separation the choices the people made. It doesn’t tie with God’s encouragement to Cain to open his heart. It doesn’t tie with God’s actions in establishing the covenant with Abram. It doesn’t tie with Samuel’s explanation to Saul about why he’s losing the kingdom. It doesn’t tie with the Older Testament. God doesn’t hate us. He hates the death we create. He hates the circumstances that evolve out of those deadly choices. He hates what separates us from him.
And this is why it also doesn’t tie with the presence or message of Jesus. This other way of understanding God and God’s law and God’s wrath is why Jesus is the one who brings us the story of the unloving sons. He tells us this story of a father who has a boy who acts like he’s an orphan and another who acts like he is a slave. Neither recognizes the worth or love of their father. So, one leaves until he has no other reasonable choice than to return, with a willingness to act like his brother the “slave.” The other rebels at love because he sees no worth in his brother or his father. Worth is found only in what he is able to accomplish, what he is able to prove by his efforts. Neither one gets it. The love of the father is unknown by each of them. They have not gotten to know, love or even respect the father. The one decided he needed to prove why he should be accepted by the father, never realizing that he owned everything within the father’s realm. The other did what most second children do. He decided to be “other” than the first, never realizing the heart of the one who loved him best. Some dead part within each of these sons kept them from responding to or perhaps even recognizing love.
The father ached and “went out to” each of his sons, came seeking after them to the point of looking weak. This is the image of Jesus. God seeks after us. He does this and allows himself to be diminished in the eyes of those who observe his actions. He humbles himself. He also walks into the consequences of the death created by the heartlessness of his children to come on him. Each may reject the father even more than before. We are not told how they react. We are just invited into the story and the chance to examine our own separation.
We use the word “iniquity” for the activity of sin, but if we recognize it as carrying the tone of “degeneracy,” and not broken rules, we recognize that this is that part of us that doesn’t generate. The parts of us that don’t create life are what Jesus and God walk into in order to establish new life. It also restates what Jesus was experiencing on the cross… and his not being forsaken by God.
(part 2 – next)