Sunday, April 22, 2012

Theses on Jesus

Backtracking to last Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, when the postulants listened to Fr. Michael Marigliano speak about the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith.

We were challenged to explore with greater scrutiny our personal "portraits" of Jesus as received from our religion and culture. Over our three days of instruction we unpacked the contents of our Christian imagination and investigated the origin and meaning of our christological vocabulary, the better to understand the images of Jesus we know and claim as our own. We traced the steps of Jesus' followers and pored over their markings, from the eyewitnesses to the Gospel writers to the Church fathers and mothers to the leaders of the ecumenical councils.

If Jesus is water, and the communion of faithful a cloud of witnesses descending into history from the apostolic age to the present (and ascending to before creation and beyond to its fulfillment), then our witness to Jesus Christ today is but a vapor, the faintest of mists falling from that cloud. We who thirst for the living water and claim to have sipped from its wellspring cannot separate ourselves, or our witness, from its sources.

As we describe our memory, analyze our understanding, and examine our will, we must ask ourselves: Is what we drink truly the living water? What is its color? What is its flavor? What does it do to us in our mind and body? Do what we drink, we drink in the Spirit? That is, the Spirit of the One who sent the Christ and raised Jesus? Is what we offer no less and no other than Jesus the Christ as fully as we have received him?

With that, let me pour for you some shots of the strong spirits of learning and wisdom that Father Michael, our brother and teacher, shared with us.

1. For Christians, their image of Jesus Christ is grounded by Scripture, namely the New Testament, but they must understand that there is a multiplicity of images in Scriptures and that this multiplicity is conditioned by tradition.

2. An encounter with Scripture can provoke an encounter with the living God, revealed in Christ, by faith. The encounter with God in Scripture is mediated by the community of believers, the Sunday assembly, the Church, gathered in by God's grace and power.

3. Christians approach Scripture today with a historical consciousness exercised in service of the faith. There is a world in front of the text, a world embedded in the text itself, and an experience that sits behind the text. Every time disciples come to the Scripture, they must sort carefully through these dimensions. They must keep in mind that every act of communication, and every act of translation, is an interpretation. This is true of secular texts, and it is true also of the works of the Bible. What followers receive of the revelation of Jesus Christ is filtered through interpretation.

4. This by no means denies the claim that the written testimonies of Jesus are inspired by God. Like Jesus Christ, the Word of God in Scripture is human and divine. As the work of human authors, the Bible is the product of a process of development from oral tradition to written record, and as such it may be subjected gainfully to modern methods of textual, historical, and literary analysis. If it is true that Jesus Christ may not be known apart from the tradition(s) of the Church, then the use of historical-critical methods to uncover the layers of tradition that mediate our awareness of Jesus becomes all the more imperative.

5. The Gospels offer powerful interpretive lenses through which to see Jesus Christ. Look through Matthew, and you see Jesus is like a new Moses, and the Church is like a new Israel. Look through Luke, and you see that the power of the Spirit of the God of Israel, perfectly present in Jesus Christ, is present in the Church and especially its Gentile communities of believers. The Spirit borne by Peter and the Twelve throughout Jerusalem was carried by Paul and his fellowship to the ends of the earth.

6. To know Jesus you must also know his times. Imagine first century Palestine, Jerusalem, and its people, living under Roman occupation. How do the Jewish people keep faith in the presence of foreign soldiers and a tax to their Caesar? In the midst of tumult appears an itinerant preacher and woodworker, who speaks of God's kingdom. Kingdom? The Jews knew plenty about worldly kingdoms and suffered plenty under them. What good could come from kingdom? But the carpenter who speaks of God's kingdom speaks with power and persuasion. And he brings healing to many. He brings hope for change ... in a message from God to the people to change. Many slam the door on him, but a few outcasts -- the brother fishermen, the landless tenant farmer, the notorious scribe -- take up the message and follow him. These are real people facing real challenges in twisted real-life situations.

7. Jesus is and is not like the religious, political leaders who responded in different ways to the crisis of Roman occupation. He made pilgrimages to Jerusalem and the Temple, and he kept the precepts of Torah, the Jewish law. But he was not one of the Sadducees, the urban, conservative Jewish aristocracy who made their peace with the occupying forces so long as they could keep control of the Temple. Jesus resisted the rule of Caesar and even admitted revolutionaries like Simon and Judas into his company, but he never advocated the violence of holy war, for he was neither a Zealot, a rural guerilla, nor one of the Sicarii, an urban terrorist. Jesus heard the apocalyptic message of the prophet-preacher John the Baptist and took up the message of repentance after John was arrested. But he was not a separatist like John or the desert community of Essenes, and he did not believe God would destroy this world to bring about the new age of the kingdom. Jesus preached in the synagogues and the countryside like the Pharisees, and he expounded on the Jewish law like the Pharisees, but he was rejected by the Pharisees because of the claims he made about himself, the fulfillment of Torah, and the hopes of Israel.

8. Look through Mark, the oldest and shortest of the Gospels, and you will see in its Jesus an end-times figure for a people living in the shadow of unspeakable trauma, the defeat and dispersion of the Jewish people after their revolt against the Roman authorities and the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. This Jesus comes to challenge the codes of culture, society, economy, and politics. He does this in his message and his manner. He does this despite the overwhelming power arrayed against him and his disciples.

9. The Gospels follow Jesus all the way, from his life to his death. They follow him to the Passover, to the twin spectacles of Jesus' mock-triumphal procession and street theater in the Temple, and the fearsome procession of Caesar's brigades come to carry Jesus to Calvary. We follow Jesus to his arrest, sentencing, torture, and execution; and the disciples, themselves the cause of their disillusion, to their betrayal, denial, and humiliation. End of story? The women and Peter and John find the body is not there in the tomb. What is to be believed? Without understanding, John knows only that it's not over ... something is here. The disciples, who ran for their lives, find Jesus suddenly there. He is still their companion. Slowly, the community gathers again, because something is present -- the peace of God, the last word. Someone is present -- Jesus, alive beyond destruction. A broken community gathers around God's peace in the risen Jesus, receives strength, and goes forth with a message ... resurrection.

10. The Gospels about Jesus are not biographies or journalism, but stories with a bias telegraphed by its authors and meant to inspire faith because they are presented as God's inspiration affecting the world. By Jesus, something essential in the believer is grabbed and linked to the hope of Israel, its deepest hopes. Something deep within is moved. Through the words and works of Jesus, the life of Israel, the life of every follower, is revived and brought to the edge of fulfillment.

All right ... time to take a break. More to come later.

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