Reconciliation

New Testament scholarship since the 1970s has emphasized the importance of the divide in the early community between Jews and gentiles. Division calls for reconciliation. Matthew's Gospel, which reflects this division as markedly as Paul's letters, is framed between the command to reconcile (Matt. 5: 21ff.) and the realities of alienation (Matt. 23). The first text is the essential hermeneuti-cal key to the latter. This particular conflict was an especially sore spot for Paul, as we see from Galatians, but in that letter he broadens the horizon, including slaves and free, and even women and men, within the remit of reconciliation. We have his practical attempts to deal with concrete conflicts in these areas in Philemon and 1 Corinthians. Whoever wrote Ephesians put this reconciling work firmly into the context of the cross, seeing it as "breaking down the dividing wall" between different groups (Eph. 2: 13-16).

What can it mean for Jews and gentiles, and by extension other alienated groups, to be reconciled "through the cross"? Presumably what the writer has in mind is that if you identify salvation as occurring through one cursed by the law (Gal. 3: 13) then this teaches a new way of reading the law which in turn opens the way for a new rapprochement between Jews and gentiles. In the Ephesians text the author speaks of "reconciling both groups to God." The reconciliation between God and human beings is indeed the focus of much New Testament use of the metaphor, but we remember once again, from Matthew's Gospel, that human relationships exemplify the relationship with God (Matt. 25: 31ff.). It was by welcoming the stranger and clothing the naked that those on the right hand welcomed the Son of Man. By the same token, reconciliation between alienated people or groups is the concrete instantiation of the reconciliation of God and human beings.

Another dimension of the cross breaking down barriers is suggested by Karl Barth's reading of Greek nomos ( "law") as "religion" in his exegesis of Romans. Religion (and theology) can bolt and bar our access to God, he insists, can make us deaf to God's claim, and did in fact demonstrably do so in the war theologies of all countries in World War I (Rumscheidt 1972). When that is the case, a fresh wrestling with the Word bursts open what we understand by religion. Significantly, in both his commentaries, though more emphatically in the first than the second, Barth moves on to a political understanding of the significance of what has happened in Christ in his exegesis of Rom. 12-14. The cross, in these accounts, emerges as the critique of all legitimating ideologies. No one has explored this more profoundly than Kosuke Koyama in his attempt to face up to what happened in Japan in the period from 1880 to 1945. Koyama found faith in the midst of the ruins of Tokyo at the end of World War II. He saw that the devastation around him was the result of a false "center symbolism," the idolatry of Japanese power. The cross, he realized, was a critique of all such idols. Following Luther, he understood a true theology of the cross to imply a necessary brokenness, for him the critical dividing line between theology and ideology. The theologically instructed community is necessarily broken, necessarily contains a moment of sharp self-criticism, as opposed to the community governed by ideology, which knows no such necessity (Koyama 1985: 258). Such brokenness protects me against an idolatrous center symbolism, and in this way makes reconciliation possible.

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