Oἰκονομία

STATIONS ON THE CROSS

We have to believe in the mercy and grace of God to trigger conversion rather than the other way around: that you’re only going to get the mercy if you have a conversion. The economy of salvation doesn’t work that way. — Blase Cardinal Cupich

I once had a theology professor who responded to a student’s question about how we can really know what God is like, by saying: “It’s the economy, stupid!” We theological geeks all had a good nerdy laugh at that poor student’s expense.

The word “economy” is important in theology, and bears a rich meaning. The Greek behind our English word economy is oikonomia, which combines two Greek words, oikos (household) and nomos (management). So you might say that the “divine economy” is God’s home economics, the providential manner in which he manages creation as his oikos, his homey (if broken) temple.

Now, here’s what I love most about this concept, and why I would waste your time blabbing on about Greek roots. Oikonomia means that God acts in an orderly manner that has discernable patterns, as St. Paul affirms when he says, “God is a God not of disorder but of peace” (1 Cor. 14:33). That was an immense relief in an ancient world dominated by belief in the cold and impersonal supremacy of capricious Fate. The divine economy opens an orderly way we humans can harmonize with the divine will, being good images, to bring peace into creation.

Scripture is the story of an invitation to syncopate with the rhythm of God’s home ec. Or not. In fact, you can say that the whole of Scripture is God gradually revealing to humanity, through a wild ride of impetuous fits and false starts (Heb. 1:1), exactly what his economic program looks like.

And it’s very very untidy, I must say.

Think here of the stories of creation, the rebellion of angels and humanity, the election of Noah and Abraham, the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, the rescue of Israel from enslavement, the choice of David the adulterer as King and of the prophet Isaiah as naked sign (Is. 20:3), the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles, the Maccabean revolt. All of these tangled and knotted Hebrew stories — and so many more! — provide a dense ecology of meaning within which divine life can at last, in the “fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4), enter history as biological life, as Man fully self-disclosed:

And the Word became flesh and camped among us. — Jn. 1:14

This Word of the eternal God became human in Jesus to clarify God’s economy, interpreting rightly Hebrew theology once-for-all by his own life, teaching, death and resurrection. Jesus IS the whole economy of God in nuce. After his ascension, Jesus sent the Spirit of Truth from the Father at Pentecost to open full access to his Risen mind through the Church. He did this so all humanity, until the end of time, could endlessly deepen its knowledge of the divine economy, unlocked by the Key of David, and apply that knowledge afresh in every age until God at last brings history to its grand finale (Jn. 16:13; 1 Cor. 2:16).

For the Christian, any inquiry into God’s plan, his will, his providence is always one simply-complex answer: Jesus Christ. Which is why we say Jesus “fulfills” (Mt. 5:17 plērōsai) the Scriptures. He is the key that unlocks all history (Rev. 6:1ff), synthesizes in himself all partial revelations of God, all quests for meaning, including the most fundamental quest-question of all: Why?

Yes, Psalm 22. The true epicenter of divine economics. Jesus crucified. As the Carthusians say, Stat crux dum volvitur orbis “the cross is steady while the world whirls around.” On mount Golgotha, in the lifeless corpse of Jesus, is found all wisdom. Especially divine wisdom that relates God’s goodness to the problem of evil. St. Paul aptly sums up the whole Gospel with one phrase: he logos tou staurou “the word of the cross” (1 Cor. 1:18). The cross is an inexhaustible text that, even in Paradise (Rev. 5:6), will never cease to endlessly surprise all who contemplate its mystery, its ever-unfolding infinite depths.

O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! — Rom. 11:33

As I prayed on this last point today, I thought again about Pilate’s question to Jesus, “What is truth?” (Jn. 18:38) The quest for truth is, in the final analysis, the quest for God’s home economics — all the laws of nature and of grace, of creation and redemption; all God’s and our deepest secrets. And, Pilate, it is Jesus, the God-Man, who is your answer — the whole Truth of God’s economy, God’s broken-secret, the torn-open Heart “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).

As Pilate silently looks on the viciously scourged Flesh of the eternal Word, awaiting from him an answer, we sense all of us in Pilate, all of sinful humanity waiting for Truth to answer. Here Pilate is our unlikely guide. As he leads Jesus out to the angry mob and seats him on the judgment seat of Gabbatha, gesturing toward this indiscernible Man of Sorrows he cries out: Idou ho anthrōpos “Behold the Man!” (Jn. 19:5).

Incomprehensible.

Just as there were many who were astonished at him
—so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of mortals—
so he shall startle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which had not been told them they shall see,
and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate. — Is. 52:14-15

And yet, it is Pilate, forever named in our Creed, the enemy Jesus loves, who reveals the final portrait of the whole economy to us: “Behold the mystery of Adam, icon of divinity, at last come to full stature.” Ho Theos agapē “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 Jn. 4:16).

How perfect is this economy of folly, wrapped in mystery.

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