Chapter 1 people: Jesus the cooperative saviour

How do we interpret the impatience Jesus sometimes shows when asked to heal someone, as when he says, How long will I be with you? I think it may be due to his conviction that God’s goodness is available to anyone who has faith. He sometimes says, Your faith has made you whole. Or he recognises the faith of the companions of the paralysed man who is lowered through the roof of a house, and proceeds to announce his healing. Faith, meaning trust in God’s goodness available in Jesus, allows the sufferer to cooperate with his/ her healing; to be, not the object of a miracle but the subject of a joint therapeutic action.

Certainly Jesus trusts in the availability of God, whose persuasive goodness is present in every event, but he knows that God needs active cooperation which is another way of saying faith or trust. Note that this trust is not the expectation that God will miraculously do it all, but rather the readiness to work with God. Often the very fact of the sufferer coming to Jesus shows that this work has begun. Often the work takes only a little time, but it must be shared.

This cooperative pattern is also seen with other forms of rescue by Jesus. Of the sinful woman who accosts him at a pharisee’s table, he says, “ Her great love shows that her many sins are forgiven” and he tells her, “Your faith has made you whole.” In a different instance, a rich young man refuses the difficult cooperation that God requests, and sticks with his wealth.

Jesus’ impatience – evident for example in his healing of an epileptic boy- can be attributed to the failure of people to play their part in healing. Jesus is seen by them as a magician who can do anything, while they remain passive. In this case Jesus’ disciples have tried to help but have failed. When the boy’s father asks him to help “if you can,” Jesus turns the words back on him, “If YOU can! everything is possible for the one who has faith.” The man replies in honest desperation, “I do have faith; help me where faith falls short!” Jesus has roused the man to be an active agent in healing, while he supplies what is lacking. Two faiths are better than one.

This cooperative work of rescue can be seen in the whole of Jesus’ ministry, with the exception of his murder on the cross. Here nobody shares his suffering, not even God. It is his faithfulness to the God who has (temporarily) abandoned him which establishes the greatest divine persuasion of all, the death and resurrection of Jesus. His lonely death pleads for the kind of trust which is ultimately shown in the disciples’ announcement of his resurrection. Even a risen Jesus cannot save the world on his own, but requires the assembly of trusting people, the church in every place and time.

It might seem that St. Paul with his rejection of human works in his teaching of God’s rescuing grace, rules out any notion of a cooperative salvation, but we should be clear that what he rules out are “the works of the Law” that is, the mixture of moral and ritual provisions of the Jewish Torah. Other forms of work are acceptable to him: “Work out your rescue with fear and trembling” Indeed Paul’s teaching about faith is similar to that of Jesus, involving a trustful cooperation with God, which includes human effort. Luther’s interpretation of faith in the writings of Paul is simply wrong, as is his complete rejection of human work as contributing to salvation. Certainly we can say that salvation is pure gift, as everything ultimately comes from God; but it does require to be actively received, cherished and worked out. The Greek word “pistis” usually translated “faith” can mean trust in a person or trustworthiness to a person. Paul means that loving trust in Jesus Messiah, leading to actions worthy of Him, is the right human response to Jesus’ love shown especially in his death on the execution stake. This trustworthiness according to Paul brings people into the shared life (communion) of the Holy Spirit, in which they share the labour pains of God’s perfect creation.

Again, although Paul attributes all power and all knowledge to God, the vocabulary he uses to describe divine actions and relationships point always to partnership. Of course one can affirm partnership while affirming God’s omnipotence by saying that God in his love lays aside omnipotence in order to rescue his human children. That is certainly a moving picture. But what about the God who lays aside his omnipotence in order to permit Auschwitz and the death of children from cancer? That is perhaps not so moving unless we mean being moved to rage and unbelief. I prefer the God of persuasion and partnership revealed in Jesus.

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