January 24, 2021

Palm/Passion Sunday: Richard Rohr on a Credo of Adjectives

Morning Cross (1)

Palm/Passion Sunday
Richard Rohr on a Credo of Adjectives

On Sundays in Lent this year I’m sharing some things I’ve been learning from Richard Rohr.

As Jesus enters Jerusalem on the final week of his life, the Gospel of John describes what was about to happen in these terms: Jesus was entering into his “glory” (see John 12:23).

This is a continual thread throughout John, beginning with the confession in chapter one: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (1:14). The background of this statement is found in Exodus 33 —

Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”

When God “passed by” Moses, the “name” he declared to him was the description Richard Rohr cites today from Ex. 34:6-7.

Moses experienced God’s glory when he heard God’s own affirmation of his steadfast love for his people. John testified that he and the other disciples experienced God’s glory when they looked into the face of Jesus the Messiah and saw that same steadfast love, the love that led him through Holy Week to the cross.

This is a week to experience the glory of God. May each of us find it in the faithful love displayed in Jesus.

Morning Cross (1)Yahweh, Yahweh, a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and abounding in faithfulness. For the thousandth generation, Yahweh maintains his kindness, forgiving all our faults, transgressions, and sins.

• Exodus 34:6-7

In this marvelous early affirmation, we have, in the words of Walter Brueggemann, “a formulation so studied that it may be reckoned to be something of a classic, normative statement to which Israel regularly returned, meriting the label ‘credo.'” [1] In it are found five generous and glorious adjectives that describe the heart and soul of Israel’s belief. Somehow, against all odds and neighbors, they were able to experience a God who was merciful (in Hebrew, rhm), compassionate/gracious (hnn), steadfast in love (hsd), tenaciously faithful (’emeth) and forgiving (ns’). This is the dynamic center of their entire belief system, as it should be ours, and like all spiritual mystery, seems to be endlessly generative and fruitful, culminating in the full-blown–and literally unthinkable–concept of grace.

In Ezekiel, chapters 36-37, Yahweh really chews Israel out, telling the people, in effect, through the prophet, “You haven’t done anything right, you’ve missed the whole point.” Yahweh disqualifies the children of Israel as a worthy people, almost as if to tell them to throw the whole thing out and start over. Then, seemingly out of nowhere (but really coming from divine mercy, which is always present), Yahweh promises to rebuild the project from the bottom up, and says, “I am not doing this for your sake, house of Israel, but for the sake of my holy name” (Ezekiel 36:22). God is God’s own reference point. God is being true to Godself in loving. God’s faithfulness has never been dependent on our worthiness or readiness. This is restorative justice, the divine form of justice.

The word that is translated as “steadfast love” is often rendered “covenant love” or “faithful love.” Today we often call it unconditional love. It’s “one-sided love,” if you will, because Israel never keeps its side of the covenant, just as we never keep our side of the relationship to this day. Yahweh has learned to do it all from God’s side since we are basically unreliable as lovers. That is the constant message of much of the Hebrew Scriptures from Moses to Job. Yet, as Paul says, “Is it possible that Yahweh has rejected his people? Of course not!” (Romans 11:1). Israel is a stand-in for everything.


  1. It’s all upside down. Weakness is strength. Jerusalem and the cross is his glory. If it’s too neat and religiously ordered its likely not the gospel. When all faith is lost, hope has begun. When all hope is lost, love has begun. That’s this week. Hosanna to the son of David. What a man. What a God.

  2. The glory and the humiliation, the light and the darkness, the love and the suffering, the victory and defeat, are not different; they are the same. Weakness is strength, foolishness is wisdom, grace is the rule.

    Lord Jesus, Grace, remember us when you come into your kingdom.

  3. Without meaning to sound snarky, Robert, it sounds familiar. Oh, yeah – George Orwell in 1984: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Knowledge is Ignorance.

    You have to be careful nowadays with direct equivalences, and it all depends on what the meaning of “is” is.

    • Paradox is an integral part of life, however much it pains us rationalists to admit it. The comparison to *1984* also doesn’t hold up. There, the paradox was deliberately set up to confuse rational thought with the desired end of furthered oppression. In Christian theology, the paradox arises from God’s transcending rationality, with the desired end of helping us understand and emulate God’s love.

      • I would agree with this analysis of the difference between Orwellian paradox and Christian paradox. And while some may use Christian paradox in an Orwellian (unhealthy) sense, I don’t think the two are the same.

        • Clay Crouch says

          Yeah, one’s simply a manipulative a lie and the other’s not. How about bt, dt enlightening us as to which is which?

        • Christiane says

          in OUR case, something may apply: the Orwellian “Knowledge is Ignorance” . . . it may apply if we begin to ‘lean on our OWN understanding’ in ways that, when applied, are contrary to what is ‘of Christ’ . . . look at the cultic behaviors of the ‘Patriarchal’ crowd and their treatment of women; look at the strange interpretations of sacred Scripture that give rise to the Pearls and their system of disciplining small babies using beatings to ‘break their wills’, but most of all look at the attitude of so many fundamentalists that live inclusive, fear-driven lives which depend on the control of one another with shaming, which they call ‘Church discipline’.

          I think we overlook the wisdom in these words also: ” . . . I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. ”
          (from the Holy Gospel of St. Luke 10:21)

          But most of all, so many, too many of us have turned away from the beauty and the mystery of what is holy and settled for descriptions of God made by men and their ‘theologies’, so much that OUR description of Him has driven many AWAY from a God who loves them even in their weakness and sin. This is something for which we are guilty if we have portrayed God as other than the revealed ‘Face of God’, Our Lord Jesus Christ, on Whom we may look AND LIVE. We need the mystery and the revelation that is Our Lord, Jesus Christ.

          “If you understand, it is not God.” (St. Augustine)

          Orwellian? Or well said by those who lived in humility before the One they could not fathom?

    • Clay Crouch says

      Please help me with your comment. Without meaning to sound snarky, If you take exception to parts of the above post or Robert’s comment, could you be a little less cryptic than a Clintonian or Orwellian reference? Don’t you think that the ideas expressed this morning deserve better?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        The ideas may be expressed, but their expression could have been better. Especially with paradox; there you face an uphill battle against the “Clintonian or Orwellian references” already established among the audience. How do you distinguish honest paradox when everyone’s been primed by dishonest paradox? How do you speak truth when Screwtape has already redefined every word you use to speak that truth?

        • Sheesh, everybody’s a critic…

          Look, unlike you, I’m not a professional writer; not everything I express here is top notch. I’m just a schlub making comments on a blog.

          But I think bt,dt’s criticism of my comment is not the result of aesthetic concerns; I think he/she has an animus against my liberal interpretation of the Bible/Christianity, as exampled in the comments and responses yesterday, and therein lay the motivation for his/her criticism.

          • Christiane says

            not everyone, ROBERT . . .

            I’m not sure that on this blog it is the same as criticism to see things from different perspectives . . . I am as guiilty as the next one of sounding critical, when the intent is more to add something rather than decimate another’s thought . . .

            I know what you were saying about paradox. And it is important and meaningful here. Don’t be discouraged from contributing in your OWN words. I took your meaning and went with it, perhaps in a little bit different way, but I built on what you wrote. If you hadn’t written it, I wouldn’t have commented.
            If the others hadn’t written what they wrote, I wouldn’t have commented.

            But it takes a diversity and the freedom for that diversity to bring out the thoughts of others . . . it’s a GOOD thing, Robert . . . thank you for your unique gifts here . . . I think we know your value enough to offer our thoughts freely, so that you can be yourself within our community of VERY diverse individuals. Michael Spencer brought many people together who could speak in their own words from their own viewpoints, and I bless his memory for it. Have a great Sunday.

          • Christiane,
            I appreciate your irenic spirit. Thanks for so consistently looking on the positive side.

            Btw, I did not take HUG’s words amiss; everyone has a right to their aesthetic opinion.

            I do, however, take exception to bt,dt’s suggestion that my original comment above was somehow Orwellian. It might have been poorly written, or badly expressed (as HUG says) , or incoherent, but there was nothing the slightest bit Orwellian about it.

            For something Orwellian, I would point to his comments yesterday supporting the idea that a good God would give a nation evil rulers; that is truly Orwellian. Like, “We destroyed the village to save it”. But bt,dt, along with many others, is so habituated to it by traditional theology and religious doublespeak that he’s unable to see it, or to recognize the irony in his own suggestion that my words were Orwellian.

    • @bt,dt — I have no power over you; I’m an anonymous disembodied voice in the ether, not Big Brother. I don’t feel any reluctance to speak in metaphorical terms rather than analogical ones; the Bible, which I know you value highly, does it all the time, and without explanation or warning. It’s one of the ways of poetical utterance. You are mistaking what is intended as metaphorical paradox for analogical syllogism.

      • For the foolishness God’s is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.–1 Cor 1: 25

        The darkness and the light are both alike to thee…–Psalm 139: 12

        Examples of the Bible’s unapologetic use of paradox and metaphorical expression. There are more. You can look them up. It would be good to remember that the Bible is not a textbook on logical philosophy.

  4. Talk about paradox, here’s a guy with tremendous power, he’s charismatic, has people eating out of the palm of his hand, could say the word and probably a hundred thousand men would rise up in an hour and restore this nation to its former greatness. All he has to do is walk into the Capitol with these people behind him and it’s all over. So what does he do? I don’t want to talk about it, it’s too depressing. What’s wrong with this guy? He has all this going for him, the time is perfect, and he clutches. The ultimate loser. I don’t want to talk about it.

    We could have ruled the world and I could have been in charge of the Treasury. Think of the good you could do for people with a position like that. Everyone would do whatever we told them to do. All it would have taken was a word. This guy is his own worst enemy. this guy needs help. These opportunities are the chance of a lifetime, they don’t come along every day. Maybe it’s not too late. If this guy was backed into a corner where he couldn’t weasel out, maybe he would use some of that power to save his own skin even if he doesn’t care about the rest of us.

    I know some people, it’s not too late, this is our last chance. I can make this happen. Talk about a paradox!

    • Sounds like Judas’ plan. Perhaps a board of governors to oversee his power and guide it in a positive direction. Let’s start with getting rid of the donkey. That brings up another thought. We are the donkey. We are the bearers of Christ. Those who are in positions of power or high stature in the church who are lauded by those under them are at risk of being asses who have palms thrown at their feet. They get puffed up thinking it has anything to do with them rather than the one they carry.

    • What’s wrong with this guy?

      What’s wrong with him? In the words of Donald J. Trump, He’s a choke artist!

  5. @Clay Crouch, I didn’t mean anything sinister. I rather like the Richard Rohr piece that Chaplain Mike put up. But Robert F. sometimes sets my teeth on edge, or at least has me scratching my head, with his comments. Either I am incredibly shallow (don’t answer that) or he is way too deep for me. For example, saying “weakness is strength” is not at all the same thing as Paul’s hearing God say, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Nor are the light and the darkness the same since “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” and “men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” and “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never overcome it.”

    That’s all.

    • saying “weakness is strength” is not at all the same thing as Paul’s hearing God say, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

      Why not? That’s exactly how I understood it, given the general biblical framework (OT and NT) of God displaying His strength in the midst of perceived weaknesses.

      Nor are the light and the darkness the same since “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” and “men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” and “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never overcome it.”

      Rather than assuming that the original commentor thinks that light and darkness are actually equivalent concepts, you could have asked for clarification. And again, there is biblical precedent for God hiding his wisdom in human eyes (light in darkness, as it were). Robert F is correct that much Biblical language is metaphorical rather than analogical – and being a diehard Enlightenment rationalist that was a tough lesson to learn, believe me….

      • Christiane says

        “The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm.”

  6. Mournful, cloud-filled sky,
    palm fronds in narthex and nave–
    Easter unfolding.

  7. Except it doesn’t work. Exodus 34 is great and all, but if you read all the Torah references to Yahweh, you will find that he is a pretty typical bloodthirsty late bronze-age ANE tribal deity. Assuming that all the passages have equal inspiration and accuracy. Frankly, it is easy to see why Marcion went the direction he did.

    • Yes. It’s why I cannot considered the Bible as a whole to have any special inspiration, aside from men under the inspiration of their own concepts of a bloodthirsty, vengeful god. Marcion is totally understandable.

      There are, however, many passages and texts of exquisite, poignant and humane spirituality and beauty, even in the midst of the ugly stuff; and then there’s the Jesus of the NT, who points back to the overall witness of these older texts as somehow authoritative. I don’t know what to make of it all, I can’t piece it together; but I do know that I’m unwilling to give up Jesus, or to ignore that to which he’s pointing. I take what I can, and leave the rest; Jesus’ pointing finger obliges me to do at least that.

    • Dana Ames says

      The Greek fathers who were arguably the greatest interpreters of scripture (and brilliant to boot) did not read equal inspiration (or “weight”) into each passage. They accepted the “face value” of the text while at the same time understanding that the deeper meaning underneath the text, read through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ, is what God wants Christians to take away from that text. All scripture having equal “weight” is a feature of post-Reformation Christianity.

      St Basil wrote (can’t call up exactly where at the moment) that immature people sometimes need the threat of punishment, since they haven’t yet developed the internal motivation toward virtue. It could be said that as Judaism matured, there is less and less threat of punishment by God recorded in scripture, and more incentive for developing that internal motivation, until we finally get to what was written, both in scripture and elsewhere, the last couple of hundred years before Christ. By that time, there was a fully developed virtue ethic that did not depend very much at all on God punishing, and that “late bronze age ANE triable deity” had pretty much disappeared. You can see that as you read the OT chronologically, whether in the order of the books, or scholars’ theories about when things were written – it doesn’t matter. The stage was set for the entrance of Jesus, who is “the exact representation of the Father.” Wright’s “The New Testament and the People of God” is very good on this.

      If the God portrayed in those OT passages does not have the same character as Jesus Christ, then we are not interpreting those passages correctly, and those Greek fathers understood that. Jewish scholar James Kugel talks about scripture being opaque. The disciples did not “get” the ramifications of what God was up to with Jesus until Jesus opened scripture to them, in spite of having heard his preaching and teaching for 3 years and having seen the empty tomb. Fr Stephen writes, “The Fathers said that the OT is ‘shadow,’ the NT is ‘icon,’ and the Eschaton (the End of all things) is the Truth.” Not at all saying that the Jews did not know truth, or that we can’t know truth. We can indeed apprehend the truth of shadowy things, and even more so of iconic things; we have not yet reached the End of all things.

      It all comes back to interpretation.


      • Christiane says

        love that quote by Father Stephen . . . thanks, DANA, for sharing

      • “If the God portrayed in those OT passages does not have the same character as Jesus Christ, then we are not interpreting those passages correctly….”

        This is what I told my children this evening. Our sermon this morning was based on “worm theology”–I just cannot hold to that and so, using this post as a jumping off point, we talked this evening about how God wishes to be known. The cross contradicts the lie that we are worthless and undeserving of God’s love.

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