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Dr. Cha Explores the Mystery and Paradox of the Cross

In his new book, Dr. Jaeseung Cha seeks to explore the mystery of Christ's death through the words proclaimed by Christ himself. Our Korean students and alumni can read it now, The Mystery and Paradox of the Cross: Jesus' Proclamation of the Crucifixion in his Five Statements. Seoul: Saemulkyulplus, 2013. And Dr. Cha promises, "I plan to translate this book into English in near future." Let's all encourage him! Meanwhile, Dr. Cha provides this synopsis.

Before we can talk about the meaning of Christ's death, Dr. Cha's first task is to explain how our language and thinking naturally fall short. According to Dr. Cha, in order to begin to encompass the mysterious and paradoxical reality of the cross, our human culture and philosophy need first to be divested of certain cultural and hermeneutical codes, especially in the way we are hard-wired to the language and logic of the quid pro quo transaction.

Dr. Cha argues that scripture is the single source where we can find this story, a story of divine self-sacrifice, and so the single way we can approach the cross is through unpacking scripture. Thus says Dr. Cha, "Jesus himself by himself is the truth and the way into his own meaning." The cross is a mystery in the sense that our knowledge is always quantitatively incomplete and qualitatively fallible. And the cross is a profound paradox in that it holistically and simultaneously embraces God and human beings, punishment and forgiveness, exchange and sacrifice, death and life, for us and with us, and both the here and now-hic et nunc-and the end of time-eschatology.

In the second part, Dr. Cha works with five statements Jesus makes about his death. To Dr. Cha, Jesus was fully aware of the crucial reality and meaning of this death, even though he did not systemize it. "Considering that many contemporary theologians either ignore or moralize Jesus' death as they focus on a historical Jesus, it carries great weight to explore Jesus' own proclamation in which we can find interpretative hints of the cross".

  • Jesus' body and blood was shared by and given for many as he declared, "Take, this is my body," and "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many," at the last supper (Mark 14:22, 24). Traditionally this statement has been interpreted as the initiation of the Lord's Supper. But Mark's account-and Matthew's account-does not include the injunction to "remember" and Dr. Cha argues that may imply that Jesus talked about the reality of his upcoming death. God was with us as a husband in the old covenant but is now in us as Jesus shares his body and blood with us (Jer. 31:32-34, Mark 14:24).

  • Jesus cried out, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" (Mark 15:34). This is one of the most challenging proclamations for many because they view it as a failure of Jesus who was abandoned by his God. Interpretations fall into five buckets: (1) a political failure, (2) a declaration of faithful relationship with God based on the context of Psalm 22, (3) Jesus' sharing of human suffering (4) Jesus' bearing of human punishment, and (5) a painful battle with Satan. Yet, if we take into account the most enhanced relationship between God and Jesus at Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-42), a deeper reality of Jesus can be comprehended. Jesus cried out not so much because of God's abandonment but because he was abandoned into human beings who are crying out their pains and sufferings.

  • Jesus stated, "I give my life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). The idea of ransom is controversial and the context where Jesus uttered it is not focused on his death. Nonetheless, connotations in the pronouncement that his life is given for many as ransom must not be ignored. His death, given for many, can be understood in commercial, legal, and sacrificial contexts and languages for which the word ransom is used in Scripture. A battle between human cultural codes of exchange-payment, punishment, and victimization-and biblical reality of the divine self-sacrifice for us is discussed in this section. Jesus takes up our various limitations, not to exclude but to include us.

  • Jesus strikingly proclaimed on the cross, "It has been fulfilled!" (John 19:30). The context of the fourth Gospel is of significance in which Jesus explains his death with the expression, "I am lifted up," and relates it to three themes: eternal life (3:14-15), revelation of who Jesus is (8:28), and drawing all to himself (12:32). Jesus is the light of life from God that shines in the darkness, reveals God, and reconciles all by drawing all to himself.

  • Jesus commended us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him (Mark 8:34). A moral dimension is neither to be the single perspective of the cross nor to be weakened by any other motif. Death in itself cannot be a moral value, but death as sacrifice ethically and spiritually challenges us in its utmost compelling power. The cross destroys the wall between "I" and "thou-the cosmos" when we deny ourselves, participate in taking up the cross of fellow human beings, and follow Jesus who recapitulates omnia in heaven and on earth to himself.

    The Rev. Jaeseung Cha, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Foundational and Constructive Theology here at New Brunswick Theological Seminary.

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