Jesus Fulfilled the Promise of the Throne of Mercy

Jesus Fulfilled the Promise of the Throne of Mercy July 16, 2015
Copyright: tonybaggett / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: tonybaggett / 123RF Stock Photo

In the Office of Readings at Universalis for July 15, 2015, I read this wonderful text from St. Bonaventure:

Christ is both the way and the door. Christ is the staircase and the vehicle, like the throne of mercy over the Ark of the Covenant, and the mystery hidden from the ages.

Christ is like the throne of mercy over the Ark of the Covenant. What a wonderful image to recall when we are trying to make sense of Matthew 5:17:

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.

What does it mean to fulfill something? Bring it to completion, I suppose. To fulfill the purpose of something would be to bring the promise it holds for the future into the present. The way a completed house fulfills the promise of the architect’s plan for it. My guess is that’s what Matthew means – he is referring to Christ as the fulfillment of the promise of the law. But what is that promise? I think that St. Bonaventure offers us a clue when he likens Christ to the throne of mercy above the law. To fulfill the law might mean that mercy and law are brought into their proper relationship.

Jesus himself often had to field questions of how to interpret the law. To answer whether it was proper to eat with sinners, thereby violating a legal requirement for purity, he quoted the prophet Hosea:

“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt 9:13)

Adam offered a wonderful reflection on this passage, applying it to the search for a Christian response to marriage equality for gays and lesbians. He quotes James Alison’s wonderful explanation of Jesus’ answer to show that there are different ways to apply the law. We can either apply the law quite legalistically or with mercy – those two options are always open to us. But Christ is instructing us to opt for mercy. Christ is the fulfillment of the promise of what it looks like to live with the throne of mercy above the law. As Adam concludes on the issue of marriage equality:

When we understand Jesus’ hermeneutical principle to interpret through God’s mercy, it means that we won’t discriminate against the LGBTQ community for any reason, but especially not for a religious reason. Why? Because Jesus teaches us to interpret the Bible through merciful love that seeks to include, not through the sacrificial mechanism that seeks to exclude.

I do love thinking about thorny problems of the Christian life this way. The Law, God bless it, makes a valiant effort to anticipate any and all problems we might encounter and offer the appropriate solution. But life can never be codified in this way. Even the first generation who received the revelation of the Law knew that, or at least God tried to convey it to them in a very concrete way. How wonderful to realize that God not only gave our ancestors the Law but taught us the proper way to carry it around with us! Whenever we wonder how to be faithful followers of Christ today, we need not worry all that much as long as we remember that the answer key was given to us long ago. When in doubt, let’s mediate upon the throne of mercy and see where it leads us.

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