Sunday, November 23, 2008

Theology 101: Divine Economics

When I say “economics” I suppose a boring image of a classroom textbook might pop into you mind. Or maybe it’s the thought of the stock market continuing to plummet. Perhaps it’s the thought of Barack Obama taking your money and pouring it in one of two places: down the drain or into the hands of abortionists, embryonic stem cell researchers, gay rights activists, and socialists.

While the above may be true in their own rights, I tend to think of economics in its original, religious meaning.

The word economics actually comes from the Greek word oikonomia which means a household plan. Religiously speaking, it refers to the way God has chosen to relate to the human race and bring us to salvation. This is particularly apparent in the Old Testament through God’s covenant swearing with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. Covenants, by the way, form a permanent family between the two parties entering the covenant. But notice the pattern, God first forms a covenant with a couple (Adam and Eve), then expands it to a family with Noah, then expands it still further with Abraham’s tribe. In the days of Moses, the covenant is grown to include a nation composed of twelve tribes and would reach its zenith with the advent of the Kingdom of Israel, which was composed of several nations.

It only makes economical sense that God would expand his household to the very ends of the Earth and include all peoples and nations!

This points us to the New Testament and to the Church. In Matthew 7, Jesus tells a parable about the wise man who built his household on a rock and just nine chapters later he proceeds to follow his own advice and build his household, the Church (1 Timothy 3:15), on the rock of St. Peter (Kepha, the Aramaic word for rock, is translated as Peter in English). What’s more, the covenant made between God and Jesus (the man who is also God) forms the Church. This Church expands the Kingdom of God to the ends of the world and thus is universal. From the first century on the Church was known precisely as the Catholic Church because the word catholic means universal, easily encapsulating the mission of Christ: to bring the saving power of the Gospel to all peoples of all times.

But again, think of the economics.

There’s a pattern to how God related to the peoples of the Old Testament and this pattern continues on into the covenant people of the New Testament. As already mentioned, the Church is the Kingdom of God and is the perfection of the Kingdom of Israel. Obviously Christ the King is the perfection of the Davidic King – but with him was perfected the two great actors of the Davidic Kingdom, the queen mother and the prime minister. Just check out Isaiah 22:20-25 and compare it to Mathew 16. The words Jesus uses in Matthew 16 are the very words used to describe the prime minister in the Davidic Kingdom. As Isaiah foretells, “He shall be a father [in a spiritual sense, and will be fixed] like a peg in a sure spot…” (Isaiah 22:21, 23). Today the pope is known as the Holy Father – and I can think of anyone more fixed or rock-solid than the pope!

More still, God choose to establish a role for the queen mother in the Old Testament. He does so again in the new through the Virgin Mary, who reigns as Queen Mother with her divine Son. The angel Gabriel addresses her with the regal words: “Hail, full of grace.” Revelation 12 would go on to describe Mary as the “woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars… She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod” (Revelation 12:1, 5). But God, in his divine economics, made Mary the mother of us all – for “her offspring [are] those who keep God's commandments and bear witness to Jesus” (Revelation 12:17). We who are Christians are the sons and daughters of Mary – for we who enter in the Church, the very body of Christ, enter into a filial relationship with God our Father and Mary our mother.

There’s one more really fundamental point about divine economics. The way God relates to mankind can tell us a little bit about who he is, just as watching what a man does can tell us about who he really is. Check out the Catechism (paragraph 236) on this:

The Fathers of the Church distinguish between theology (theologia) and economy (oikonomia). "Theology" refers to the mystery of God's inmost life within the Blessed Trinity and "economy" to all the works by which God reveals himself and communicates his life. Through the oikonomia the theologia is revealed to us; but conversely, the theologia illuminates the whole oikonomia
. God's works reveal who he is in himself; the mystery of his inmost being enlightens our understanding of all his works. So it is, analogously, among human persons. A person discloses himself in his actions, and the better we know a person, the better we understand his actions.

In other words, the more we understand God’s economy, the better we will understand, love, and serve God.

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