the buddhist & the nestorian

From Philip Jenkins' "The Lost History of Christianity":

Around the time this memorial was erected, in 782, the Indian Buddhist missionary Prajna arrived in the Chinese imperial capital of Chang’an, but was unable to translate the Sanskrit sutras he had brought with him into either Chinese or any other familiar tongue. In such a plight, what could the hapless missionary do but seek Christian help? He duly consulted the bishop named Adam, whose name headed the list on the Nestorian monument. Adam had already translated parts of the Bible into Chinese, and the two probably shared a knowledge of Persian. Together, Buddhist and Nestorian scholars worked amiably together for some years to translate seven copious volumes of Buddhist wisdom. Probably, Adam did this as much from intellectual curiosity as from ecumenical goodwill, and we can only guess about the conversations that would have ensued: So, what exactly is this “bodhisattva” we hear so much about? Do you really care more about relieving suffering than atoning for sin? And your monks meditate like ours do? Scholars still speculate whether Adam infiltrated Christian concepts into the translated sutras, consciously or otherwise.


Adam’s efforts bore fruit far beyond China. Other residents of Chang’an at this time included Japanese monks who took these very translations back with them to their homeland. In Japan, these works became the founding texts of the two great Buddhist schools—respectively, Shingon and Tendai; and all the famous Buddhist movements of later Japanese history, including Zen and Pure Land, can be traced to one of those two schools.

grace

Yahweh to Israel:

Again the word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations, and say, Thus says the Lord GOD to Jerusalem: Your origin and your birth are of the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born.

“And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up..."

Ezekiel 16:1–7

Yahweh finds Israel abandoned, abhorred, has compassion on her and gives her life.

I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with fine leather. I wrapped you in fine linen and covered you with silk. And I adorned you with ornaments and put bracelets on your wrists and a chain on your neck. And I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen and silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed on you, declares the Lord GOD.

16:10–14

Israel is honored, advanced, graced.

"But you trusted in your beauty and played the whore because of your renown and lavished your whorings on any passerby; your beauty became his. You took some of your garments and made for yourself colorful shrines, and on them played the whore. The like has never been, nor ever shall be. You also took your beautiful jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself images of men, and with them played the whore. And you took your embroidered garments to cover them, and set my oil and my incense before them. Also my bread that I gave you—I fed you with fine flour and oil and honey—you set before them for a pleasing aroma; and so it was, declares the Lord GOD. And you took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your whorings so small a matter that you slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering by fire to them? And in all your abominations and your whorings you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, wallowing in your blood.

“And after all your wickedness (woe, woe to you! declares the Lord GOD), you built yourself a vaulted chamber and made yourself a lofty place in every square. At the head of every street you built your lofty place and made your beauty an abomination, offering yourself to any passerby and multiplying your whoring. You also played the whore with the Egyptians, your lustful neighbors, multiplying your whoring, to provoke me to anger. Behold, therefore, I stretched out my hand against you and diminished your allotted portion and delivered you to the greed of your enemies, the daughters of the Philistines, who were ashamed of your lewd behavior. You played the whore also with the Assyrians, because you were not satisfied; yes, you played the whore with them, and still you were not satisfied. You multiplied your whoring also with the trading land of Chaldea, and even with this you were not satisfied.

How sick is your heart, declares the Lord GOD, because you did all these things... "

16:15–30

"But you trusted in your beauty and played the whore..."

"woe, woe to you..."

"how sick is your heart..."

Such raw intensity, such deep hurt, such explosive anger in these words from Yahweh to his people. 

I start reading these words, and quickly direct them toward Israel, where they properly belong. How astonishing is Israel's faithlessness...

And then I realize to my horror that Yahweh is speaking directly to me.

Therefore, O prostitute, hear the word of the LORD: Thus says the Lord GOD, Because your lust was poured out and your nakedness uncovered in your whorings with your lovers, and with all your abominable idols, and because of the blood of your children that you gave to them, therefore, behold, I will gather all your lovers with whom you took pleasure, all those you loved and all those you hated... 

"And I will judge you ... and bring upon you the blood of wrath and jealousy.

"And I will give you into their hands, and they shall throw down your vaulted chamber and break down your lofty places. They shall strip you of your clothes and take your beautiful jewels and leave you naked and bare...

"So will I satisfy my wrath on you, and my jealousy shall depart from you. I will be calm and will no more be angry. Because you have not remembered the days of your youth, but have enraged me with all these things, therefore, behold, I have returned your deeds upon your head, declares the Lord GOD.

16:35–43

"So will I satisfy my wrath on you..."

"For thus says the Lord GOD: I will deal with you as you have done, you who have despised the oath in breaking the covenant...

16:59

This is Yahweh's judgment on me. I have despised the oath in breaking the covenant, and this is the end.

And yet... in the very next breath, this is what I hear:

"...yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant. Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed when you take your sisters, both your elder and your younger, and I give them to you as daughters, but not on account of the covenant with you. I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the LORD, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord GOD.”

16:60–63

"... when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord God."

Absolutely astonishing!

I can't think of a comparable section in the OT which so perfectly brings together the plight of my heart, Yahweh's pain and anger at my unfaithfulness, his judgment upon me for what I have chosen to do, and the absolutely astonishing gospel of what he will do [has done] for me [in Jesus].

You can't possibly understand grace until you've grasped this chapter in its full intensity.