instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Jesus Christ: The Accomplishment of the Old Testament

There is something thrilling about watching a preacher burning for joy at the word of the Lord. Those of us who attended the talk given last night at St. Andrew Apostle Church in Silver Spring, MD, had that experience.

The preacher was Fr. Joseph Alobaidi, O.P., who has spent thirty years or so studying the Bible, specializing in Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament. So it's no surprise that his vision of the Gospel is one of fulfillment.

We all know that Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, but most of us don't know much at all about what the Law and the Prophets really mean. We start with Jesus, then look back into the Old Testament (or let the people who put together the lectionary do it for us) for interesting and noteworthy parallels.1 The fuzzier we are on the Law and the Prophets, the less meaningful we will find the claim that Jesus fulfills them.

Fr. Alobaidi, though, goes further, saying Jesus is the "accomplishment of the Old Testament," which adds Writings to the Law and the Prophets. To understand what he means, we need to know what the Old Testament is, and in what sense it can be "accomplished."

One way of looking at the Old Testament is as a simple story: God makes man (Genesis 1-2), God loses man (Genesis 3), God tries to woo man back (Genesis 4-Malachi 3).

Put this way, the old "God of the Old Testament" caricature as vindictive and judgmental, as contrasted with the beneficent and loving "God of the New Testament," is not merely theological guff, but a flat misreading of the whole story.2 The role of Just Judge is one Adam's sin forces upon God, but throughout history God continues to plead for man to turn to Him with his whole heart, so that He may again be for him his Merciful Father.

What it means, then, to "accomplish" the Old Testament is that Jesus completes the wooing. In Christ the sin of Adam is undone, and mankind is restored to a right relationship with God. Matthew 1-Revelation 22 can be summed up as, "God gets man."

As Fr. Alobaidi put it, the war that began with the serpent in the garden has been won; we're just waiting for the victory parade.

1. One interesting and noteworthy parallel: Fr. Alobaidi said there are four dozen references to Isaiah's Song of the Suffering Servant (Is. 52:13-:53:12) in the New Testament, making it the most referenced Old Testament passage. Something to think about during Lent.

2. It's like saying Boo Radley is the villain of To Kill a Mockingbird: when you hear that, you know you're hearing someone who didn't read very carefully.