Paradigm shift


Living the New Paradigm of Eternal Life

(Acts 6:8-15; Ps 119; Jn 6:22-29)


Sister of Charity Elaine Biolo once offered a course on faith and culture at Newman Theological College in which she explained how the sociological term “new paradigm” applies to our faith. She recounted how the Swedish watchmakers lost seventy percent of their business when digital technology came out, because they refused to believe there was any other way to produce watches. They were unable to accept this paradigm shift in their business.

The readings beginning this third week of the Easter season invite us to accept and live the new paradigm of faith and eternal life that faith in Jesus and the power of his resurrection offers us. In Jesus’ own words, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom God has sent.”

The first reading presents us with a situation involving the paradigm shift facing the Jewish religious leaders because of the resurrection of Jesus. It takes the shape of conflict between Stephen, who is fearless in proclaiming his new-found faith in the resurrection of Jesus, who was able to make that paradigm shift, and the members of a Jewish synagogue and other observant Jews from as far as Asia, who were entrenched in their traditional Jewish religion totally closed to any new interpretation.

St Stephen

We are told the conflict centres on the teachings of Moses, the image of God, the Temple and the Law. Stephen is accused of “speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God” and “saying things against the holy place and the law.” What is happening is precisely a paradigm shift – Stephen is offering to the Jews the fulfillment of their faith through the resurrection of Jesus. However, they cannot handle even the thought of it, in spite of Stephen’s face appearing like that of an angel.

The old paradigm involves the Temple where God was supposed to dwell, the messy cult of animal sacrifice to please God and make up for sins, and an image of God as an individual impersonal power who issues laws to be obeyed through the great prophet Moses. The result in the end is the underlying normative question existing to this day among the observant Jews – “What do I have to do to be a good Jew?”

The new paradigm proclaimed by Stephen is Jesus as the new temple of God that is present among us through the Spirit of the Risen Lord; the once-for-all sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world; an image of God as a Triune relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit caught up in a dynamic, over-flowing interchange of love or divine dance (perichoresis) in which we participate, and a new law of love for one another which best expresses one’s love for God. The normative question in this new paradigm is “I am totally loved and forgiven – now how can I love in return?”

Scripture scholar Scot McKnight expresses this paradigm shift using both the creed and the Our Father. The creed for the Jews is the Grand Shema – the command to love God with our whole being (Dt 6). The Jews also had a prayer resembling the Our Father called the Kaddish, in which there is a great concern for God. What Jesus did was revolutionize the Shema by equating love of neighbor and one’s self to love of God (Leviticus 19:18) and also revolutionize the Kaddish by adding love of others to love of God, especially through the command to forgive as we have been forgiven.

Ultimately the new paradigm is a religion of the heart rather than the head, love rather than law, participation more than observance, compassion rather than ceremony, life rather than letters. Above all, it was meant to be the fulfillment of all the scriptures and religious practice of the Israelites as the Chosen People of God. What happened, however, was the insecurity, jealousy and resistance of the religious leaders looking through their narrow self-serving, static lenses, and reacting to what they saw as blasphemy rather than fulfillment.  That rigid resistance led both to the crucifixion of Jesus and the martyrdom of Stephen, rather astounding as the Law of Moses forbade killing.

Marilyn shared with me her experience of taking a position as manager of a department dedicated to the care of troubled children. She quickly discovered the staff saw her as a threat to their comfortable, if somewhat inefficient way of doing things. They were caught in an old paradigm and refused to change. She could hardly believe how entrenched they were in their ways, how vicious they became towards her, and how they did everything in their power to make life miserable for her, spreading lies and malicious gossip to undermine her credibility and get rid of her. Luckily, she was steeped in the new paradigm of faith in the resurrection, belief in herself and the power of forgiveness that helped her weather that storm and bring about much needed change in the end.

The gospel links the Eucharist as food for the journey into this new paradigm. In J. R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings, a group of unlikely characters sets out on a dangerous quest. At one point, they are given a special kind of bread called lembas, one bite of which had the power to sustain someone for an entire day. That bread can serve as a symbol of the spiritual nourishment of the Eucharist, not manna for a day, but “food that endures” – the very Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist.

Like the lembas, it is a gift that is freely given, but unlike lembas, it is not magical food – it is Jesus himself. When we receive communion, we receive a person, not a thing, and this person longs to have an intimate relationship with us.

The evidence our intimate union with Jesus is deepening is the way our lives are changing. When we find ourselves more patient, forgiving and understanding, that is Jesus enduring within us. When we are moved to apologize for when we may have offended someone else, that is Jesus inspiring us. When we find ourselves going out of our way to reach out to a lonely or homeless person and doing what we can to not only interact with them but help meet their needs of the moment, that is Jesus acting within us.

The Eucharist is far more than magic bread or a static symbol. It is our participation in the new paradigm of the reign of God here and now because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is the Bread of Life. It is the food that endures to eternal life Jesus longs to share with us.

So, let us do the work of God by placing our faith in Jesus as Risen Lord, and praying we will be empowered to live out this new paradigm of eternal life offered us as gift, by loving as we have been loved.

Updated: April 15, 2024 — 4:13 am

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